Hair has always fascinated me. Haven’t always been sure why it has tho. For a time I thought it was just amazing to see hairstylists doing their thing and creating these amazing hairstyles with geometric shapes and creative color placements. As time went on I started to wonder more about why I loved hair so much. Was there a deeper meaning behind hair that my subconscious recognized or was it just an internal passion of mine. The soul communicates and can do so in a way that feels very true and prominent but at the same time seem so obscure. Inside I could feel that I needed to discover a deeper purpose behind what I was doing as a Hairstylist and I needed to understand more about this passion of mine. Is there a deeper significance for the cosmetologist.
On this search to find more meaning in hair I came across lots of different information. One book that I came across titled “ Hair Story Untangling the roots of black hair in America’ by an Author named Ayana D. Byrd. I read some very powerful messages about hair. One message in particular was the origins of black hairstyling in Africa in the times before the 1400’s. There were different tribes across Africa and each one of them had their own particular hairstyle that would identify them to other tribes. Dressing the hair would be sort of a ritual as it would take many hours to create the elaborate hairstyles. This also served as a way to commune and the saying “ let me braid your hair’ is a reference to lets talk and get to know each other. Because the hair was considered sacred the hair was treated with special care and only chosen members of the tribe ( today known as hairstylists ) had the privilege to touch the hair or a member of your blood line. In other African cultures such as in the Yoruba tradition, All women were taught how to braid, but any young girl who showed talent in the art of hairdressing was encouraged to become a “master “ , Assuming responsibility for the entire communities Coiffures. Before a “master “ died, she would pass on her box of hairdressing tools to a successor within the family during a sacred ceremony. For the Mende people The only person allowed to work on hair, would be the Griots and the ironworkers. Anybody who was working at creating life with dead material, like melting iron and making it into something new, those are the people who have the exclusive right to work on peoples hair. When Wolof children were Born they would inherit a hairdresser, based on familial relationships, who would remain in their service for life.
Even before these times there have been excavations that show Egyptian hairstylists in their process attending to people. One example of this is two Hairdressers named Henut and Inu attending to the tresses of Queen Neferu during the 11th Dynasty during the reign of Mentuhotep ll around 2008 - 1957 B.C.E I found this information while visiting the Brooklyn Museum and was very intrigued by how far back reference to hairdressers could go. Really amazing how when you ask the question the answer sort of finds it’s way to you.
Over the years Hairstyling evolved and went through many changes and this is heavily influenced by the circumstances at the time. Flash forward to the 1900’s hairstyling is still a very important practice and one that provides a person with certain representation within society. One of the first Popular Hairstylist in American recorded history is Marie Laveau who lived through the 1800’s from 1801 - 1881. Marie was a Salon owner who serviced the wealthier families of New Orleans. Marie was also known to be a Voodoo Priestess and could cure ailments or grant wishes for patrons in her community. Despite Marie Laveau being a Hairdresser she is usually depicted wearing a head scarf. This is probably due to Louisiana’s “ Tignon Laws” which required black women to use fabric to cover their hair in public. Due to Freed Black Women wearing their hair in elaborate hairstyles that drew attention from not only black men but white men as well, Louisiana ( threatened by the beauty of such styles) passed this law. Although Marie was of French, Native Indian, and African decent she still has been primarily identified with black culture and black heritage.
By the 1900’s Black hair became more integrated in to main society and we started styling our hair in ways that required it to be easier to manage thus the first relaxer was introduced. Garrett Morgan was a black man who developed the first chemical straighter ( we know today as relaxer) in 1909. I was surprise to also discover that he developed this product in Cleveland, Ohio which is my hometown. There are no coincidences and so I feel that that discovery was definitely a sign that I’m supposed to be providing this awareness. Plus I’ve always loved working with relaxers and relaxed hair, and when applied properly the relaxer can be a life changer especially for those with extremely dense, thick, and oily (4C) textured hair. Garrett Morgan’s chemical straightening system was primarily done in the salon. It wasn’t until 1954 when George E. Johnson invented the first at home chemical straightening kit that you could purchase straightening systems from your local beauty supply stores. In 1977 the Jeri Curl was first introduced and this phase lasted well into the 80’s however due to its constant upkeep requirements like messy sprays and wet conditioner that needed to be applied consistently throughout the day it phased out by the early 90’s.
The 90’s gave us asymmetrical shapes, high top fades, and box braids and by the 2000’s woman were embracing more fully their natural hair ushering in the Natural Hair Movement. In today’s time we have embrace all facets of hair from commercial extensions, relaxing, natural hair styles, and braiding. Who knows where we will evolve to next.
Tracing back so fair in time gives you a very broad retrospect of the transitional phases of hair but it also allows you to see the significance of hair as well. From the spiritual aspect of grooming and tending to the hair in our native land and in ancient times we can see that the importance of hair was not just based solely on vanity but also had spiritual connotations as well. As time has moved forward we have forgotten how spiritual hair really is and how it is used to identify ourselves telling a story of who we are and what we may be about. It’s easier to see now the role a cosmetologist plays in society. The cosmetologist is a confidant who comes to the aids of those who are looking to find representation for themselves through they’re hair. Hairdressers play an important role in society today maintaining the tresses and external representations of not only politicians, artists, teachers, lawyers, doctors, or public figures but also everyday people who also have very important work to do and are doing some of the less noticeable work that contributes to our society in many ways. We are all connected and so everyone plays a significant role in the building up of our communities however the cosmetologist can be seen as somewhat of a counselor. They are gatekeepers who know much about what’s going on in the community and can converse with a variety of different personalities and souls who walk the earth.
Cosmetologists have always been magical people to me . Usually they can cook, sew, fix things, write, design, style, craft, sing, bake, and just simply create. Perhaps it’s due to their experience of working with so many people. Maybe inherently they have a touch of the divine. I could even venture to say that every person who has sat in their chair has shared a piece of their experience with the cosmetologist that the cosmetologist has kept for future reference . An experience shared can be a remedy for another. It could also be said that cosmetologists can be some of the most insightful people you might ever meet. They may have not seen the whole world but they have definitely had some piece of the world come to see them. To be a Cosmetologist is a blessing and one who has a desire in their heart to become one may be experiencing a calling in their soul to do the divine work that comes forth through such a profound and underrated profession.