When you think of black hair in the 1970s, large, fluffy Afros worn by activist Angela Davis and actress Pam Grier might come to mind. However, the 1970s was a diverse time for African American hairstyles. Hairstyles from ancient times made a comeback with 20th Century updates. And hair stylists learned new techniques to modify textures and make black women’s hair even more versatile.
The desire to pull hair out of the way probably created this simple style worn by women and young girls. To make Afro puffs, women brushed their hair to the center of their heads and secured it in place with a cord or a round comb. Some younger women also wore their hair parted down the middle and parted it on either side to make two Afro puffs. Length was a premium and bigger puffs were always better in the 1970s.
Cornrow “up dos” made from curved and swirling flat braid designs were popular in the 1970s. African American hairstylists inspired by continental African designs of the era made these styles popular in big cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Some styles included extra beaded accents to the cornrows. The actress Cicely Tyson, famous for her role in the landmark TV mini-series Roots, and singer Roberta Flack, were some of the first African American celebrities to wear cornrowed hairstyles.
Some 1970s braided styles look a lot like pictures from Ancient Egypt. Singers including Peaches from the pop duo Peaches and Herb, and Donna Summer wore long braids with Cleopatra fringe bangs. Braids were often decorated with generous amounts of gold, silver, crystal or multicolored beads. The tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams also wore these 1970s inspired braids when they first began their tennis careers.
Before the natural hair movement of the 1960s and 1970s, most black women used hot combs and curling irons to straighten their hair. Some black women continued the practice throughout the 1970s. Straightened and curled styles were popular across all age groups. Other popular styles included mushroom and shag hair cuts. The growing popularity of chemical hair relaxers during the 1970s made it possible for black hairstylists to create a variety of mainstream looks on straightened hair.
References and ResourcesStyle & Status: Selling Beauty to African American Women, 1920-1975; Susannah Walker; 2007
Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History; Victoria Sherrow; 2006