Tag Archives: Afro-Caribbean

‘Mum, why would you do that?’ 10 old school Afropolitan hairstyles

During school term times, Sunday nights were synonymous with the torturous experience of getting my hair done for the week; this along with the ritual of shining my shoes and getting the school uniform ready.  I have ‘fond’ memories of sitting down- hair washed and greased- with my mum’s strong hands preparing to make something presentable out of my afro. Looking back I was pretty blessed that my mum was very good with braiding and plaiting hair- saving money and avoiding going to the hairdressers (that’s another post entirely). Here are some of the hairstyles I remember rocking at some point in my childhood.

  1. Threads aka the spider hair-do. Anyone who had the privilege of rocking this style whilst attending an English primary school will know full well that it’s a blatant invitation to be ridiculed. Apparently the hair style helps to straighten hair and assists growth; these benefits seem meaningless when you have to deal with finger pointing and insults from your peers when all you want to do is fit in! As an adult I have begun to appreciate the beauty and creativity of this particular technique; I recently saw some breath-taking vintage photographs of West African women modelling these styles which are nothing short of majestic pieces of art.

    African threaded hair: how can you do this to a 5 yr old?  (C) Richard Wright 1953

    African threaded hair: how can you do this to a 5 yr old?
    (C) Richard Wright 1953

  1. Cornrow– This was the standard weekly hair do. Most of the time it was a relatively simple style such as all the rows going back or the high bun aka the pineapple (see below). However on one occassion my mum decided to get ‘creative’- damn the consequences. I can usually predict what the style is going to be by the direction of travel on my head but this time, unnervingly, I couldn’t make sense of the unfamiliar patterns forming on my scalp. What resulted can only be described as truly hideous; my mum had decided to recreate a Roman emperor/ dome shaped hair-do (see exhibit one below).   It was so horrendous that even my mum gasped on completion. But as her age old adage goes- ‘when the style is complete you have to rock it for the week’ and woe onto me for trying to take it out before then!
    The bun: aka the pineapple- one of my favourite cornrow styles.

    The bun: aka the pineapple- one of my favourite cornrow styles.

    Dome shape aka Julius Caesar: This is the closest thing I can find to the hairstyle my mum decided to do- much to my horror! This might have been OK had I not been a teenager who was already self conscious!

    Dome shape aka Julius Caesar: This is the closest thing I can find to the hairstyle my mum decided to do- much to my horror! This might have been OK had I not been a teenager who was already self conscious!

  1. Single plait extensions– tears would ensue when I was subjected to this ordeal. However more often than not what emerged is a versatile, hair do that will last anything from 6 to 12 weeks and looks pretty nice too.
  1. Those awful beads- Cornrows, single plaits (extensions or natural) accompanied by an assortment of colourful beads. They were never and could never be a good idea- it’s a total assault on the eyes and the ears (they are noisy). Venus and Serena Williams eat your heart out.

    Williams sisters: Champions and truly inspiration but the beads!!

    Williams sisters: Got to love them beads!

  1. The two big cornrows going back– my favourite childhood hair style. This would be the emergency style my mum would resort to on a Monday morning on the rare occasion she hadn’t been able to do my hair the night before.
The two plait hairstyle: the emergency hair do mum use to do on a Monday morning before taking me to school.

The two plait hairstyle: the emergency hair do mum use to do on a Monday morning before taking me to school but it NEVER looked this slick!

  1. Relaxer– that perm box brought happiness to many but it brought misery to me! Tears, torture, stinging scalp, chemical cocktail resulting in my hair nearly falling out- only tried it once when I was 7 and haven’t revisited it since.
Relaxer: Also known as creamy crack because you keep coming back to keep those kinks away!

Relaxer: Also known as creamy crack because you keep coming back to keep those kinks away!

  1. Jheri curl- good old eighties hair do. Sings *** just let your soul glow!***
Favourite film: sings ' just let your soul glow!'

Favourite film: sings ‘ just let your soul glow!’

  1. Twists with pretty clips added – A simple, feminine hair do for parents with limited hair styling abilities. I always wanted this style but my mum refused- ‘why would you want this when I can plait?’
  1. Hair ‘out’– either in a single scrunchy or in two bunches – this was a treat- especially if you were allowed to add a lickle gel (Jam Pudding) for that slick look.

    Afro puff: favourite cute hair do!

    Afro puff: favourite cute hair do!

  1. Hot-combed hair– move over James Brown- bring on the singed, burnt hair smell along with that blue magic grease to ease that hot combing! I always had mixed feelings about the end result- seemingly slick, limp hair which could be easily placed into a ponytail vs. The glorious, bouncy afro crown? Couldn’t help feeling a bit cheated-am I alone?

    Hotcomb: Burnt ears, singed hair, flinching but all for the love of that glossy straight hair for all of 5 minutes!

    The beloved hot comb: Burnt ears, singed hair, flinching but all for the love of that glossy straight hair for all of 5 minutes- the struggle was real!

Did you wear any of these hair styles as child / teenager? What are your memories re. getting your hair done way back when?

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Even if you live in the West, an Afropolitan’s African roots will never cease. I was born in London as was my mother but there is no denying our heritage even down to the smallest household items. There are just certain things you will find in every West African home irrespective of social class. These are ten timeless items you will find in any Afropolitan’s bathroom.  And even if you don’t have African roots I am sure you would be familiar with some of these products if you ever visited an Afropolitan’s home! Do you have any of these lying around? What else should have made the list?

Rubb

1. Robb-Forget Vicks, every person of West African descent would have had Robb in their bathroom cabinet. Cheaper and more effective, this multi-purpose bad boy is great for colds, flus and is also useful for massaging into achy limbs.image

2. Bucket- Everyone with roots in Africa or the Caribbean knows about the bucket bath. And it seems even though we have no need for the bucket (thank you power shower)- we still seem to have a bucket lurking around in the house somewhere.

3. ‘Blue Magic’ hair cream– More like blue gunk- yet no black person’s hair collection would be complete without this classic hair grease. Its questionable as to how effective it is as a hair cream as it doesn’t really moisturise or do much good (who knows about the clogged up hair follicles?) but it does give  hair a nice and shiny appearance, especially in the hair partings after freshly cornrowed hair.image

4. African mesh wash cloth– It may look dubious, but the mesh wash cloth is a fantastic cleanser and is also kind on the skin.  Its also very inexpensive.

5. Astral– Not an obvious choice, but this has had to make it on to the list. One of the fondest memories I have is of visiting my grandmother’s house a child and just seeing huge tubs of it in her bedroom and bathroom. I use to confuse it with Nivea because of its wonderful smell, rich moisturising texture and blue coloured tub. I actually think it’s better than Nivea and it’s also marginally cheaper too.

image6. Black soap– Dudu Osun is probably one of the most famous brands, but this is a classic soap that every West African would have had in their bathroom at some point.

7. A tub of Vaseline/ petroleum jelly– The official cure for ashy elbows and knee caps-  everyone had a mammoth sized tub of this multipurpose grease in their home- yes EVERYONE.vaseline

8. Dettol- Every household I remember visiting as child seemed to have big sized bottle of Dettol. For laundry, for household cleaning or as an antiseptic- this is an essential product.

9. Afro pick comb– Fear and dread use to fill me every Sunday evening when mum would take that comb and hair grease and plait my hair for the week. That comb and I were not friends but it is an essential item in every Afropolitan household.

cocoa butter 10. Cocoa Butter– No African Caribbean household would be complete without it. I have fond memories of leaving the house, just before I am about to go to school, and my mum enthusiastically rubbing cocoa butter on my face making it look like a round, shiny, chocolate button. Funnily enough my dad was once the cocoa butter kid for an advertising campaign in the 1960s back in Nigeria!

Ten items you will find in an Afropolitan’s bathroom!

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