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The Fashion Quotient of Natural Hair

The Fashion Quotient of Natural Hair

…by Bee of 83 To Infinity

Hey media and fashion world folks, I have one question: Is natural hair in or out? Y’all are giving me mixed messages, and I need you to straighten things out (no pun intended).

If you follow my blog ’83 To Infinity, you would have recently read about my experiences modeling in last week’s World MasterCard Fashion Week Toronto. It was an AWESOME time, and it definitely reignited modeling dreams that I thought were put on ice. We had people to dress/undress us, primp eyelashes and paint lips, but I couldn’t shake the curiosity over what they would do with my hair.

A week before the show we started learning about our styling requirements for the day of, and I tried to get a bit more information. What was the look of the show? How did the designer plan for our hair to be styled? The fashion world can be very fickle and ego-driven, so I didn’t want to be labeled as The Black Girl Who Has No Faith In Professional Stylists And Thinks She Can Do It Better Herself – but I did say, “If he’s looking for straight hair, I could straighten mine the day before…you know, just to cut down on styling time…” My thoughts weren’t purely selfish – with a call time only 3 hours before show time, and a ton of models that all needed to be styled in the same window, it would save them time. But I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel more comfortable to have my trusted stylist straighten my locks and minimize any potential damage. However, when I was told “No, he doesn’t want hair to be straight – you’ll be fine” I felt a ton of relief. This is where I fell into the trap of believing the media.

On nearly every commercial I see these days, Black or mixed-race women are heavily featured with natural kinks and coils. Ads for anything from McDonalds to Gain detergent show women and girls with beautiful natural hair of varying types and textures, and I find myself watching and wondering, ‘Ooh, is that a twist-out or a rod set (or a wig)?’ The natural hair discussion has also hit haute couture. A recent article on Ebony.com chatted about Vogue Italia’s embrace of Black hair in its natural state and how Solange Knowles, Viola Davis, and models like Alex Wek and Noemie Lenoir were bring natural hair to the fashion forefront. When I heard that the designer didn’t want bone-straight locks, I was tickled. Maybe we’d do a blown-out ‘fro, an afro puff, or some other style featuring my natural texture. Surely more stylists had learned how to work with natural hair, right? RIGHT?! Well, as I learned, at least for Toronto Fashion Week, that wasn’t totally the case.

The look for the day was side part, slicked back, low messy bun. However, it looked like the “messy” they were going for was geared towards straighter hair. I watched as the White and Asian models were carted off to their designated chairs, while myself and the other Black models waited. The head stylist came over to peruse our heads, and when he asked me to remove the elastic holding my hair back in a loose bun, he looked perplexed. My hair had exploded into a lioness’ mane, and I’m sure he was convinced it would neither part, nor slick, nor get low and messy. I had to stifle a laugh when I saw his facial expression, and nodded as he took the relaxed and weaved girls to their chairs, telling me to “hang tight.

Stylists came by and smiled politely. “Is your hair all natural?“Have you EVER permed it?” “Are you mixed?” I fielded question after question until my stylist, the only Black stylist in the group, came to whisk me off into her chair. I’ll just say I had no complaints about how she styled my hair. She stated that “the curly girls need to look as good as everyone else!” and she accomplished that. However, when I saw some of the other stylists struggle with other Black models’ hair (except the weaves – those were great), I realized that my excitement over the acceptance of natural hair in the fashion world may be premature. As it played out at Toronto Fashion Week, there was no hesitation when pairing stylists and non-Black models, but there were degrees of contemplation when it came to the Black girls. Does she have a weave? Ok, that should be fine. Is her hair relaxed? A little bit nerve-wracking, but we can manage. Is her hair natural? Panic mode – let her sit until we can find a Black stylist.

I am not a professional model (not yet anyway – if you’re an agent, holla!), but I did live an experience that pros like Jourdan Dunn and Tyra Banks have spoken on before. Where is the gap? We’re seeing more natural hair in the media and in fashion, but the stylists that Black women encounter are seriously lacking in skill. I have read that there are not many Black hairstylists in high places in the fashion world, and that learning how to style Black hair is not a priority for current stylists. Hopefully one day, the fashion world will not only embrace the idea of natural hair being fashionable (as reported by Vogue Italia), but they will also put that idea into action and have the necessary resources available. Until then, I’ll just figure that those curly girls in the commercials lived by the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” meme and did it all on their own.

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