The Black haircare industry is projected to be worth more than $761 million in 2017, according to market research firm, Mintel. However, a recent trend has many Black women opting to cover their hair.
Some women are choosing to wear African head wraps noting cultural identity and convenience.
“I am proud of my heritage and culture. I stand taller when I wear it. People think I am taller, not only physically but also on the inside,” said Miami-Dade County School Board member, Dorothy Bendross-Mindingall (District 2), who has been wearing head wraps for more than 25 years.
Head wraps are large pieces of fabric, usually in bright colors and Afrocentric prints, worn over the head and tied above the forehead or the side. In ancient Nubian and Egyptian art, there is evidence of head covers worn by royalty. People in sub-Saharan Africa have worn head wraps since the 18th century. Numerous artworks from the time show slaves wearing head wraps while working cotton and sugarcane fields on plantations in the Caribbean, according to Regis University and Metropolitan State University history professor, Beverly Chico.
Bendross-Mindingall said she instantly embraced head covering as part of Black culture when she saw pictures of women of African descent wearing them as far back as she can remember.
“I always knew we covered our heads. It’s who we are,” said the 74-year-old, who is the Metropolitan Dade County Section of the National Council of Negro Women Inc.’s “Women of the Year.”
Chico’s research confirms that head wraps came to America through slavery from Africa. In her book, “Hats and Headwear around the world: A Cultural Encyclopedia,” she wrote that some scholars believe that head wraps were used during the transatlantic transport of slaves as a way to integrate tribes or reduce head lice.
Once in America, enslaved African women did not have the luxury of spending hours styling their hair, and some had to abide by dress code.
During the Louisiana Purchase, AfroCreole slaves were forced to keep their heads covered by a law instilled by Gov. Esteban Rodriguez Miró, which stated women of color, slave or free, should cover their heads with a knotted headdress, referred to as tignons, to refrain from "excessive attention to dress."
Known as the "tignon law," the regulation backfired when the women designed decorative wraps shaped in artful designs outdoing their white counterparts and making hair wrapping a fashion statement, according to a Louisiana State University study published by Ina J. Fandrich.
Former Miss Nigeria Florida, Evelyn Onyejuruwa, said she was never told about the history, but she starting wearing the head wraps, known in Nigeria as "geles," as a toddler.
For formal or special occasions, Nigerians traditionally wear custom-made clothes. The women use the leftover fabric from the outfit to make geles, Onyejuruwa said. Geles are a symbol of status and nobility. She also said authentic geles are made from handmade West-African fabric called "ankara."
“There are two types of geles; one made with heavier fabric for special occasions and one made of regular ankara for everyday wear, but it also depends where,” she said.
Onyejuruwa, who considers herself an African cultural ambassador, has her own line of head wraps called Ankara Delights.
Sales for Ankara Delights peak during Black History Month and the summer—when many natural hair events and music festivals take place, Onyejuruwa said.
“Head wraps are more wearable than an outfit. It’s an easier way to make someone connect to their roots,” she said. “It’s cool as a fashion trend as long as it is credited back to where it’s from.”
In addition to cultural identity, some women wear the wraps for convenience.
“I love that it’s easy and go. I love that I feel beautiful covered,” said Uber driver Crystal Hailstorks, who has a small collection of head wraps. “It’s sexy and liberating, also good for bad hair days.”