A Look Back On the Evolution of Natural Hairstyles On the Red Carpet

A Look Back On the Evolution of Natural Hairstyles On the Red Carpet

June 1, 2021

The 2021 Oscars red carpet, which was filled with a variety of natural styles across all lengths and hair types, marked a shift in Hollywood glamour. 

While it wasn’t the first time we’ve seen a variety of gorgeous textured hair at a mainstream award show, I can’t remember a time when I’ve ever seen so much of it, in all its glory, all at once. 

RELATED: 3 Gorgeous Styling Ideas for Chunky Braids

To so many of us watching at home, this signified that finally, we’re starting to move past making a point about diverse hair and simply just normalizing it. As well as putting braids, afros, coils, waves, and curls on the same pedestal as silky straight styles, and letting them all be seen as elegant, chic, and alluring. But this shift didn’t just happen overnight.

And while we’ve come a long way, there’s still a ways to go beyond the red carpet. 

However, progress, especially when it results in some forms of freedom, is something worth celebrating.

That’s why we’re taking a look back at the evolution of natural hairstyles on the red carpet, from the 1940s to now. 

This is All Natural. From the kinkiest coils to loose waves, we’re celebrating natural hair in its many forms by sharing expert tips for styling, maintenance, and haircare.

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Hattie McDaniel, 1940

In 1940, Hattie McDaniel won an Oscar for her role as Mammy in Gone With the Wind, becoming the first Black woman to do so — in a segregated, “no Blacks allowed” hotel, no less. With natural curls and afros being deemed as “unacceptable” at the time, McDaniel’s hair was styled into a pressed, curly updo, adorned with white gardenias. 

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Cicely Tyson, 1970

As the first woman to ever wear natural hair on television in 1963, the iconic and revolutionary Cicely Tyson never had a problem embracing her curls and coils. Here, she’s seen with textured finger waves, a truly timeless style. 

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Rick James, 1983

While the Jheri curl was the style of choice for many Black men throughout the 1980s, Rick James’ trademark braids, inspired by the Maasai people of southern Kenya and northern Tanzania, put him in a league of his own. He brought the signature style to the 1983 Grammy Awards, alongside friend and fellow hair icon Grace Jones. 

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Tina Turner, 1985

Tina Turner’s big, bold 1980s hair came a long way from the slick, straight wigs she wore to perform with ex-husband Ike Turner in the ’50s. Here, she’s seen at the Grammys in 1985, proudly posing with her three trophies.

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Vanessa Williams, 1988

Vanessa Williams became the first African American woman to be crowned Miss America in the pageant’s 63-year history back in 1983. Five years later in 1988, she attended the Hollywood premiere of Coming to America with her natural, fluffy curls. 

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Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz, 1989

It was only in 2016 when a U.S. court deemed banning locs during the hiring process as legal, proving that after centuries of the style being a staple in the Black community, the wider world still saw it as taboo. But with the CROWN Act coming to fruition in 2019, we are starting to see things shift. However, former flames Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz (who both currently have locs) have proudly been wearing this gorgeous style to press conferences and red carpets since the late ’80s. 

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Alek Wek, 1998

Back in 1997, model Alek Wek became the first African model to grace the cover of Elle, back at a time when publishers didn’t believe Black models could sell magazines — but she made newsstands sell out. Here she is a year later in 1998, attending 17th Annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards in New York City, with her signature buzzcut. 

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Brandy, 1998

Before we knew them as box braids, many of us referred to this style as “Brandy braids,” because we all wanted to look like the superstar singer and actress. For the premiere of I Still Know What You Did Last Summer back in 1998, Brandy added a rhinestone headband to add a little sparkle to the look. 

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Tracee Ellis Ross, 2001

Fast forward to 2021, and it makes sense that Tracee Ellis Ross now owns one of the most popular natural haircare brands on the market, Pattern Beauty. However, while the star has shared that she had a complicated relationship with her hair growing up (which Black woman hasn’t?) our Girlfriend was one of the only sitcom stars of the early ’00s to consistently wear her hair natural on TV and the red carpet, at a time when nearly every other Black woman was styling their hair straight. 

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Viola Davis, 2012

During the earlier days of the second wave natural hair movement, the brilliant Viola Davis decided to make a statement at the 84th annual Academy Awards. “My husband wanted me to take the wig off,” the Best Actress Oscar nominee told InStyle at the private Alfre Woodard dinner hosted by Grey Goose in Los Angeles. “He said, ‘If you want to wear it for your career, that’s fine, but in your life wear your hair. Step into who you are!’ It’s a powerful statement.”

My goodness, what a moment. 

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Zendaya, 2015

Three years later at the 87th annual Oscars, Zendaya decided to make a statement with her hair as well, by wearing chunky faux locs on the red carpet. Despite E!’s Giuliana Rancic sharing on-air that the actress looked like “she smells like patchouli oil and weed,” Zendaya made the point that locs are just as glamorous as any other red carpet style. And she looked beautiful while doing it. 

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Lupita Nyong’o, 2019

With a towering afro, adorned by golden picks with Black power fists, this style created by the ever-so-talented Vernon Francois was the ultimate celebration of Black hair on the red carpet — and was perfectly fitting for the 2019 Met Gala. 

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The 93rd Academy Awards, 2021

This year, there were far too many elegant, gorgeous, and glamorous natural hair looks on the red carpet to count. But we’re all for a little indulgence, that’s why we rounded up every look here. 

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