Afro hair, Weaves, Wigs

Why do Black Women Wear Wigs and Weaves?

Published By: Kennedy

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

There are probably a million and one topics about black hair. Some of these subjects can be a little touchy, but nevertheless intriguing. 

It is very apparent that many black women wear wigs and weaves. We definitely see them constantly represented in these styles in movies and T.V., as well as in person. One might wonder, what’s the deal? 

I personally grew up with people coming in and out of my home after getting their customized installments by my hairdresser mom. I can tell you, there are many reasons why black women chose these styles. 

It is important not to assume one reason or another, because you could very likely be wrong! 

Although many people of all ethnicities – from Elton John to Beyonce – have been known to wear hair extensions, we are here to explore the reasons why African-American women specifically opt for this form of styling.

History of Hair Extensions 

Before we get into the nitty gritty of this discussion, let’s  first get a little more informed on where it all started.

Both wigs and weaves are widely thought to have begun in early Egypt. If you look at pictures of ancient Egyptians- whether of statues or hieroglyphics- you can see the headpieces that they usually wore. These are early wigs! 

Egyptian royalty were the only ones who could afford human hair at the time (though they didn’t limit themselves to hair, they included expensive materials like silver or gold as well), so wigs became a symbol of prosperity. 

The status symbol idea was not unlike the French perruque, which the men usually wore. These stiff sets of curls were widely popular in France- first worn by men and then adopted by women. [1]

Wigs became a status symbol in Europe, worn only by the wealthy.

Eventually wigs started growing in popularity amongst celebrities when they started to become televised in the United States, which really kick started their popularity across the country. Some famous celebrities known to regularly wear wigs and weaves are Diana Ross, Whitney Houston, and Brittney Spears.

Now that we have a little bit of background, let’s talk about how wigs and weaves became popular amongst African Americans and why they continue to wear them.

Introduction to the African American Community 

Unlike the royal queens in ancient Egypt who wore their pieces to symbolize wealth, black women in the mid 1900s were trying to find ways to get hired after desegregation.

 Afro hair in those days was considered to be unprofessional and was looked down upon as opposed to European hair. Black women would do all kinds of things to straighten their hair for positions that actually required it- from airline stewardesses to receptionists. 

Eventually, many started wearing hair extensions, which they could get in a different texture than their own- further attaining the European look that society praised so much. A black woman named Christina Jenkins received a patent for the weave in 1951, which proliferated throughout the black community as the “sew in”. 

So what are the reasons why black women are still wearing wigs and weaves?

Times are changing, and there are several reasons why black women will choose to wear extensions. I have highlighted the 4 of the most popular and relevant.

4 Reasons Why do Black Women Wear Wigs and Weaves 

#1 Convenience 

I can attest to wigs being super easy to deal with! 

There is a substantial amount of maintenance required to keep those curls looking juicy. In order to keep from combing the hair into a particular style everyday, a black woman can decide to put on a wig in that same style, cutting the time spent on getting ready into as little as 10 minutes. 

It’s a really simple way to look nice without having to put in so much effort. 

Another convenience about wigs is that you can style them in a certain way, remove it when you get home, and it can still be in that same style the next day. If one wears a weave they can leave the hair on for a longer period of time. Many black women work, and can use the extra time spent on doing their hair. 

Wearing extensions can also be cost effective for the women who spend a lot of money on hair products or professional hairdressers. 

#2 Protection 

A protective style is any style that keeps the hair tucked away and free from manipulation. The goal for a protective style is to give the hair a break from stressors and allow it to grow healthy and free from any breakage. 

Every kind of hair needs to be properly cared for, but there are many ways that afro hair can become subject to excessive stressors. Two of the main causes of damage to afro hair are heat and chemicals. 

Up until very recently, natural black hair products were very scarce. 

This meant that many black families resorted to straightening as a means to style their daughters hair, as they have been doing for generations in America. 

Straightening curly, afro hair is done by heat (hot combs and electric straighteners) or chemicals (relaxers and perms). Many black women grew up with heads burning because their mothers straightened or permed their hair on a regular basis. As a result, as many of those black women grew older, their hair started to break off at the ends or became permanently straight while roots continued to grow out curly. 

I was fortunate that my mother did not perm my hair while growing up, but she did use heat to straighten it on a regular basis because it was easy for me to manage on my own. 

When I got into my teenage years I wanted to start wearing my hair in its natural state, but found it difficult because the bottom half of my hair was damaged from the years of straightening. 

Eventually, I did the big chop – which is a term used to describe when a black woman cuts her hair extremely short to get rid of any damage, and allow for the hair to completely grow out into its natural state. After my hair grew out again, I wanted to maintain its healthiness by refraining from applying heat or chemicals to it. 

I started wearing wigs because I could apply heat and chemicals to them if I wanted without having to do so to my natural hair. 

Wearing a wig or weave gives natural hair full coverage from the elements. Many black women find this so much more rewarding than losing their lovely curls!

It is important to note that almost half of black women suffer from what is called traction alopecia. This is a condition that causes hair loss to the scalp. This form of alopecia is caused by excessive manipulation to the hair, mostly due to heat and chemicals.  As a result of this condition, some women will wear wigs to cover the affected areas of baldness. [2]

#3 Appearance of Professionalism

Sadly, the stigma around black hair in the workplace still exists. 

There has been a push from the balck community in order to bring this issue to light, especially through social media. However, there is still much change that needs to happen to eliminate discrimination based on hair texture in the workplace and schools.

 There have been several cases taken to court where black women have been fired or refused employment for wearing natural hairstyles. [3]

 As a result, many black women wear wigs and weaves in order to appease upper level management at the company they work for. Even if there is no danger of being fired, some women will still wear straight hair weaves in wigs to avoid negative comments or prejudice that would make their work life difficult. 

In Chris Rock’s groundbreaking documentary Good Hair, comedian Paul Mooney made the statement “If your hair is relaxed, they [Caucasians] are relaxed. If your hair is nappy, they are not happy.” Many black women will wear European hairstyles to avoid criticism due to discrimination, an unfortunate occurence in desperate need of change. 

#4 Fun!

Though listed last, it is certainly not the least. Many black women wear wigs and weaves simply as a form of expression. 

Noticeably,  African-Americans are very diverse and have many different hair textures. It is enjoyable for women to experiment with different styles. 

The versatility of wigs and weaves is expansive, which gives the chance for women to flaunt their unique style on any given day. 

The Final Word 

There are many stereotypes as to why wigs and weaves are so prevalent in the black community, but just know they do not apply to everyone.  

Knowing some of the struggles black women have encountered due to their hair, may cause some to be willing to approach situations better, and that’s good. However, never assume that most black people hate their hair.

On the contrary, afro beauty has been increasingly cherished by African Americans- no matter what style they chose to wear! 

Kennedy

I have always had a love for writing and have been blogging for about 3 years now. I have a passion for teaching what I have learned over the years, especially about hair. I have had almost every hairstyle - typical of a cosmetologist’s daughter- including the big chop in 2015. With all the knowledge I have gained, I feel it is my duty to help others on their healthy hair journey. I believe education can be fun, and I strive to make it fun to learn about beautiful black hair.

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