ABSTRACT

The Afro originated in the United States as a style worn by a tiny minority of cosmopolitan black women, and developed as a prominent symbol of racial pride in the mid-1960s. Responding to the Afro's grassroots popularity, the African-American beauty culture industry mounted a largely successful effort to transform the style from political statement to fashion commodity. Black beauty businesses responded differently to the Afro depending on circumstances, timing, the nature of the business, and the demands of customers. Some beauty-salon owners complained that Afros would ruin their businesses, while others rushed to accommodate patrons desiring the new style. Hair product manufacturers produced and marketed with equal enthusiasm both hair-straightening and Afro-enhancing preparations. Advertisements for Afro products frequently invoked black pride, particularly when the company producing them was owned by African Americans. The commodification of the Afro was not exclusively a cynical exploitation of a political symbol. Rather, the selling of the Afro often entailed a complex blending of ideals, goals, and motivations based, to varying degrees, on considerations of fashion, politics, and the bottom line.2