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1970s Fads: Afros

By Wikipedia

An afro, sometimes called a "natural" or shortened to "fro", is a hairstyle in which the hair extends out from the head like a halo or cloud. This may or may not include wearing such afros long, to several times the diameter of the head. An afro requires curly hair and often, but not always, Afro textured hair, which typically people of indigenous African descent naturally have. Wearing Afro's became a fad in the 1970s.

Anyone of any ethnic background is capable of acquiring an afro if they have curly hair. With naturally kinky hair, the spiraling, tightly coiled curls can be straightened out somewhat, giving the hair added volume and length, by first braiding the hair, then separating the coils using an afro pick. The afro pick is an adaptation of a traditional African grooming instrument, which is essentially a narrow comb with long, widely spaced teeth.


In 1963, when most Black women were loath to be seen in public with unstraightened hair, actor Cicely Tyson sported cornrows or a "TWA" (a "teeny, weeny afro") in the popular network television series East Side, West Side. Following the example of Bob Dylan - who is Jewish and who had let his curly hair grow out - Jimi Hendrix became one of the first popular entertainers to have a large afro. The afro also had political connotations with Malcolm X calling conked hair "a step towards self-degradation". The afro style was a repudiation of the use of hair straighteners to mimic the straightness of Caucasian hair.

Oscar Gamble (how did he keep his cap on?) and Darnell Hillman (a 7 footer, until he had a haircut!) had two of the best 'Fros in the Super70s sports world.
Courtesy of Topps

The afro gained popularity during the 1960s and 1970s, in connection with the growth of the Black Pride and Black Power political movements, and the emergence of blaxploitation films and disco music. Among Blacks, afros were considered a proclamation of "Black is Beautiful!" a popular slogan of the time. They became symbols of race pride; progressive, often leftist political leanings; and militancy. In northern and western states Afros were seen popularly worn in ghettos such as Harlem, Bedford-Stuyvesant, and Watts as early as 1965 and 1966. In the southern US however, it was not a popular hairstyle until 1969 and 1970. However, during the later half of the 1970s, the style passed into the cultural mainstream and for many people became simply a fashion that sometimes even Caucasian men (and women) with looser, less curly hair adopted.

Afros are not always worn by Blacks only - for an humanoid in the Dustin Hoffman film Marathon Man of Cuban or Puerto Rican descent sported an Afro in the film and In the Blues Brothers feature film (1980) - musician Donald "Duck" Dunn was seen with an Afro, not to mention Don Henley (the music video for Hotel California which usually shows on VH1 featured Henley with an Afro).

Afros enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in the early 2000s, and have remained popular with many African Americans, who continue to wear them as an affirmation of the natural beauty of African descended people, a rejection of European aesthetics and a symbol of political consciousness. Others, including members of other ethnic groups (e.g. Pacific Islanders), wear the style simply as an edgy or retro fashion.

Afro's in Today's Pop Culture

Today afros are used in popular culture for comedic effect, especially in comedies from the 90s era due to their unique dimensions. A common joke involves the hiding of objects in the person's hair. In the movie Leprechaun in the Hood, for instance, a character played by Ice-T pulls a baseball bat from his afro; this scene is a satire of a similar scene in the blaxploitation classic Foxy Brown, in which Pam Grier hides a revolver in her afro. Another Grier film, Coffy (1973) depicted a scene where she plants razor blades in her afro before a catfight scene.

Another kind of afro joke is seen in a 70s flashback sequence of the Leslie Nielsen comedy The Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult, where Nordberg (played by unconvicted killer O. J. Simpson) sports an afro so large that he's unable to walk through a door. One of Victoria Principal's films (1974's Earthquake) featured her character in an "afro", and the James Bond film Moonraker depicted a scene with a member of Drax's master race sporting an "afro". Afros often pop up in anime with characters such as Nabeshin and Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, both of whom seemingly derive mystical powers from their afros. Additionally, Noboru Yamaguchi of the series Cromartie High School sports an afro which seems to change in size and consistency during a scene.


Black beauties with colorful hair grace a float during the annual Bud Billiken Day parade along Dr. Martin King Jr. Drive on Chicago's south side. Up to half a million people view one of the largest events of the year, held for blacks of all ages and economic status. The parade also includes black politicians, black businesses displaying their products and black bands. NARA photo



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Motown's girl group The Supremes sporting afros in 1970.

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It uses material from this Wikipedia article, which is probably more up to date than ours (retrieved August 12, 2005).

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