The Most Iconic Black Woman Hairstyles


Black woman hairstyles

Nothing on this earth is more delightful than a black woman. Curves like a Bugatti, soul deeper than an ocean and an unbreakable resilience that has held us down for centuries. Not to mention we’re some of the most resourceful and innovative creatures to ever strut the planet. Case in point my mother, who once turned a pack of Ramon noodles, a frozen chicken breast and a can of peas into some of the best “Lo Mein” my 8-year-old self ever had. Like I said, we’re creative. Before there was Pinterest, there was a black woman. Before there was Hobby Lobby, there was grandma’s dresser drawer.

Perhaps no area of a black woman’s life has experienced more creativity, trail and error, and lemons to lemonade moments than our hair. Forget MacGyver, give a sistah a comb, a flame and two tablespoons of lye, and watch as #BlackGirlMagic is birthed before your very eyes. At least, that’s how I envision Madame CJ Walker doing it some hundred years ago. Fried, dyed and for some reason always laid to the side, in honor of black women everywhere and our innate ability to stay fly regardless of our situation, here’s some of the most iconic black women hairstyles ever.

P.S. This post is in loving memory to the edges lost along the way.

The Asymmetrical

F**k symmetry. We’re a people that live for the remix. So it’s perfectly understandable why somewhere along the way in the ‘80s and ‘90s we decided to chop off fifty percent of our hair on only fifty percent of our head, in the name of swag. Remember when wannabe thugs would wear one pant leg up to rep, their hood? I always imagined women who rocked the asymmetrical were issuing some sort of nod to their clique, boo, homie or set based on the length, side and color of the cut. While I applaud Mary J., Pepa, and the women of TheCutLife, this one has never been for me. I prefer a more linear life. Besides, the recovery period for both sides of your hair to reconnect is just too much.

Finger Waves

Missy Elliott Finger waves

First thing’s first, shout-out to gel, specifically the brown stuff — it has held us down as a people for years. One of the top go-to hairstyles for almost every chick with a short cut in the ‘90s; I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with finger waves. Why? Because the success of the hairstyle is only as strong as the thickness of the tresses it’s floating on. When it’s great, it’s great — a 360 experience of riptide waves. When it’s bad, it’s this.

Hair Ballies and Barrettes

Photo courtest of @Quishab Instagram

Photo courtest of @Quishab Instagram

There are certain moments in a young girl’s childhood where her confidence, femininity and little girl swag are at their peak. Rocking this style was one of those moments. There was nothing, and I mean NOTHING, like showing up on the playground with a fresh set of ballies and matching barrettes. Each mom or big sister had their own technique but the end result was always the same and equally fabulous. But fab little girls beware; there was no whipping of the hair here as a ballie to the eye could be lethal. And double cool points to you and your mom if your hair accessories were tucked away in a Tupperware container, old coffee can or Caboodle.


LOS ANGELES - JULY 16: Singer Diana Ross poses for a portrait session on July 16, 1975 in Los Angeles. California (Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images)

Photo courtesy of Harry Langdon/Getty Images

The Holy Grail of black hair, Afros are the things dreams are made of. Big, bold, disruptive and the truest form of blackness, from twistouts and Bantu knots, to wash and go’s and the classic Pam Grier, Angela Davis ‘fro, it really doesn’t get much better than raw, uninterrupted black hair. The bigger the better, as I firmly believe you can judge a woman’s confidence, crunkness and “don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing” meter by the make and model of her ‘fro.


I’ll never forget my first crimp set. I wore a mock turtleneck orange pullover fleece, oversized khaki pants, Sketchers and two-litter bottle glasses, and you couldn’t tell me one dayum thing because my hair was laaaaiiid and it wasn’t going anywhere for 3-4 business days and a weekend.

That One Hairstyle Your Auntie Used to Wear


I firmly believe (no pun intended) Pump It Up spritz is public enemy No. 1 in the systematic oppression of black hair. What is it about rock solid, Tonka truck track material type hair that we love so much? Yes, it endures, but is the gel residue in your bathtub, two hours, four Hype Hair magazines, last month’s EBONY and a fish dinner under the dryer really worth the hassle? For us, it was. A close cousin to the French Roll, the unpredictable up-do was a favorite for church First Ladies, aunties and ‘90s prom queens. Yes the hair was highly flammable, crunched louder than a bag of Doritos and contained enough bobby pins to be deemed a security threat by TSA, but having hair that could withstand hurricane force winds made it all worth it.


Anyone who can recreate the I-450 expressway on a head full of hair deserves a rec center named in his or her honor. A cultural cornerstone of black hair, from box braids and beads, to cornrows and Senegalese twists, the possibilities are endless when it comes to this protective style. And while ample cred must be given to the hands of magic that construct these creations, we also must pay homage to living room pillows everywhere for literally holding us down as cousins, stylists and aunties extracted stitched our scalps.

Honarable Mentions


  • The Lacefront wig
  • Anything involving baby hairs
  • Beads
  • The Doobie (also known as a wrap)

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