The book begins with a scientific look at what is distinctive about Afro hair.
After this we are taken back 5000 years to Ancient Egypt and later to Benin in West Africa and find out by studying artefacts such as bronze statues how the wealthy wore and decorated their hair. Interesting details are included such as the use of castor oil and palm oil to soften the hair, charcoal to darken it and make it grow and combs and shells for decoration.
The historical context continues with mention of the slave trade from the sixteenth century and from the nineteenth century Imperial rule in African countries. This led to a loss of traditional styles; we find out that head shaving was used as a punishment and African house slaves were made to wear wigs in the style of their European masters.
During the twentieth century, as black people moved to big cities in America looking for a better life, they rejected the corn rows of their ancestors seeking a modern look which in effect meant adopting European hairstyles. The story comes to the UK with the arrival of the Windrush generation.
It wasn’t until the second half of the twentieth century that natural hairstyles such as ‘the Afro ’ emerged reflecting a sense of pride in a shared African heritage with the drive for political power. Over time more variety in styling emerged and a rise in the natural hair movement.
We learn about the influence of icons of popular culture such as Josephine Baker in the 1920s, Diana Ross, Cicely Tyson and later Bob Marley with the distinctive dreadlock hairstyle of the Rasta social and religious movement.
Key individuals who had a significant impact on the development of the modern Afro hair industry are highlighted, including Madam C.J Walker, Dyke, Dryden and Wade who became self-made millionaires with the products and treatments they developed.
Although the focus of the book is on fashion and hairstyles this is set within a historical context giving it another dimension as we learn about slavery, imperialism, migration, fight for equality. A sense of pride imbues the whole book which is a beautiful artefact in itself.
The compact format and striking design with coloured pages is illustrated with attractive artwork together with some photographs of individuals and artefacts. There are references for further reading and a useful glossary of terminology.