Why Do Black Women Wear Wigs?

We all have our own unique and individual beauty routines that we follow every morning, every weekend or a few times a week. It’s always interesting to find out about things we don’t include in our own regimes. One thing you’re probably interested in finding out about, since you’re here, is why black women wear wigs. You may have seen these wigs when you’re out and about in the day and just admire how gorgeous they look. Why do they wear them? Read on to discover all the answers.

It may seem like a simple reasoning behind the reason why black women wear wigs. But, there is actually a very complex, deep history behind it. The journey that wigs have taken until today involves lots of factors, which we’re about to discover.

Wigs in Ancient Egypt

Experts believe that wigs starting appearing during the Ancient Egyptian era. The main reason women wore them was to show class and status. Some of the more privileged in this Egyptian society, such as royalty, even wore wigs adorned with embellishments, including gold and lace. This showed their even higher status against the rest of the upper class during this time.

When they wore wigs, women also had the opportunity to shave their heads completely, so they had the option to wear hair whenever they did or didn’t want to. This was a very valuable and enviable choice during the time, especially considering the heat they were living in every day. Those who sat in lower ranks in society, on the other hand, were not permitted to wear wigs at all. This created a clear divide between society.

Another interesting fact about the wigs in the Ancient Egyptian times is that they didn’t only wear them on their heads. Beard wigs were created too. These wigs showed even more power and status, and Queen Hatshepsut was a famous pharaoh who wore a beard wig.

Wigs for employment and expression

In the following years, throughout the various eras, different characteristics and aesthetics continued to shape the rankings of society. As women started to have access to more jobs in society, there was still discrimination against black women, and certain physical requirements made it impossible to get a job. Appearance was a key role in many women’s jobs when she qualified for employment. The mainstream style of straight hair or certain hairstyles meant that a wig was the only way a black woman could get a job for herself. When a certain hair requirement couldn’t be achieved from a woman’s natural hair, she would wear a wig.

At the same time, the style of wigs for black women was becoming a trend, too. There were signature hairstyles that these women achieved using their wigs. For example, people recognised black doo-wop groups for their interesting hairstyles, created in their wigs. This brought around the idea of using wigs for creative expression. Rather than being used for any practical purposes, such as employment, wigs were also used for their style. Now, women could express themselves with different hairstyles, such as the iconic bump at the crown of the head.  

The decline of wigs during the 60’s and 70’s

In most of the previous years, straight hair was generally the goal for most people. In the 60’s, the natural hair movement said no to hiding a woman’s true coils. It encouraged women to wear their natural hair instead of wigs. This came along with the civil rights movement in 1964-1966, celebrating natural hair as an alternative to straight hair. It was also a black-identifiable feature and aesthetic. For many, it was also a symbol of rejecting the previous beauty conventions throughout white America. In addition, they showed they were beautiful themselves.

During this time, black actresses in films and on television were portrayed with natural hair and they too celebrated the afro along with the rest of the community. This was one of the factors that did lead to natural hair becoming more mainstream, and it became a recognisable style. Although, while they promoted ‘natural hair’ through this, many of these natural hairstyles were still created using wigs, but these wigs were just coily rather than straight.

The 70’s

This continued throughout the 70’s, as Black women were still spreading awareness and flaunting an aesthetic that was unique to their community. Initially, the afro was a hairstyle seen on the Black Panther Party, a revolutionary party who were heavily involved in the civil rights movement. However, as the message spread, awareness came about, and the hairstyle permeated throughout the black population. They weren’t the only ones with this iconic hairstyle, and many other members of the public were abandoning their wigs. Overall, rejecting wigs to flaunt natural hair was a symbol of the rising black population, and it celebrated an aesthetic unique to the population to show their pride.

However, towards the end of the 70’s, this natural hair movement did start to cause problems for the black women. It was used as a target for arrest, violence and confrontation in public. Many women were in hiding underground to protect themselves from brutal law enforcement. Those who weren’t brought back the wig to cover their natural hair. The afro was becoming a target again, and they wore a wig to protect themselves from this problem.

Why do black women wear wigs today?

When we talk about women wearing wigs today, there are lots of factors which play into the role, especially considering we all have more freedom for creative expression than in previous years. There are many different reasons that may play into the modern woman wearing a wig. Regardless of how a woman styles her hair, it’s still important that we recognise her beauty and the expression that may come from her hair.

Beauty standards

While women aren’t under as much pressure to comply with certain hair regulations for their job anymore, that doesn’t mean the beauty standards have been removed. Many women enjoy the appearance of straight hair, or like to follow that aesthetic. We see many women in the media who have pin-straight hair. While it is possible to flat-iron coily hair, it takes a very long time. When doing this on a regular basis, it can also cause lots of damage to the hair. So, as you can probably see, wearing a wig in this case can be much easier in order to achieve a desired style.

A common misconception about wearing a wig is that black women and girls are insecure about their natural hair; and they use a wig to cover that up. Whilst that is the case for some (and this shouldn’t make anyone feel insecure – natural hair is beautiful!), not every single black woman who wears a wig does so to hide her natural hair. Choosing to wear a wig for its creative expression or to access different, newer hairstyles doesn’t make a woman insecure. She’s free to do whatever she likes with her hair.

Hair health

As we just mentioned, trying to straighten hair every day or style it, using countless different products and chemicals, such as relaxers, can cause lots of damage to the hair over time. No-one wants to experience this. Healthy hair is happy hair. A wig can allow a woman to leave her hair to grow and repair itself without being exposed to the damages that come with being styled.

Hair loss

Around half of black women will experience some sort of hair loss during their lifetime. Much of this comes from the damage that can occur to hair when using any of the products we just talked about. When it comes to hair loss, it can be difficult for a woman. Therefore, many women will feel insecure about this, so they’ll naturally look for a way to solve this ‘problem’ and deal with their concerns. A wig is a seamless way to cover up hair loss. Plus, it allows the hair to regrow and repair itself from any damage in the meantime.

Ease of maintenance

One of the final main reasons why women wear wigs today is all about the ease of maintenance. To put it quite simply, they can be much easier to deal with than natural locks. Even if a woman is planning to wear her natural hair, it is still more difficult to care for, style and control than you may think. Of course, not everyone has the luxury of spending hours to perfect their hair every day. But, wigs can simplify a woman’s hair routine. As we mentioned, if she wants to wear a straight style, a wig is also significantly easier to achieve this with than her natural hair.

Final thoughts

As you can see, we’ve discovered many different reasons for why black women wear wigs. You may have realised there are more than you perhaps thought about before. The wig has an entire history, which is a very interesting one, and that’s what’s brought us to where we are today.