June 10, 2021 4 min read
If you pay any attention to trends and fashion, you can see black influences everywhere - including hair styles. Laying down edges is a unique staple in black hair style and culture, yet the origin of this hairstyle is unknown to most of us.
For those not in the know, baby hairs are the short hairs growing at the edges of a woman’s hairline (particularly women of color). Laying down edges is the act of styling these baby hairs and gelling them down. Recently baby hair, or more specifically the act of laying down edges have become trendy and is considered fashionable with white celebrities such as Rita Ora and Kylie Jenner gelling down their hair to resemble this style. Always the trendsetters, this historically black hairstyle is becoming mainstream in the fashion world.
A Controversial Start But A Glorious Rebound
Unfortunately, the history of baby hair is rooted in racism. Black people were seen as inferior and so were their features, including kinky hair. Gelling black hair and slicking down edges to imitate straight white hair was a reflection of the European standards of beauty.
Edge control started off as a way to slick the hair down to make it look less kinky. Then finger waves became the new black feminine look of the early 20’s, using heavy product to shape hair at the edgeline into designs. Flappers of the roaring 20’s popularized the look. Baby Esther, the inspiration behind Betty Boop, was famous for her baby hairs that framed her face. Finger waves was a popular style that was meant to create a softer look to the bobbed hairstyles of the flappers.
Women’s fashion was soft and feminine and so was their hair. To try and make edges look soft and feminine black women created various types of hairstyles throughout the early 20th century. More softer looks began to replace highly sculpted hairlines in the 1930’s. Roller set up-do’s became popularized by famous singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday during this time, styling baby hair was still a trend though not as heavily prioritized in the look. Throughout the 40’s and 50’s, black hairstyles evolved into straight and swept back hairlines, the beehives of the 1950’s and hair bumps of the 1960’s. Black women were styling their hair to make it look straight and flat as possible, at least until the 1960’s socio-political Black power movement liberalized black hair from conforming to white beauty standards. Instead black women were encouraged to start embracing their natural hair texture. Afros became normalized and even celebrated as activists and stars like Angela Davis and Nina Simone rocked theirs.
How Edges Changed
Black women began laying down their edges while keeping their kinky fros, the 1970’s created various techniques to style baby hairs such as using toothbrushes or hair bristle brushes to frame their faces. While some black women continued to straighten their hair it was no longer their only option. There was now another beauty standard black women could look to. Celebrities like LaToya Jackson and Bernadette Stanis were both iconic for laying down their edges. Soon edges became an accessory to straightened hair, afros, braids, and all types of black hair. Instead of styling hair to make it look straight, baby hair could be used to accentuate black hairstyles. Baby hairs were taking on a new meaning to women.
Intricate hairlines started to incorporate more geometric shapes as the trends of the 80’s transformed the style of the decade. From Patti Labelle’s elaborate spikes to Octavia St. Laurent’s ballroom looks, these hairstyles dominated the hair scene. Hair styles were becoming more unconventional and creative. Jheri curls used heavy chemicals to curl the hair that gave famous stars like Michael Jackson and Ice Cube a curly wet look and laying baby hairs gave black girls a more stylish version to this.
The 1990’s drew styles from trends of the past and modernized them. The one constant throughout the decades was a laid hairline. Black teens updated 1960’s bouffant styles (hair raised high on the head and usually covers the ears) into updo’s for school dances. Braids were becoming fashionable thanks to stars like Brandy and Janet Jackson who also gelled down their edges. Missy Elliot used finger waves from the 1920’s in her music videos. By the turn of the century the finishing touch to any black hairstyle was baby hair.
Our Second Natural Hair Movement
However as the second natural hair movement entered the conversation about looking “presentable” and what is considered “professional” attire, specifically professional hairstyles, black hair styles was not just about fashion. The age of the internet has made information about hair, specifically black hair, more accessible than ever and has allowed black women all over to share their own hair care secrets. As more black women choose to keep their natural hair and straighten less, relaxer sales decrease. This next step in the evolution of black hair care is a shift in the perception of natural black hair and the acceptance of it in mainstream culture.
Unfortunately as natural hair trends grow and more black women begin to celebrate their hair, so too does the push against normalizing this type of beauty. Enforcing the idea that black hairstyles are unprofessional and terming them “ghetto” reinforces false stereotypes of black girls and women, leading to further discrimination. The fight for equality is still being fought, and the little things matter just as much as the big things. This includes hair, and normalizing black hair and black hairstyles is a significant part of this fight and journey.
Hair is an important element in black culture and makes up a significant part in black history. For a long time, baby hair was part of a niche culture and unique to black women and their history. Laying edges is an art form that highlights the beauty and uniqueness of black hair. This hairstyle was invented during a time when black women did not have many options or resources for taking care of their hair and this style represents the strength and creativity of black women.