Afro, sometimes shortened to 'fro and also known as a "natural", is a hairstyle
A hairstyle, hairdo, or haircut refers to the styling of hair, usually on the human head. The fashioning of hair can be considered an aspect of personal grooming, fashion, and cosmetics, although practical, cultural, and popular considerations also influence some hairstyles.-History of...

 worn naturally by people with lengthy kinky hair texture or specifically styled in such a fashion by individuals with naturally curly or straight hair. The hairstyle is created by comb
A comb is a toothed device used in hair care for straightening and cleaning hair or other fibres. Combs are among the oldest tools found by archaeologists...

ing the hair away from the scalp
The scalp is the anatomical area bordered by the face anteriorly and the neck to the sides and posteriorly.-Layers:It is usually described as having five layers, which can conveniently be remembered as a mnemonic:...

, allowing the hair to extend out from the head in a large, rounded shape, much like a halo, cloud or ball.

In persons with naturally curly or straight hair, the hairstyle is typically created with the help of creams, gels or other solidifying liquids to hold the hair in place. Particularly popular in the African-American community of the mid-to-late 1960s, the hairstyle is often shaped and maintained with the assistance of a wide-toothed comb colloquially known as an afro pick.


"Afro" is derived from the term "Afro-American". The hairstyle is also referred to by some as the "natural" — particularly the shorter, less elaborate versions of the Afro — since in most cases the hair is left untreated by relaxer
A relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with afro textured hair, which makes hair less curly and also easier to straighten by chemically "relaxing" the natural curls...

s or straightening
Hair straightening
Hair straightening is a hair styling technique which involves the flattening and straightening of hair in order to give it a smooth, streamlined, and 'sleek' appearance. It may be accomplished by using hair irons and hot combs, chemical relaxers, Japanese hair straightening, or Brazilian hair...

 chemicals and is instead allowed to express its natural curl or kinkiness.

History in the United States

In the 1860s, a style similar to the Afro was worn by the Circassian beauties
Circassian beauties
Circassian beauties is a term used to refer to an idealized image of the women of the Circassian people of the Northern Caucasus. A fairly extensive literary history suggests that Circassian women were thought to be unusually beautiful, spirited and elegant, and as such were desirable as concubines...

, sometimes known as "Moss-haired girls", a group of women exhibited in sideshow
In America, a sideshow is an extra, secondary production associated with a circus, carnival, fair or other such attraction.- Types of attractions :There are four main types of classic sideshow attractions:...

 attractions in the United States by P.T. Barnum and others. These women were claimed to be from the Circassian people in the Northern Caucasus region, and were marketed to white audiences captivated by the "exotic East" as pure examples of the Caucasian white race who were kept as sexual slaves in Turkish harems. It has been argued that this portrayal of a white woman as a rescued slave during the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 played on the racial connotations of slavery at the time so that the distinctive hairstyle affiliates the side-show white Circassian with African American identity, and thus:

resonates oddly yet resoundingly with the rest of her identifying significations: her racial purity, her sexual enslavement, her position as colonial subject; her beauty. The Circassian blended elements of white Victorian True Womanhood with traits of the enslaved African American woman in one curiosity.

African American hairstyles prior to the 1960s

During the history of slavery in the United States, most African Americans styled their hair in an attempt to mimic the styles of the predominantly white
White people
White people is a term which usually refers to human beings characterized, at least in part, by the light pigmentation of their skin...

 society in which they lived. Afro-textured hair, characterized by its tight curls, waves or kinks, has been described (sometimes pejoratively) as being kinky, coarse, cottony, nappy or woolly. These characteristics represented the antithesis of the Euro-American
European American
A European American is a citizen or resident of the United States who has origins in any of the original peoples of Europe...

 standard of beauty and led to a negative view of tightly curled and kinky hair; as a result, the practice of hair braiding and straightening
Hair straightening
Hair straightening is a hair styling technique which involves the flattening and straightening of hair in order to give it a smooth, streamlined, and 'sleek' appearance. It may be accomplished by using hair irons and hot combs, chemical relaxers, Japanese hair straightening, or Brazilian hair...

 gained popularity among African Americans.

The process of straightening the hair often involved applying caustic substances, such as relaxer
A relaxer is a type of lotion or cream generally used by people with afro textured hair, which makes hair less curly and also easier to straighten by chemically "relaxing" the natural curls...

s containing lye
Lye is a corrosive alkaline substance, commonly sodium hydroxide or historically potassium hydroxide . Previously, lye was among the many different alkalis leached from hardwood ashes...

, which needed to be applied by an experienced hairstylist so as to avoid burning the scalp and ears. In the late 1890s/early 1900s, Madam C. J. Walker also popularized the use of the hot comb
Hot comb
A hot comb is a metal comb that is used to straighten moderate or coarse hair and create a smoother hair texture.-Overview:...

 in the United States. Those who chose not to artificially treat their hair would often opt to style it into tight braids or cornrows. With all of these hairstyling methods, if done improperly, one ran the risk of damaging the hair shaft, sometimes resulting in hair loss
Alopecia means loss of hair from the head or body. Alopecia can mean baldness, a term generally reserved for pattern alopecia or androgenic alopecia. Compulsive pulling of hair can also produce hair loss. Hairstyling routines such as tight ponytails or braids may induce Traction alopecia. Both...


1960s and 70s

The effect of the African-American Civil Rights Movement brought a renewed sense of identity to the African American community which also resulted in a redefinition of personal style that included an appreciation of African beauty and aesthetics, as embodied by the Black is beautiful
Black is beautiful
Black is beautiful is a cultural movement that began in the United States of America in the 1960s by African Americans. It later spread to much of the black world, most prominently in the writings of the Black Consciousness Movement of Steve Biko in South Africa...

 movement. This cultural movement marked a return to more natural, untreated hairstyles. The Afro became a powerful political symbol which reflected black pride
Black pride
Black pride is a slogan indicating pride in being black. Related movements include black nationalism and Afrocentrism.The slogan has been used in the United States by African Americans to celebrate heritage and personal pride. The black pride movement is closely linked with the developments of the...

 and a rejection of notions of assimilation and integration — not unlike the long and untreated hair sported by the mainly Caucasian
Caucasian race
The term Caucasian race has been used to denote the general physical type of some or all of the populations of Europe, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, Western Asia , Central Asia and South Asia...

The hippie subculture was originally a youth movement that arose in the United States during the mid-1960s and spread to other countries around the world. The etymology of the term 'hippie' is from hipster, and was initially used to describe beatniks who had moved into San Francisco's...

s. To some, the Afro also represented a reconstitutive link to Africa.

The Afro was adopted by both men and women as a hairstyle that was easier to maintain by oneself without requiring frequent and costly visits to the hairstylist, as often experienced by people who chose to braid, straighten or relax their hair. Due to the tight curl pattern prominent in Afro-textured hair, as it grows longer it has a tendency to extend outward from the head, resulting in a dome
A dome is a structural element of architecture that resembles the hollow upper half of a sphere. Dome structures made of various materials have a long architectural lineage extending into prehistory....

like hairstyle which is easily molded and sculpted into the desired shape. While the Afro was a much less invasive and time consuming hairstyle choice for many African Americans, some chose to achieve a bushier version of the Afro by backcombing
Backcombing is a way of combing hair which is used to create volume as well as to create certain hairstyles. Backcombing means repeatedly combing the hair towards the scalp, causing the hair to tangle and knot up...

 or teasing the hair, a practice which can result in damage to the hair and scalp.

In the mid-1960s, the Afro hairstyle began in a fairly tightly coiffed form — such as the hairstyle that became popular amongst members of the Black Panther Party
Black Panther Party
The Black Panther Party wasan African-American revolutionary leftist organization. It was active in the United States from 1966 until 1982....

; as the 1960s progressed towards the 1970s, popular hairstyles — both within and outside of the African-American community — became longer and longer; this resulted in an expansion in the overall size of Afros. Such large Afros were famously sported by African American entertainers and sociopolitical figures; political activist Angela Davis
Angela Davis
Angela Davis is an American political activist, scholar, and author. Davis was most politically active during the late 1960s through the 1970s and was associated with the Communist Party USA, the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Panther Party...

, actress Pam Grier
Pam Grier
Pamela Suzette "Pam" Grier is an American actress. She became famous in the early 1970s, after starring in a string of moderately successful women in prison and blaxploitation films such as 1974's Foxy Brown. Her career was revitalized in 1997 after her appearance in Quentin Tarantino's film...

, rock musician Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix
James Marshall "Jimi" Hendrix was an American guitarist and singer-songwriter...

, and the members of the musical groups The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5 , later known as The Jacksons, were an American popular music family group from Gary, Indiana...

 and The Supremes
The Supremes
The Supremes, an American female singing group, were the premier act of Motown Records during the 1960s.Originally founded as The Primettes in Detroit, Michigan, in 1959, The Supremes' repertoire included doo-wop, pop, soul, Broadway show tunes, psychedelic soul, and disco...

 are prominent examples.

In contrast, the Afro's popularity among African Americans had already started to wane by the early 1970s; the introduction of the Afro to the mainstream and its adoption by people of non-African descent caused the Afro to lose its radical
Political radicalism
The term political radicalism denotes political principles focused on altering social structures through revolutionary means and changing value systems in fundamental ways...

, political edge. The 1970s also saw an increase in the popularity of braided hairstyles such as cornrows among both sexes of African American — hairstyles which up until that time had traditionally been worn by only African American women.

1990s and 2000s

The Afro saw popular resurgences in both the 1990s and 2000s. These Afros would take varied forms — some incorporating elements such as braids, beads or twists — as well as various sizes — from close-cropped natural hairstyles all the way to expansive Afro wigs.
Some African-Americans who have been known for wearing Afros or Afro wigs during these two decades include NBA basketball players Ben Wallace
Ben Wallace
Ben Camey Wallace is an American basketball center for the Detroit Pistons of the NBA. A native of Alabama, Wallace attended Cuyahoga Community College and Virginia Union University and signed with the Washington Bullets as an undrafted free agent in 1996...

, Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bean Bryant is an American professional basketball player who plays shooting guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association . Bryant enjoyed a successful high school basketball career at Lower Merion High School, where he was recognized as the top high school...

, and Michael Beasley
Michael Beasley
Michael Paul Beasley, Jr. is an American professional basketball player for the Minnesota Timberwolves of the National Basketball Association . He plays both forward positions, and shoots his jump shot left-handed, though he is also ambidextrous...

, as well as musicians Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Hill
Lauryn Noelle Hill is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress.Early in her career, she established her reputation as a member of the Fugees. In 1998, she launched her solo career with the release of the commercially successful and critically acclaimed album, The Miseducation of...

, Erykah Badu
Erykah Badu
Erica Abi Wright , better known by her stage name Erykah Badu , is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress. Her work includes elements from R&B, hip hop and jazz. She is best known for her role in the rise of the neo soul sub-genre, and for her eccentric, cerebral musical...

, Macy Gray
Macy Gray
Macy Gray is a Grammy Award-winning American R&B and soul singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress, famed for her distinctive raspy voice, and a singing style heavily influenced by Billie Holiday and Betty Davis.Gray has released five studio albums, with her fifth studio album, The Sellout,...

, Ludacris
Christopher Brian Bridges , better known by his stage name Ludacris, is an American rapper and actor. Along with his manager, Chaka Zulu, Ludacris is the co-founder of Disturbing tha Peace, an imprint distributed by Def Jam Recordings...

, Questlove, Cindy Blackman
Cindy Blackman
Cindy Blackman is an American jazz and rock drummer. Blackman is best-known for recording and touring with Lenny Kravitz...

, Webbie
Webster Gradney, Jr. , who performs under the mononym Webbie, is an American rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was signed to the independent Trill Entertainment label from 2003 to 2005. In 2005 he came into the hip hop scene with "Gimme That" featuring Bun B...

, and Lenny Kravitz
Lenny Kravitz
Leonard Albert "Lenny" Kravitz is an American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, record producer and arranger, whose "retro" style incorporates elements of rock, soul, R&B, funk, reggae, hard rock, psychedelic, folk and ballads...

. Beyoncé Knowles
Beyoncé Knowles
Beyoncé Giselle Knowles , often known simply as Beyoncé, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and actress. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, she enrolled in various performing arts schools and was first exposed to singing and dancing competitions as a child...

 also donned a large Afro wig for her role as Foxxy Cleopatra
Foxxy Cleopatra
Foxxy Cleopatra, played by Beyoncé Knowles, was the female counterpart to Austin Powers in the third Austin Powers film: Austin Powers in Goldmember.-Austin Powers in Goldmember:...

 in the 2002 film Austin Powers in Goldmember
Austin Powers in Goldmember
Austin Powers in Goldmember is a 2002 American spy comedy film and the third installment of the Austin Powers series starring Mike Myers in the title role. The movie was directed by Jay Roach, and co-written by Mike Myers and Michael McCullers. Myers also plays the roles of Dr. Evil, Goldmember,...


Similar styles internationally

A Jewfro (portmanteau of the words Jew and afro) or Isro (portmanteau of the words Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 and afro) refers to a curly hairstyle worn by certain people usually of Ashkenazi Jewish descent.
Similar hair worn by non-Jewish people is usually considered, with humor, to be a Jewfro.
Its name is inspired by the afro hairstyle, which it resembles, and also builds on a history of racial discrimination.

The term has its roots in the 1960s and 1970s when many prominent figures were described as sporting the hairstyle. The Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

called college football star Scott Marcus a flower child
Flower child
Flower child originated as a synonym for hippie, especially the idealistic young people who gathered in San Francisco and environs during the 1967 Summer of Love. It was the custom of "flower children" to wear and distribute flowers or floral-themed decorations to symbolize altruistic ideals of...

 with "golden brown ringlets around his head in what he calls a Jewish afro style".

The New York Times
The New York Times
The New York Times is an American daily newspaper founded and continuously published in New York City since 1851. The New York Times has won 106 Pulitzer Prizes, the most of any news organization...

in a 1971 article on Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

's "hairy" basketball
Basketball is a team sport in which two teams of five players try to score points by throwing or "shooting" a ball through the top of a basketball hoop while following a set of rules...

 team, wrote that Captain Brian Newmark, "hasn’t had a haircut since last May and his friends have suggested his hairdo is a first cousin to the the case of the Jewish Junior from Brooklyn
Brooklyn is the most populous of New York City's five boroughs, with nearly 2.6 million residents, and the second-largest in area. Since 1896, Brooklyn has had the same boundaries as Kings County, which is now the most populous county in New York State and the second-most densely populated...

, though, the bushy dark hair that is piled high on his head has been called an Isro." Novelist Judith Rossner
Judith Rossner
Judith Perelman Rossner was an American novelist, best known for her 1975 novel Looking for Mr. Goodbar, which was inspired by the murder of Roseann Quinn and examined the underside of the seventies sexual liberation movement. Though Looking for Mr. Goodbar remained Rossner's best known and best...

 was described in a Chicago Tribune
Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune is a major daily newspaper based in Chicago, Illinois, and the flagship publication of the Tribune Company. Formerly self-styled as the "World's Greatest Newspaper" , it remains the most read daily newspaper of the Chicago metropolitan area and the Great Lakes region and is...

profile as the "grown-up Wunderkind with an open, oval face framed by a Jewish Afro."

The Hadendoa
Hadendoa is the name of a nomadic subdivision of the Beja people. Other Beja tribes include the Bisharin and Ababda. The area inhabited by the Hadendoa is today parts of Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.-Overview:...

Beja people
The Beja people are an ethnic group dwelling in parts of North Africa and the Horn of Africa.-Geography:The Beja are found mostly in Sudan, but also in parts of Eritrea, and Egypt...

 of Northeast Africa were called Fuzzy-Wuzzies
Fuzzy-Wuzzy is a poem by the English author and poet Rudyard Kipling, published in 1892 as part of Barrack Room Ballads. It describes the respect of the ordinary British soldier for the bravery of the Hadendoa warriors who fought the British army in the Sudan.-Background:"Fuzzy-Wuzzy" was the term...

 by British
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 colonial troops
Colonial troops
Colonial troops or colonial army refers to various military units recruited from, or used as garrison troops in, colonial territories.- Colonial background :...

 during the Mahdist War
Mahdist War
The Mahdist War was a colonial war of the late 19th century. It was fought between the Mahdist Sudanese and the Egyptian and later British forces. It has also been called the Anglo-Sudan War or the Sudanese Mahdist Revolt. The British have called their part in the conflict the Sudan Campaign...

 of the late 19th century due to their oftentimes large and elaborate hairstyles, which they shaped with the assistance of butter
Butter is a dairy product made by churning fresh or fermented cream or milk. It is generally used as a spread and a condiment, as well as in cooking applications, such as baking, sauce making, and pan frying...

. Similarly, young males of nomad
Nomadic people , commonly known as itinerants in modern-day contexts, are communities of people who move from one place to another, rather than settling permanently in one location. There are an estimated 30-40 million nomads in the world. Many cultures have traditionally been nomadic, but...

ic clans in Somalia
Somalia , officially the Somali Republic and formerly known as the Somali Democratic Republic under Socialist rule, is a country located in the Horn of Africa. Since the outbreak of the Somali Civil War in 1991 there has been no central government control over most of the country's territory...

 were known to tease their hair into rather large bushes, which they would also hold in place with butter. As they aged and got married, they would tend to cut their hair.

Variations of the afro have been worn by one or both sexes in the many disparate cultures of the African continent
Africa is the world's second largest and second most populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area...

. Due to the hairstyle's links to members of the African-American Civil Rights and Black Power
Black Power
Black Power is a political slogan and a name for various associated ideologies. It is used in the movement among people of Black African descent throughout the world, though primarily by African Americans in the United States...

 movements, the Afro was seen by several outside cultures as a dangerous symbol of political unrest, including Tanzania
The United Republic of Tanzania is a country in East Africa bordered by Kenya and Uganda to the north, Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, and Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique to the south. The country's eastern borders lie on the Indian Ocean.Tanzania is a state...

 where the Afro was banned in the 1970s because it was seen as a symbol of neocolonialism
Neocolonialism is the practice of using capitalism, globalization, and cultural forces to control a country in lieu of direct military or political control...

 and as part of an American cultural invasion. In the 1950s and 60s, South African women were also known to wear their hair in an Afro-type style.

The Afro did not rise to the same level of popularity among the Afro-Caribbean
The term Afro-Caribbean applies to Caribbean people of African descent. It may also refer to:*British African-Caribbean community*Afro-Caribbean music*Caribbean Australian*Caribbean Brazilian*West Indian American...

 community as it did in the United States, in part because of the popularity of dreadlocks
Dreadlocks, also called locks, a ras, dreads, "rasta" or Jata , are matted coils of hair. Dreadlocks are usually intentionally formed; because of the variety of different hair textures, various methods are used to encourage the formation of locks such as backcombing...

, which played an important role in the Rastafari movement
Rastafari movement
The Rastafari movement or Rasta is a new religious movement that arose in the 1930s in Jamaica, which at the time was a country with a predominantly Christian culture where 98% of the people were the black descendants of slaves. Its adherents worship Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia , as God...

. Not unlike the Afro's significance among the members of the American Black Power movement, dreadlocks symbolized black pride
Black pride
Black pride is a slogan indicating pride in being black. Related movements include black nationalism and Afrocentrism.The slogan has been used in the United States by African Americans to celebrate heritage and personal pride. The black pride movement is closely linked with the developments of the...

 and empowerment amongst the Rastafari of the Caribbean. The hairstyle was also banned in Cuba
The Republic of Cuba is an island nation in the Caribbean. The nation of Cuba consists of the main island of Cuba, the Isla de la Juventud, and several archipelagos. Havana is the largest city in Cuba and the country's capital. Santiago de Cuba is the second largest city...

 during the 1960s.


Although styles similar to the Afro had existed in Africa prior to the colonization of the Americas, some critics have suggested that the Afro hairstyle is not particularly African. In his book titled Welcome to the Jungle: New Positions in Black Cultural Studies, cultural critic Kobena Mercer argued that the contemporary African society of the mid 20th century did not consider either hairstyle to denote any particular "Africanness"; conversely, some Africans felt that these styles signified "First-worldness
First World
The concept of the First World first originated during the Cold War, where it was used to describe countries that were aligned with the United States. These countries were democratic and capitalistic. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, the term "First World" took on a...

". Similarly, Brackette F. Williams stated in her book Stains on My Name, War in My Veins: Guyana and the politics of cultural struggle that African nationalists were irritated by the Afro's adoption by African Americans as a symbol of their African heritage; they saw this trend as an example of Western
Western world
The Western world, also known as the West and the Occident , is a term referring to the countries of Western Europe , the countries of the Americas, as well all countries of Northern and Central Europe, Australia and New Zealand...



The long teeth of the afro pick or afro comb were designed to dig down to the scalp allowing the roots of an Afro to be stretched straight into a desired style or shape using a picking motion.

See also

  • Caesar cut
    Caesar cut
    The Caesar cut is a men's hairstyle with a short, horizontally straight cut fringe. The hair is layered to around 2-5 cm all over. It is named after Julius Caesar, whose images frequently depict him wearing his hair in such a manner....

  • Conk
    The conk was a hairstyle popular among African-American men from the 1920s to the 1960s. This hairstyle called for a man with naturally "kinky" hair to have it chemically straightened using a relaxer , so that the newly straightened hair could be styled in specific ways...

  • Crew cut
    Crew cut
    A crew cut is a type of haircut in which the hair on the top of the head is cut relatively short, graduated in length from the longest hair at the front hairline to the shortest at the back of the crown. The hair on the sides and back of the head is usually tapered short, semi-short or medium. A...

  • List of hairstyles
  • Jheri curl
    Jheri curl
    The Jheri curl is a hairstyle that was common and popular in the African American community especially during the 1970s and 1980s . Invented by and named for Jheri Redding, the Jheri curl gave the wearer a glossy, loosely curled look...

  • Nubian wig
    Nubian wig
    A Nubian wig is a form of headdress worn by ancient Egyptians which is thought to imitate the thick hairstyles of the Nubian peoples , who were at various times incorporated into the Egyptian kingdom...

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