Fashion commentator and self-professed bon-vivant, Simon Doonan, found himself in the middle of a controversy this week when he implored black women to “bring back the afro.”
Doonan’s declaration came after he’d spent a week watching Blaxploitation films on YouTube in advance of an interview with legendary actress Pam Grier, whom he affectionately(?) called “the freak with the ’fro.”
After gorging himself on Grier’s greatest hits—Foxy Brown; Coffee; Black Mama, White Mama—Doonan confessed he wishes sistas would rock ‘70s inspired ‘fros again, because, according to him, “African-Americans have largely turned their backs on the freaky ’fro.”
I guess he’s never heard of the natural hair movement. Or Esperanza Spalding. Or been to Brooklyn. Or peeped Viola Davis’ fashion-spread-heard-round-the-world.
Doonan’s infatuation with the ‘fro is so deep and over-the-top, I can barely take him seriously. As a fashion insider who lives in New York City, a veritable kinky hair mecca, I don’t understand how Doonan can think afros are rare—unless he seldom interacts with, or pays attention, to black women.
After all, you can’t throw a rock in the five boroughs without hitting a sista with a textured ‘fro, and yet Doonan seems to think black women have abandoned our naturals when we trashed the bellbottoms and platform shoes.
The afro had it all: It was natural, symbolic, regal, unisex, and glamorous. Liberated from the costly and time-consuming burden of trying to make their hair resemble that of white folk, black chicks—and dudes—had found the perfect marriage of style and practicality. And yet … styles change, and fashion evolves, and the afro has—with the exception of occasional retro-hipster sighting on Broadway below Eighth Street—become as rare as a dodo.
It is impossible to imagine Beyoncé or Kerry Washington or Michelle Obama rocking a Pam Grier afro today (though Beyoncé paid a retro-camp tribute to the style in the 2002 Austin Powers movie). The alternatives—$2,000 weaves, time-consuming blowouts, and scalp-searing chemical processing—seem infinitely less desirable, and yet, African-Americans have largely turned their backs on the freaky ’fro. But what does this honky know?
While Beyoncé certainly loves her blonde weaves, her little sister Solange, aka fashion’s ‘it’ girl, is known for her kinky hair and eclectic look. Just last year Solo covered no less than a half-dozen fashion glossies and was a fixture in New York’s style scene. Add to that the declining sales of creamy crack and the fact that many of the ads with black women now feature sistas with natural hair, Doonan’s assertion that black women are caught up in the “global obsession with pin-straight hair” is terribly overstated and misguided.
And even if we were true…who cares?
Should a white man who watches a handful of Blaxploitation films, claims he’s now well-versed in “’70s black street culture,” and reduces afros–excuse me, “freaky ‘fros”—to simply “style and practicality” really have a say so on how we wear our hair?
But the next time Simon Doonan kirks out on Pam Grier films and longs to see sistas with regal ‘fros live and in living color he should head over the bridge. Not to his keyboard.