[Detangling Our Roots] Stop the co-opt. In this EBONY.com series exploring Black hair origins, we trace the fade haircut and other innovative barbering styles to the military, as well as Black barbershops
If there was ever a haircut that exemplified coolness, it has to be none other than the fade.
The hairstyle originated in the U.S. military around the ‘40s and ‘50s. Since the military is known for having strict grooming standards, it’s no surprise to learn that the fade haircut was and still is popular among military men, as the harsh lines and angles signaled you meant business.
Naturally, new times usher in new trends. Over the decades, Black folks experimented with different hairstyles, whether it was the afro or the infamous Jheri curl. By the time the mid-80s rolled around, a reworked, edgier version of the fade was emerging thanks to Black barbers. It would soon become a standard in hip-hop culture during its golden era.
We’re talking about the hi-top fade a.k.a. the flattop. Before Cameo, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B & Rakim and others made it their signature look, Grace Jones rocked one on her 1980 Warm Leatherette album cover. Because Queen Nefertiti’s crown closely resembles the hi-top, many believe it derived from Ancient Egypt.
“Hip-hop impacted the way we dressed and how we wore our hair especially,” says Greg Cooper Spencer a.k.a. GregTheBarber, a New York-based master barber and hairstylist with 20-plus years of experience. “Before this period, we relied heavily on Black leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali who sported afros, to influence how we engaged in society in addition to our look.”
“Just as hip-hop emerged, so did the artists who made sure their hair and wardrobe stood out, along with their music,” Spencer continues.
Helping to push the flattop into further notoriety was the popularity of rappers, including Kid ‘n Play and DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, along with the box-office success of Do The Right Thing and Lean On Me. Though most common among men, a few women took the hi-top out for a spin, including Queen Latifah as seen in her “Ladies First” video.
Trends come and go with the hi-top fading out in the early ‘90s. With the exception of Black celebrities, including Nas, Kanye West, Usher, will. i. am., and Kendrick Lamar, modernizing it in the 2010s, the hi-top has gradually evolved back into a more tapered look much like how it started.
Read more of my latest piece for Ebony.com [here].