Tignon Laws Forced Black Women To Cover Their Hair

By | July 23, 2020

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A Caribbean woman wearing a tignon. (Getty Images)

Black women often face discrimination and hardship on account of their "distracting" hair, and it turns out it's been happening since their earliest days in the U.S. While today, black hair is considered as fashionable as it is "unprofessional," there was a time when lawmakers forced black women to literally keep their hair under wraps.

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Free Women of Color with their Children and Servants, oil painting by Agostino Brunias, Dominica, c. 1764–1796. (Agostino Brunias/Wikimedia Commons)

Down In New Orleans

New Orleans in the 1700s was a wildly diverse place, with settlers from France and Spain mingling with the Creole population as well as people of African and Caribbean descent. Every group brought the fashion of their culture with them, from the elaborate baroque dresses of France to the intricate braids, beads, and gems with which black women from all regions adorned their hair. This diversity didn't necessarily lead to equality, however. Just because many black Louisianans had earned enough money to buy their freedom didn't mean the balance of power didn't shift disproportionately toward white settlers, and white women—whose hair was usually ill-suited to such fanciful displays—weren't happy about being outshined by their black neighbors in that department.