There's a Reason Why Black Hairstyles Are Timeless

From the 1970s to the early 00s, we reflect on why the most iconic look of each decade will never go out of style. 
By Kayla Greaves
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Black hair is nothing short of magical. 

The way it uniquely grows toward the heavens, defies gravity, and can be molded into nearly any shape is a privilege that's distinct to us. And with that comes the power to create hairstyles that are so profound, they transcend time, and forever remain as fixtures in our minds. 

From the 1970s into the early 2000s, icons like Diana Ross, Donna Summer, Aaliyah, and Beyoncé have all worn looks that have done just that. This is why even in 2020, these styles can still be replicated, or taken to the next level with on-trend hair embellishment and accessories, without ever coming across as antiquated or simply nostalgia for nostalgia's sake.

"With the creative outlook in which we approach our hair, our hair is a form of art," says Black hair expert and assistant professor of psychology at the University of the District of Columbia, Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka. After all, "We are the ones who create what stylish is."

Here, we reflect on why four noteworthy hairstyles have made their mark over the years, the reason why they've each stood the test of time, and how to upgrade them in 2020 with the help of celebrity hairstylist Ursula Stephen

DIANA ROSS, 1975

Model's Dress: Christian Siriano, Model's Earrings: Jennifer Fisher. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews
Model's Dress: Christian Siriano, Model's Earrings: Jennifer Fisher. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews

Diana Ross rose to prominence in the early 1960s, quickly becoming the first lady of Motown, then taking over Hollywood in films like The Wiz and Lady Sings the Blues. While she's worn her hair in a plethora of styles over the years, the one she's perhaps best known for is her larger-than-life, ultra-fluffy Afro. 

"When Black people in the 1960s and 1970s started to embrace the Black aesthetic, it was really about creating a connection between themselves and Africa," Dr. Mbilishaka explains. "The Afro in the 1970s, and even now, was so popular because it's how our hair naturally grows: up and out, rather than down and straight. Even if you do twists or braids, once you take that out, it tends to flourish in an Afro." 

TAKE IT TO 2020

Dress: Christian Siriano, Earrings: Jennifer Fisher. Photo: Travis Matthews
Dress: Christian Siriano, Earrings: Jennifer Fisher. Photo: Travis Matthews

To take the style to the next level, Stephen used Dove's Moisture Locking Leave In Conditioner, infused with nourishing jojoba oil, then followed up with a wide pick comb to fluff out the hair, and a narrower pick to create and define the round shape. Stephen also added rhinestone-embellished pins throughout the hair — perfectly symbolizing Ross' aesthetic. 

"Diana Ross represents the glamour, glitz, and beauty from Motown," Mbilishaka shares. "Since she initially wore wigs and straight hair, for her to embrace an Afro, it was really centering that Black aesethic in the mainstream eye and showing that it could be just as beautiful." 

DONNA SUMMER, 1983

Model's Dress: Markarian, Model's Earrings: BaubleBar. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews
Model's Dress: Markarian, Model's Earrings: BaubleBar. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews

Donna Summer's loose curls were representative of the late 1970s to '80s disco era, where she stood at the helm. But the look holds weight for more than one reason. "When we look at some of the ancient traditions of the Oromo people in Ethiopia, they actually have that exact style that influenced the Jheri curl in the '80s," Dr. Mbilishaka says. "I think even now, our eye is still drawn to curl definition, especially when it frames the face in that way." 

TAKE IT TO 2020

Dress: Markarian, Earrings: BaubleBar. Photo: Travis Matthews
Dress: Markarian, Earrings: BaubleBar. Photo: Travis Matthews

To re-create the look for 2020, Stephen began by washing the hair with Dove's Hydrating Cleanse Shampoo and Super Slip Detangling Conditioner. "The sulfate-free shampoo formula, made with aloe, removes product build-up, while the conditioner provides great slip for quick comb through and leaves hair defined and shiny," the stylist explains. She finished with the brand's Twist in Moisture Shaping Butter Cream to give the hair extra hold and definition. To form larger curls, Stephen recommends putting the hair into a roller set, then using a paddle brush to fluff out the hair, and a narrow pick for shaping. 

As for the hair accessory, the celeb hairstylist opted to create a custom headband with gold bobby pins — a look that would be equally as stylish in 1983 as it is in 2020. "When I think about the '80s, a lot of it was about styles and textures, and making it mismatch," Dr. Mbilishaka says. 

AALIYAH, 1997 

Model's Jacket: Kooples, Model's Rings: Pandora, Model's Glasses: & Other Stories, Model's Necklace: BaubleBar. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews
Model's Jacket: Kooples, Model's Rings: Pandora, Model's Glasses: & Other Stories, Model's Necklace: BaubleBar. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews

Aaliyah was the it-girl of the '90s, with a number of Billboard Hot 100 hits under her belt and movie projects in the works by the turn of the millennium. Whether performing on stage, walking the red carpet, or being on the big screen, the singer never strayed from her straight hair and signature side-swooped bangs — which continues to inspire generations of women to mimic the style.

"The 1990s were the time when women really started to be in the forefront of hip hop, and Aaliyah was one of the women who integrated hip hop with beauty," Dr. Mbilishaka shares. "Her influence made straight hair a part of the uniform of being beautiful in [that genre]." 

TAKE IT TO 2020

Jacket: Kooples, Necklace: BaubleBar. Photo: Travis Matthews
Jacket: Kooples, Necklace: BaubleBar. Photo: Travis Matthews

Stephen used a flat iron to achieve the straight look, then added in Dove's Style + Care Extra Hold Hairspray to keep the smooth finish in place. The stylist created an even more star-studded style by adding celestial barrettes to one side of the hair, leaving out the trademark bangs. 

BEYONCÉ, 2000 

Model's Dress: ALC. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews
Model's Dress: ALC. Photo: Getty Images, Travis Matthews

Beyoncé may have solified her status as an icon in the 2010s, but her rise to fame in the late '90s and early '00s laid the groundwork — both for her career as a performer as well as her trademark hair. Her signature honey-blonde color has been a mainstay for the singer for over two decades, but the quintessential 2000s wavy, crimped hair she wore to the MTV Movie Awards that year are just as unforgettable. Much like at the turn of the decade, the look can still be achieved today by using a traditional iron crimper, or doing a chunky braid-out. 

"Movement seems to be a big part of her brand," Dr. Mbilishaka muses. "So having the crimp can show how our hair can move freely — her hair has its own movement and language. When she's on stage, not only is Beyoncé singing, but her hair is saying a lot too." 

TAKE IT TO 2020 

Dress: ALC. Photo: Travis Matthews
Dress: ALC. Photo: Travis Matthews

Stephen used a triple barrel deep wave iron to create the natural-looking waves, adding a few spritzes of Dove's Style + Care Extra Hold Hairspray along the way to keep the hair in place. The hairstylist finished the look with the line's Amplified Textures Shine & Moisture Finishing Gel. "It doubles as a styler and finishing gel, leaving her hair defined, moisturized, and with less frizz," she says. To complete the look, Stephen snapped on two large pearl clips on either side of the hair for a little extra dazzle. 

Photographs by Travis Matthews. Model: Chavi St. Hill (Muse). Hair by Ursula Stephen for Dove. Makeup by Tara Lauren. Styled by Samantha Sutton, assisted by Alyssa Hardy. Art direction and production by Kelly Chiello.