The history of the Afro hairstyle is as varied as the style itself—in the '60s and '70s, the hairstyle spoke to the political and social mood of the civil rights movement, during which African-Americans embraced the mantra "black is beautiful" and, in celebration of their heritage, began to embrace the natural texture of their hair, forgoing chemical straighteners. (The word Afro derives from the term Afro-American.)
The most fashionable shapes and styles of Afros have evolved many times over in the years since then, but never has the style been more ingrained in mainstream culture than it is now, making frequent appearances on runways, red carpets, fashion editorials, and on film and television.
If you're considering growing out an Afro or if you already have one, here are some tips that will help you kick off (or maintain) a stellar look. While you take notes, check out some of the best 'fros that span decades.
Tip No. 1: Change Up Your Tools
If you are currently using small-tooth combs, put them down! Instead, go for wide-tooth combs or picks.
Detangle hair with a wide-tooth comb and conditioner, that way curls will be moisturized and stretched when they air dry. Divide hair into sections and comb from the ends toward the root— this process will help diffuse tangles and kinks from the source, so you don't have to yank them out with the comb.
Tip No. 2: Don't Wash Too Often
Build a regimen that focuses less on cleansing and more on conditioning, since coarse, curly hair is weakened when stripped of its natural oils. Cleanse once a week (use a conditioning wash for added moisture!) and apply a deep conditioner every other week, or once a month, depending on how dry your hair gets.
Tip No. 3: Use Your Favorite Oil and Butters
If you haven't noticed already, one of the most important factors in maintaining an Afro is a lot of hydration. Find a good, natural essential oil or butter such as coconut, jojoba, olive oils, or shea butter and integrate them into your regimen.
Create a deep conditioning mask with olive oil, or add coconut oil post-wash—whatever you do, just keep up with it so your Afro doesn't dehydrate and deflate.
Tip No. 4: Get It Shaped
As an Afro grows, the shape can change (for example, getting longer in the back rather than the front), which you can fix by getting your ends trimmed every six months. But a cool cut can also add great dimension to your Afro—go for a TWA (otherwise known as a teeny weeny Afro) with tapered sides, or get a geometrically designed undercut by the nape of your neck.
Tip No. 5: Get Creative With Your Style
If you've grown out your hair for an Afro, you can still style it lots of different ways. Give it more body with looser curls by doing a two-strand twist-out or add a front crown braid right at the hairline (which is basically the DIY version of a headband!). Add highlights or a high-fashion pastel color with hair dye—but be sure to consult a professional colorist before going this route.