It’s not “just hair,” Jawara Wauchope tells us. “When it comes to Black hair, it is part of who you are. It’s a part of your culture. It’s a part of your tradition. It’s a ritual when you’re doing your hair. We take the whole day to do our hair and it becomes a whole event because that is who we are and that’s a part of us.” With references to Blackness, Black histories, and pride, the hairstylist not only catches the eye but captures the spirit of Black people’s intimate relationship to hair.
Raised in Jamaica, Wauchope witnessed how hair in the Caribbean was a vital lifeline for both resistance and preserving African culture. His own relationship with hair began as a child accompanying his aunts to the salon. It was the height of the dancehall era, and salons were energetic hubs with the potential to transform its patrons’ entire style and being. It’s here that he discovered his muse: the Black woman. “I fell in love with the hair salon, the styling, and women coming in,” he tells us. “Everything I do now and everything that I am is because of the Black woman. I feel like it is my duty to honor Black women in my work. To protect them and continue to show them how much they have impacted me as a person and how I would be nothing without them.”
His fascination with the salon’s “magic” never left him, even as he moved to the States as a preteen. However, his passion for hair was revolutionary in its own way. “In the atmosphere that I grew up in, it was kind of taboo for men at that time to be doing hair,” Wauchope explains. “But I felt like it was my way to tap into a higher sense of self. Hair brings me to another world. It’s like my therapy. So I would always say to myself, ‘I can’t let anyone take that away from me.’ And I just kind of stuck with it until it was accepted around me.”
And it’s paid off. Wauchope has worked his way up from a childhood curiosity to celebrity, turning hair into a revolution along the way. With every fashion week and each star in his salon chair, he subverts Black stereotypes into regality. His work celebrates the intricacies, joys, frustrations, and complexities; the beauty, capricious and versatile nature of Black hair. “Black hair is beautiful and Black hair is sophisticated and it’s so chic and it’s so so amazing. And why can’t we put it on these platforms and show it for what it is: beautiful.” When Solange showed up to the 2018 Met Gala crowned in a flowing durag and braided halo, that was Jawara Wauchope at his finest. The singer said it best when she described her look as: “I feel heavenly in Black.”
For the past few years, Wauchope has been virtually unstoppable, with his creations making appearances on the most lauded magazine covers, runways, and red carpets. That is, until, coronavirus. In the wake of this global pandemic, we spoke to the hairstylist about the importance of hair and had him envision how our hair styles are transforming in quarantine.
“Quarantine was a very eye-opening time for me personally. I went back to spending a lot more time with my family and being around my loved ones. But I always think of hair, always. I thought to myself, people are not able to go to barbers, they’re not able to go to hairstylists. Locked in their houses dealing with a pandemic that we’ve never seen before, people are going to get creative and start doing things themselves.
We’re not going to leave this situation the same people that we went into this as. I feel like a lot of people are going to change their look, their aesthetic. Hair is the window to the soul, and I feel like as people’s ideas are changing, they’re going to show it through their hair. I believe that men are going to take a lot more risks with their hair – they’re going to get a lot more creative. I think the layers of a masculine style have definitely changed. Gender bending style has definitely changed too. And I’m excited to see it and for you guys to see it too.”
“The idea of fade is so classic. It’s the staple in Black barbershops – all barbershops actually. I believe that the idea of fading is going to change and get a little bit more intricate, because there’s so much swag now with these guys. I was just watching YG, how he has these fades and it’s so intricate and colorful. It’s going to get more complicated for sure, with the fading. And I’m excited to see that, because guys are ready to show that they can be creative with their hair too.”
“I have to bring up Dennis Rodman. I still don’t believe that people will really get how far ahead of his time he was. Dennis Rodman was on something way far ahead of his time. When I was a kid watching Dennis Rodman come up, as soon as I could color my hair – I think I was like 15 and I got in trouble – I remember coloring my hair blonde and it was the idea of just looking at how creative he was with his hair. Every game it was a different color, a different pattern like cheetah print. It was insane. And he did a lot of gender-bending things too, way before this movement that’s happening now. Dennis Rodman is an icon. I’m very inspired by Dennis Rodman, for sure.”
“I feel like people are going to get a lot more experimental with texture. Sometimes when you have nice curly, textured hair people wear it as is. And I believe that people are going to start playing with shapes and different patterns, different ways of making the pattern look a certain way, but still staying true to the texture. So, ‘hybrid styles,’ I call them, are where you put two different styles together, which is a staple in the Black community. Finger waves on the top and a bob on the bottom. I think that’s going to come back for sure.”
“Cornrows are a classic, but if you look closely at the picture, there is a fabric around the cornrows. Because when women go and get these lace wigs, they do the cornrows and then they do a stocking cap on top of it – we call it the melt. I believe that some girls are going to start just wearing that. I remember going to Atlanta a few months ago and seeing all these girls at the hair salon waiting for their stylist, and they do that part before they apply the wig. And they were outside talking and I was just like, ‘this looks so weird, but so chic at the same time.’
There’s a thin lace of fabric over the corn rows, and it’s like the fabric melts into the head where you don’t even see the line of demarcation. I believe that that’s going to be a style. I don’t know who’s going to wear it, but I know that’s going to be a style. I haven’t seen anything like that worn out and I would love to see someone rock their melt.
All these things that people like to call ‘ratchet’ and ‘ghetto,’ it’s just so much creativity in it that hasn’t been appreciated yet. I think a part of my journey is to change that, because I always thought that these things were actually so intricate and so sophisticated to me. And I can’t wait for the world to start really seeing it like that as well.”
“I feel like guys are going to get these shape ups, and then instead of the locks just falling over like they normally do, in quarantine a lot of people have been sleeping and not really twisting the hair. So it’s going to start to grow up instead of down.
I like to embrace that. If your hair is antigravity, make it gravity defiant. Go the other way, go the complete other way with it. And that’s beautiful too. Hair is not supposed to be always falling to the floor. Sometimes it’s supposed to go up in the air and it’s an extension of you. So that’s a good sign if it’s happy and filled with life.”
“A lot of people have not got their hair cut or trimmed. So there’s a lot of new growth happening and I think as soon as salons are open people are going to get their hair blown back out and trimmed. I see a lot of girls – and guys too – who usually do the blowout before they straighten it. And I feel like now they’re going to get their hair styled, blow it out, trim it and then say, ‘okay, stop there,’ and have it just live free, but still with a little wiry, airy texture. I think that that’s going to be something that you see on a few people for sure.”
“That’s a protective style for stretching. This is a traditional West African technique where thread is used to stretch the hair. I think that the new interpretation of it is going to be something that’s a little bit more flattering to the head with rings and circles. I feel like people are going to adorn their hair a lot more, coming out with hair accessories and jewels and iron. I’m already seeing all these girls putting more iron and wire in their hair and just decorating the hair a bit more. And I think that that’s a very creative way to do it. A few people will do that if they can get their hands on those tools.”
“Hair is therapy for us. When we’re going through things, when we’re dealing with the pressures of society, sometimes doing our hair is just a temporary pick-me-up. It’s so much just deeper than hair for us. It’s actually way more, I think it’s almost spiritual. I think it’s mental. I think it’s big. It’s big for Black people especially, hair. It’s huge. And that’s why there’s so many intricate ways of us doing it and so many different intricate ways of us expressing it because we’ve had to be so creative with it. And I’m very, very proud to be a part of that conversation.”