Fashion Masochist: The New Afro

With hairstyles reaching up and out, Rachel Baker gets bushy with it.

Fashion Masochist The New Afro

Illustration by Kavel Rafferty

Boston is a straight-haired town.  Ask any Hub stylist and he’ll tell you a classy blowout is our city’s style of choice. While L.A. or Miami natives often gravitate toward the edgy, Bostonians just want to look pretty. Here, cutting bangs is a drastic move. Hinting at your natural texture? Wild!

Meanwhile, beyond Boston, things are getting kinkier. An African vibe is emerging in fashion, with tribal prints and crafts-y accessories. To match, hair is natural and free-spirited—sometimes extremely so. For his Louis Vuitton show, for example, Marc Jacobs topped each of his models with a monstrous red, brown, or blond Afro.

As someone who has battled curly hair since junior high, I’m eager to embrace the post-racial ‘fro. Opting for the wig route, I buy a fluffy, light-blond version from Great Eastern Trading Company in Central Square (where else?). After a friend prunes the mass into a more believable shape, I authenticate the look with a wide headband, then hit the town.

Wearing the blond accessory with a black dress, I strut Newbury Street with more sass than usual. Sure, heads turn, but the stares always seem positive. I feel like an exotic, powerful individual. (They didn’t call her Foxy for nothing!) And apparently I’m still approachable: When I get two requests for directions from midwestern tourists, I take it as a sign that I do not look like a terrifying drag queen.

At the Paradise on Friday, the opening band’s African-influenced percussion prompts some serious hair-bobbing. But when the openers exit the stage and the crowd begins angling for a better view, the Afro is not welcome. I’m 5-foot-10, flat-footed. So with the ‘do plus my heels, I’m 6-foot-4. Hardly a front row–appropriate height. I’m moved to whip off my wig/headband/pride and stuff them into my purse, leaving a flat topknot on my head. After the show, two men in their forties approach to ask why I took the wig off. It was cool, they thought!

The next afternoon I head to see a movie at Kendall Square, arriving half an hour early to grab the perfect seat—two-thirds of the way back, in the center. As I shimmy down the row, I’m greeted with rolled eyes, a few loudish groans, and a “Really?” or two. My ‘fro and I take the hint and retreat to the back in shame.

Visiting the MFA, though, I feel right at home: A sculpture from 19th-century Madagascar shares my hairdo, as does a 17th-century Spanish princess in a portrait. Also, a museum staffer looks at me and blurts out, “I like your hair.” Well, thanks! Me, too! “I really do, I really do,” she stresses. I believed her the first time but I guess reinforcement never hurts. Plus, I’m a hit with the kids at the museum, who stare at me adoringly. Maybe our city’s future will be a little less straight. Mine sure will be.