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Iron Spike @Iron_Spike
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Black Hair for Non-Black Artists: a Cheat Sheet Thread.

Hi, folks! Just spur-of-the-moment decided to put together some reference for folks who want to draw/model black characters in their work, but aren't confident they won't make simple, obvious mistakes w/r/t black hair.
Black people can have any hair texture, but what's commonly considered "black hair" is hair that's tightly coiled, with each individual hair shaft looking like a Slinky. These Slinky-hairs interlocking with lots of space between them is what gives black hair so much volume.
The most common convention for classifying hair types (in my experience) is the letter/number one. "black hair" generally rangers from 3A ("good hair") to 4c ("bad hair'). Traditionally, the kinkier/coilier hair was, the "worse" it was. Some older people still hold this standard.
The Afros we associate with the 60s, Black Panthers, and black liberation movements are direct rebellions to then widely-held beliefs that natural black hair was unkempt, dirty, unprofessional, shameful, and ugly. They are the haircut equivalents of "fuck you."
Just a few years earlier, the only acceptable hair was a slicked-to-the-skull pomade look or "conk" (chemically straightened with lye) look for men. Women also straightened their hair with heat/chemicals, or wore wigs.

My very proper grandmother REFUSED to go wigless, for ex.
This mandatory altering black hair to mimic straight hair goes back much farther, though. These standards were extant in the Victorian age, for the people with the means to maintain it.
(No black hair thread would be complete without mentioning Madam CJ Walker, the first self-made woman millionaire in America... who made her fortune selling hair-straightening solutions. Black hair care continues to be a lucrative business.)
The rise of black pride/identity has slowly but surely made "natural hair" (still called that if the curl pattern is not permanently altered, even if it's in yarn braids and colored green) more acceptable and popular. However, ignorance about the nature of black hair abounds.
For years, the Army banned certain hairstyles that were paradoxically among the easiest for a busy woman with kinky hair to maintain, like dreadlocks, TWAs (teeny weeny afros), and cornrows (the bans have since been lifted, after outcry.)
And pictured below are students recently threatened with punishment by their schools for "violating dress codes." Three of them are literally just wearing their hair as it grows from their heads; the other two have simple box braids.
I could honestly go on forever; black hair is complicated, political, and not something one thread on Twitter can explain. But I think it's time to get to a few basic styles. :V
DREADLOCKS are among the easiest styles for a kinky-haired person to maintain. It's just a matter of twisting hair into sections, and then simply never untangling them. They hold themselves together. There is no glue or pomade. It's just hair.

(Source: had dreads for 15 years.)
"Bongo dreads/rasta dreads" are distinct from "fashion dreads" in that they are not actively cultivated into small segments, but the hair is left to mat together however it wants with little/no direction. These are usually, but not always, religious. "One big dread" is common.
"Salon dreads"/"silky dreads"/"Instadreads" are artificial, and "installed" by a stylist. They look uniform, unnaturally shiny, and popular with folks who don't want to commit to dreadlocks. (Whoopi used to have real dreads, tho, interestingly.)
And dreadlocks ARE a bit of a commitment; if you decide you don't want them anymore, your two options are generally a) shave your head or b) three days of detangling and a loss of 75% of your length.
Reasons you might not want dread anymore include:
- pet hair sticks to them like a magnet
- stay wet and heavy for hours after showers and swims
- hard time finding hats
- just wanna change it up!

Cue the TWA.
Teeny Weeny Afros are for jocks who don't want to deal, and women who just want it out of their face. It's the look for busy people who don't have the time to give longer hair, daring fashionistas making statements... and also women who have had The Big Chop.
In black hair terms, The Big Chop is when a woman cuts off her permanently chemically straightened hair and "goes natural." This can be emotionally trying for a lot of women, especially if they haven't grown out at a little bit of virgin hair first and have to go totally bald.
Black hair is sometimes described as "growing slowly," which isn't true. It *gains length* slowly, since it grows in a spiral. So, many women fret about months to years of short-short hair.
One way around that is BRAIDS!

Also fairly low-maintenance, braids are usually hair extensions that are incorporated into a wearer's natural hair. They keep hair detangled and low-hassle for two, sometimes up to three months. They can also be a "protective style."
("Protective styles" are styles that don't stress the hair with overmanipulation. Black hair is prone to dryness, since natural oils have a much harder time going down a coily hair shaft than a straight one, so not hassling it daily is the best way to get it to grow.)
The down sides include:
- These can cost a LOT to get done. 3 figures is the minimum, 4 is not unheard of.
- The finer the braiding, the longer it will take. 11-15 hours in a salon chair can and does happen. Chunky braids are obviously much less pricey/labor intensive.
- And pulled too tightly, and worn too often? The weight/tightness of braids can cause traction alopecia, where constant tension on the hair shaft damages the root and causes the hair to fall out.

This can be reversible... and it can be permanent.
Also responsible for its fair share of 40-ish black women with unusually high hairlines: WEAVES.

These are, simply, hanks of hair sewn to the wearer's head.
A weave "install" involves cornrowing a wearer's hair, then sewing the false hair into the braids in curtain-like rows. professional stylists can make this look extremely natural with "leave-out," letting hair around the planned part stay unbraided so some scalp is visible.
(Also often included in leave-outs, to maintain a natural hairline, are "baby hairs," the fine hair framing the forehead. Gelled and styled baby hairs? Those are the colloquial "laid edges.")
Like braids, weaves are good for 2-to-3 months of wear. Also like braids:
- These can take hours in install.
- These can costs THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS.

And these require special treatment to extend their wearability for as long as possible. "No swimming" being the most popular.
Your weave-wearing character goes to the beach, but not into the water. They don't let their dumb boyfriend touch their head, because if his hand snags on a track, they'll have to kill him. They sleep on a silk pillowcase WITH a silk scarf. They are on top during sex. :V
(Satin/satin-lined scarves/bonnets/beanies, by the way? Worn by most, if not all, black women, over most, if not all, styles. Cotton/linen pillowcases are abrasive to already-prone-to-dryness kinky hair. Just shifting against one in the night while bareheaded can cause breakage.)
These hats come in many styles, from showercap-esque to stealth-fashion, in all colors, for all lengths.

If your character is sleeping/in for the night/just having a lazy day, and remotely care about their hair? they're wearing one.
If a kinky-haired person keeps their hair moisturized and get a little length post-Big Chop, it might be time for TWISTS.

These are, simply, two sections of detangled hair, twisted together. They come in fat and skinny, and hold themselves together without much coaxing.
Twists need to be refreshed/re-twisted maybe every 7-to-10 days, making them labor-intensive for a few hours 3-to-4 times monthly, especially as they grow longer. And they're not to be confused with "Senegalese twists," which are braid-like hair extensions that simulate the look.
Twists are secretly TWO hairstyles in one, because after a week of twists? It's time for the TWIST-OUT.

The twist-out slightly resembles another style, one that's the holy grail for a lot of kinky-haired people.

The WASH-N-GO. Or, as I like to call it, "TV commercial hair."
The goals of the wash-n-go are:
-Definition. The hair is clumped into distinct coils.
-Low "frizz" (undefined hair).

And the absolute dream? Getting it to last a week, and look just as good on day 7.
Don't let the name fool you. "Wash-n-gos" don't mean quick or easy. Achieving this look usually takes

-copious application of styling products
-carefully curated drying.

This is 4 hours, easy. But like twists, with luck and practice? You get a week of wear.
For a peek at what a wash-n-go routine looks like/involves, check YouTube. hell, do that for EVERYTHING you might want to see; black hair care is an enormous YT community. Wanna draw a character's weave install? Evening hair routine? Big Chop, even? It's all there.
Small touches, like Knowing How This Person Looks at Bedtime, Or How They Would Behave at the Water Park, goes a LONG w/r/t believability. I know I always really appreciate it when black hair is depicted in art in a conscientious way.
Thanks for reading, folks! I know there was a lot I didn't cover-- children's hair, men's hair, relaxed hair, etc-- because, y'know. Finite minutes in a day.
And as far *I* go:

-I run the largest comics publisher in Chicago! Follow us at @ironcircuscomix!
-I have a Kickstarter on, for woman-made robot erotica! Oh my! Support it here!…
-And if you want to tip me for some reason, my Paypal is ironcircus @ gmail.
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