Did you guys know about this? I had no idea. Here’s an article written by Jameelah Nasheed.
In the late 18th century, new economic opportunities and growth led to an increasein the free African and African-American populations of New Orleans. This was because some people of African descent were newly able to make money, buy their freedom, and subsequently increase the free Black population. And with that came an increase in interracial relationships, to the dismay of colonial authorities. As Ze Winters notes in The Mulatta Concubine: Terror, Intimacy, Freedom, and Desire in the Black Transatlantic, “Charles III of Spain demanded that the colonial governor of Louisiana ‘establish public order and proper standards of morality,’ with specific reference to a ‘large class of ‘mulattos’ and particularly “mulatto’ women.”
During this time, women of African descent were known to wear their hair in elaborate styles (yes, we’ve been fly for centuries). By incorporating feathers and jewels into their hairstyles, they showcased the full magic and glory of their gravity-defying strands, and appeared wealthier than they actually were. As a result, these enticing styles attracted the attention of men—including white men.
To address this “problem,” in 1786, Spanish colonial Governor Don Esteban Miró enacted the Edict of Good Government, also referred to as the Tignon Laws, which “prohibited Creole women of color from displaying ‘excessive attention to dress’ in the streets of New Orleans.” Instead, they were forced to wear a tignon (scarf or handkerchief) over their hair to show that they belonged to the slave class, whether they were enslaved or not. In The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South, historian Virginia M. Gould notes that Miró hoped the laws would control women “who had become too light skinned or who dressed too elegantly, or who competed too freely with white women for status and thus threatened the social order.”
In response to the laws, Creole women did cover their hair, but they did so with intricate fabrics and jewels (think Angela Bassett in American Horror Story as real-life New Orleans sorceress, Marie Laveau). As Baton Rouge curator Kathe Hambrick put it in a recent interview with The Advocate, “they owned it and made it a part of their fashion.” Instead of a cover-up, the wraps became a symbol style. And, of course, the women continued to attract men with their extravagant hairdos.
I recommend reading the whole article over there.
If you’d like to see what some of these amazing fashions looked like, I highly recommend checking out artist Agostino Brunias (one of his paintings is used to illustrate the article above):