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A Brief History of Wigs

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Psychology of Hair Beauty School Drawback Rethinking the Ethnic Hair Aisle Hair Definitions, Detangled





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Strands of Time 06 A Visual Guide to Braids 08 The Healing Power of Being Me 11

When Beauty Gets Personal

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founders Arnaud Plas, Catherine Taurin, Nicolas Mussat, and Paul Michaux

creative director Rashi Birla

editorial director Amanda Flores

senior designer Hazel Castillo


designer Ana María Dorta-Duque

Cover Iringó Demeter

creative producer Morgan Young

editorial assistant Words Amber Nicole Alston, Archana Ram, Cheryl Grant, Deanna Pai, Garrett Munce, Gina Way, Lyz Mancini, Nikki Naser, Nykia Spradley, Rachel Morris

Art Chris Gambrell, Coral Monday, Gissel Batres, Iringó Demeter, Landon Yost, Nik Antonio, Sacrée Frangine, Shira “Koketit” Barzilay, Suzanne Saroff

Emily Bowen

A letter from the Editor We’re very excited to share the very first issue of At Length, a magazine designed to broaden the conversation about hair and its impact on you, us at Prose, our community and our culture. Even when we don’t realize it (or intend for it to be), hair is often the focal point of the visual conversation all around us. Our hair—or sometimes the absence of hair—gives us an opportunity to express our unique selves. And while the choices we make are personal, they can speak volumes to the outside world. It got us thinking. If a picture is worth a thousand words, what is the value of a haircut? That question is rhetorical of course, but it opened up an internal dialogue about self-expression and why it’s so important for the beauty industry to elevate the individual. It’s why we chose inclusivity as the theme of our inaugural issue. Inclusivity is a hot topic in beauty right now, as there’s a lot of work to be done to get to a place where everyone feels that their needs are being heard. Especially when it comes to the types of products available. Prose Director of Research & Development, Marie Mignon, says it best in “When Beauty Gets Personal.” She comments on how the beauty industry got to a place where we thought we were helping people by creating segmented products, but we just ended up putting people into boxes based on hair type or ethnicity—the opposite of what inclusivity in beauty should be. But beauty, whether it’s in the form of a haircut or a shampoo, isn’t just about tailoring to the individual, it’s about appreciating what makes us all unique. That’s why we wanted our first issue to honor you, and whatever that might mean. Through open conversation and personal stories we hope to highlight the great strides we’ve made in allowing for individuality and also to shed light on where we need to see change. Our goal is to bring people together through their uniqueness, and although that might sound like an oxymoron, we’re determined to make it work. amanda flores

strands of time

Words by Emily Bowen Art by Gisele Batres

Behind every good hair day is an ingenious invention that makes it all possible. Comb through some of the hair industry’s most transformative moments to learn how they’ve shaped hair care as we know it now.



Apothecaries Get Personal

By the 18th century, the idea of customized beauty was well established. Mortar and pestle wielding men and women mixed up medicines and beauty products for individual clients based on their specific needs.


Hair Dye Is (Accidentally) Invented

The color was mauve and the original intention was to cure Malaria. William Henry Perkin’s creation of the first non-natural dye was revolutionary in its staying power. In fact, the color-changing molecule PPD was derived from it and remains the foundation of most permanent hair dyes today.


Hair Dryers Hit the Scene

Alexandre-Ferdinand Godefroy first debuted his “hair-dressing device” in a French salon. Far from the handheld device you use at home, this one was immobile, and resembled the hooded hair dryers found in salons. The concept was simple: Hook the device up to a form of heater and hot air would flow through a pipe to a dome surrounding the client’s head, drying their hair.


Mass Production Brings Beauty to All

Popularized by the production process for Henry Ford’s Model T automobile, automated technology meant that beauty products could be pumped out in mass quantities, finally making them accessible to those who could afford them.

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Shampoo Graduates from Bar and Powder to Modern Liquid

Hans Schwarzkopf introduced the first “liquid hair wash,” aka shampoo, to the European market. It was a welcome replacement for the often-used castile and lye soap, which left strands stripped of natural oils and extremely dry.


Beauty Segmentation Takes Off

Dr. John H. Breck founded his eponymous shampoo under the slogan “Every woman is different.” His line of shampoos was broken up into dry, oily and normal—an improvement on one-size-fits-all, but also the beginning of the hyper-segmentation of products we see in stores today.


Aerosol Hairspray Makes Its Debut in the United States

The secret behind up-dos that last all night got its inspiration from an unexpected source: insecticide-filled aerosol cans utilized in WWII. The product was formally named hairspray in 1950, and by 1964 had become the best-selling beauty product.


Customization Comes Full Circle With Personalized Beauty

Once again, technology changes the way we see beauty. This time, it’s thanks to artificial intelligence and not big machines. Brands like Prose are bringing it back to the individual to offer personalized formulas for everyone.

Strands of Time


A visual guide to braids Words by Archana Ram Illustrations by Coral Monday

The history of braids spans thousands of years and many countries. Behind each seemingly simple plait, there are cross-cultural influences and deep meanings. Cornrows A series of braids made of three strands woven close to the scalp, cornrows are thought to have originated in Africa thousands of years ago. “I call them plaits in Nigeria, but African-Americans call them cornrows because they look like rows of corn,” says Antonia Opiah, cofounder of the mobile at-home


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styling service for black women, Yeluchi by Un-ruly. “I’d sit on a pillow, and my mom would do my cornrows while watching TV. I heard people say it’s a rite of passage. In that exact moment, you don’t feel that, but [after] talking to other friends who’ve had similar experiences, I realized this connects us.

Fishtail The roots of this style go back to ancient Athens. In 430 BCE, maidens called Caryatids often wore fishtails, which weave together two segments of hair as opposed to the traditional three. Because of the ornate design and time-intensive process, it is widely believed that the fishtail braid was a marker of high societal status.

Box Braids

Long Single Braid

Named for the box-shaped, geometric partitions created, the box braid seems to have originated over 3,000 years ago and is similar to the eembuvi braids of the Mbalantu women in Namibia and the bob braids of the women of the Nile Valley. “When you section your hair to start your braid, you form a box around the part you want to braid,” Opiah says. “Often people prefer a more natural look, and they’ll freestyle their part so it looks less geometric. Some women who can sit for hours will do really thin box braids, almost like strands of hair. Or you have jumbo box braids that are thicker and more dramatic.”

Seen on Bollywood actresses and Bharatanatyam dancers whose flowerand jewel-adorned braids are part of the costume, a long plait not only wrangles thick South Asian locks—it represents an ideal. “All those women have long, beautiful dark hair—it’s what Indian culture sees as beauty,” says Michelle Ranavat, founder of Ranavat Botanics, a line of skin care products inspired by the rituals of Indian royalty. “The braid is a reflection of how we take care of our hair. You even see school girls with braids and oil in their hair.”

A Visual Guide to Braids


Fulani Braids

Double Braids

The Fulani people are believed to be the largest nomadic group in the world and are dispersed primarily in West Africa. The women wear braids marked by beads or gold ring accents. It’s taken on multiple iterations, says Opiah. “Usually it starts with cornrows in the front and box braids in the back. One of the distinguishing characteristics is [having] two cornrows that start from behind the ear, then go toward the front of your face and end with the tails framing your face.”

A staple of Sioux tribes, long double braids have deep roots in indigenous communities. “During traditional Lakota ceremonies like the Sundance, most women wear double braids to help keep their thoughts clear when they pray,” says film and TV producer Yvonne Russo, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Tribal Nation in South Dakota. “When you enter the sacred dance circles, women normally wear their double braids, or just one long braid, to show a sign of respect. Sometimes a braided lock can be given to someone as an honor—a sign of giving someone a part of your energy.”

French Braid This three-strand single braid is created by starting from the crown of the head with a small segment of hair and adding strands as you continue. It may have a French moniker, but research points to roots in North Africa, specifically in Algeria some 6,000 years ago. In 1871, Arthur’s Lady’s Home Magazine called the look “French,” which is thought to have been when the history became muddled.

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As told to Lyz Mancini Art by Shira “Koketit” Barzilay


The religion spoke to her, and we converted. I didn’t understand the commitment as a kid until I was required to toss my shorts and jeans. Dressed in a long skirt, I looked like every other little girl in my community—except for my hair. My ringlets misbehaved, spiraling this way and that. I wanted to blend into the background, but my locks were like an unwanted spotlight—and they only became curlier as I grew older. At age 13, I desperately wanted to fit in, so I started straightening my hair every day. I kept that up until shortly after college, when I realized that I actually preferred the way I looked when I let my hair do its thing. I ditched the straightening iron and played around with different products. I got a new haircut that helped tame my curls and found a look I loved. But then I got married—and on went the wig. In Orthodox Judaism, women wear wigs beginning the day after their weddings. Hair is seen as nudity when you’re married; it’s for your husband’s eyes alone. My wig had a classic style: deep brown with full-bodied waves as if I had just used a large curling iron on it. The front pieces were blown out and away from my face. I was devastated when I had to put it on for the first time. Some Hasidic women shave their heads or keep their hair super short, but I couldn’t bear to part with my natural curls once again. I needed to be able to remove my wig at the end of each day, look in the mirror and say, “that’s me.” But keeping my hair presented a

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bit of a challenge: I had to cram my curls into a bun at the nape of my neck and use tight clips that exacerbated my migraines in order to make the wig fit. The wig wasn’t the only thing I couldn’t fully embrace. My husband and I soon realized that neither one of us was fully committed to Orthodox Judaism, and we started to toy with the idea of leaving the religion. As we became less involved in the community, I donned my wig less and less. And when we followed through on our plan to completely leave the religion, I ditched it completely. My husband and I eventually divorced for unrelated reasons (we remain good friends), but I’m grateful that together, we were able to gather the courage to take that step. Once free of my wig, the relief was both emotional (I looked like myself again!) and physical (the migraines eased up). My curls, on the other hand, were hurting after being flattened under a wig for four years, and I had bald spots where the clips had been. I started showing my hair the love it had missed out on during the four years that I wore the wig. I splurged on an expensive layered haircut, invested in good shampoo and avoided hot tools. Thankfully, my curls bounced back. Today, I feel free, imperfect, and 100% me with my natural curls. A windy or humid day does a number on my hairstyle, but it serves as a daily reminder that not everything in life is under my control—and that’s okay.


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WIGS The who, what and wearing of wigs

Words by Amber Nicole Alston Photography by Nik Antonio

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HAIR TODAY, GONE TOMORROW. WIGS HAVE BEEN A BEAUTY STAPLE THROUGHOUT THE AGES. HERE’S WHY. Rooted in nobility Crack open the tomb of any ancient Egyptian royal or noble, and you’ll find the owner’s prized wig. These pieces indicated rank and sex appeal and were off-limits to lower classes. Later, France’s King Louis XIV turned to wigs as a solution for balding, bringing large powdered wigs into fashion across Europe.

The rest is drag Wigs are a must-have in the drag community, which has its roots in nightclubs in the mid-1900s. Drag wigs are often intricately constructed, colorful and supersized to call attention to the performer’s onstage personality. “It was just what [drag queens] did. Now it’s evolved, and you see people applying those [wig-making] techniques to everyday wear,” says Isaac Davidson, who has created wigs for “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alums, SIA, Debbie Harry and more.

The celebrity effect The secret to picture-perfect red carpet hair: wigs. A-listers have always embraced hair pieces and often turn to them to bring their public personas to life. “When I suggest a wig to a celebrity, I try to create a hairstyle that

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emphasizes their real character. But sometimes they are not afraid to turn into totally different characters,” says Akki Shirakawa, whose clients include Lady Gaga and Brooke Candy. Today, stars use wigs not just to change up their onstage looks, but also to make a splash on the red carpet.

A divisive do The black community has a long and controversial relationship with wigs. Seen by some as fun while also as a way to protect the health of their natural hair, others view wigs as an attempt to conform to a straight-haired beauty ideal. One thing is for sure: Black women have helped move wig culture forward. Icons paved the way, starting with Diana Ross and her beehive in the 1960s and continuing today with Beyoncé sporting the lace-front style.

Everyday wear Manufacturing improvements mean that wigs today are cheaper than ever to purchase while also more realistic, giving more and more people the chance to reimagine their hair. The trend will likely only continue to grow, partly thanks to social media, which has given wig-wearers a platform to share tutorials and reviews and build community.




of hair Words by Garett Munce Illustration by Chris Gambrell

The summer before my senior year of high school, I dyed my hair to look like fire. It was the early 2000s, and I thought that nothing would complement my au courant spiky style like eye-catching flames—yellow roots, orange midsections and red tips. I was at a summer program, and my friend dyed it for me in our dormitory bathroom with a painter’s palette of Manic Panic. It was so, so cool. For a few days. By the time my parents picked me up a few weeks later, it had melted into a flat neon-orange tone. My mother nearly cried when she saw me, mostly because my senior portraits were scheduled to be taken in just a few days. The moment we got home, she ushered me to her colorist, who promptly dyed my hair a chestnut brown, a few shades darker than my natural color. I was livid. As I stood in front of my bathroom mirror, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. That person was … boring. I snuck out to the drugstore, bought a box of Féria, and gave myself chunky maroon highlights. When my mother saw it the next morning, it was one of the only times I ever saw her actually shake with rage. To her, I had ruined a perfectly good dye job. To me, it was a vast improvement. See, my mother and I both understood that hair has power. It is inextricably linked to both our internal psyche and

our outward identity and, while it may not literally give us strength like the biblical Samson, it is one of the most important social tools in our arsenal. Think about how you feel when you have a good hair day—the bounce in your step, the smile you flash at your reflection in windows, the selfies you take. Think about the power you feel. That power is real, not imagined. “What [a good hair day] does psychologically is create a sense of self-esteem, confidence, and a feeling that you’re on top of your game,” says Dr. Marianne LaFrance, professor of psychology as well as women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Yale University. “Conversely, a bad hair day leaves you feeling a lack of self-confidence. Then you may behave in other ways that reinforce that feeling.” How we feel about our hair affects our mental state and our physical

Psychology of Hair


bodies. “Everyone has the same physical reaction to a good hairstyle,” says celebrity hairstylist David Lopez. “The shoulders go back. The head is held higher. The chest is out a little bit more. They’re a little more friendly, a little more smiley, maybe a little more confident.” If hair didn’t have power, it wouldn’t have such an effect on us. The reason it has this power, according to Dr. LaFrance, is in part because it is so visible. “It is both public and private,” she says. The decisions we make about our hair are private and personal: how to style it, color it and take care of it, and how much money to spend on it, for instance. “Those are all psychological decisions,” she says. But because our hair is so visible to everyone else, these personal decisions are presented on a public stage. How our hair looks lets everyone know who we are without even opening our mouths.

The reason it has this power, is in part because it is so visible. “Hair is a deliberate way to convey things about who you are,” says Dr. LaFrance, who has conducted studies about the effects of hairstyles on how we perceive each other. She’s found that just by changing our hairstyle, it can completely change not only how other people perceive our personalities,

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but actually how we look to them physically. “Hair is very much associated with identity,” she says. “One’s politics, social standing, social class, and attitudes toward any number of social issues are often reflected in the decision to do something with one’s hair. It can be changed quickly, which makes it a useful indicator of where we are psychologically, emotionally, and politically.” This mutability is what makes hair so important. Consider these classic movie makeovers: Demi Moore’s character shaving her head in G.I. Jane; Cher rinsing out Tai’s red dye in Clueless; Mia’s curly-to-sleek blowout in The Princess Diaries; hell, even the high school witches discovering glamour spells in The Craft. All of these moments involve hair changes, some subtle and some extreme, to signify larger changes in the characters’ lives. It’s not just in movies, either. We’ve all been there, right? People facing a major life change (going through a divorce, scoring a new job, becoming a new parent or coming out) will often do something drastic to their hair. “A big hair color change is probably the biggest thing you can do to signify something different in your life,” says Lopez. When we feel that we have a new life, we need a new identity, and sometimes one that’s at odds with what

Like most things in life, it's about balance and understanding.

people think of us. That’s why I got so angry when I saw that mom-endorsed brown hair color in the mirror back when I was 17. It wasn’t just that I didn’t like it, but it didn’t look like the person I wanted to be. It looked instead like the person my mother wanted me to be. And what teenager wants that? This feeling, according to Dr. LaFrance, is exactly why teenagers gravitate toward extreme hair: rebellion. “Of course teenagers sometimes change their hair directly in opposition to what their parents think is appropriate, just like they change their music taste and their clothes,” she says. They use experimentation as a signal that they are figuring out who they are. We all use this tool well past our teenage years. The problem, according to Lopez, is when we feel that the power is taken out of our hands. “The Westernized version of beautiful hair is

straight,” he says. “Think about people of color going into workplaces where their dreads are deemed unprofessional and they feel they have to fit into a certain environment.” For those people, the stakes are high, and the personal and public aspects of hair become unbalanced. And for many, the risk of self-expression outweighs the benefits. It’s funny to think about something on our bodies being out of our control, but that’s what makes hair so important to us. My self-expression as a teenager was at odds with what my mother thought was a reflection on her. And there we get to the crux of the issue: it’s an imperfect system. How others interpret the signals we put out has as much power as our decision to send them. Like most things in life, it’s about balance and understanding. I eventually grew out of my extreme coloring phase, but never out of the knowledge that my personal power will be forever linked to my hair, for better or worse.

Now when I change my hair, I think about what message I’m trying to convey, how I’m hoping to feel, and who I want to be. And only a little about what my mom will think.

Psychology of Hair


My Hair Lets Me Express Who I Am As told to Landon Yost

tirzah athena

“I think growing up as an army brat, the only way I coped as a kid was kind of taking claim over the fact that I didn’t have to be the same person all the time. So that was a big reason why I kept changing my hair. It’s interesting—every time you change your hair, the world will treat you differently.”

johanna broughton Growing up in the Bahamas, where Eurocentric beauty is strongly embraced, my hair was always an issue. I tried a few chemical treatments when I was younger, either to straighten or loosen my curls, but the results always left me with damaged hair instead. I finally decided to allow my natural hair to grow and my lost curls started to reappear. At 14, I cut all my dead ends off and had a cute fro that I loved. I think I was the only one at school to wear my natural hair like that. I felt confident for the first time and I’ve kept my hair natural ever since.

My Hair Lets Me Express Who I Am


mariangela serrano “I think before changing my hair, I felt like I had to be perfect. There is a standard in Venezuela that beautiful women have to have long black hair, and it’s straight or very wavy. I love that I can change it, and I think for me it marks chapters in my life. Whenever I change my hair color, I know that something is going to be represented by that.�

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sinjun storm “Doing my hair became a very important part of my day for me as a kid. I would come home after school and I would watch whatever movie was playing on Turner Classic Movies. Then I would pick my favorite hairstyle from a movie, and go practice and do it afterwards. It was like my routine of like relaxing and winding down at the end of the day.�

My Hair Lets Me Express Article WhoName I Am


aton crawley

“My hair doesn’t really have a meaning, but more of a purpose. That purpose being to convey growth, knowledge and connection from the environment around me to my inner being. The hair itself is no more than an antenna of sorts, collecting that energy from the world and incorporating it into what is being formed within and without myself.�

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christina goursky “My hair was definitely a target, but now I let the mane flow. I love my hair now. When I was younger, I definitely got made fun of for having auburn hair. People would always say to me, ‘Well you’re not technically a ginger.’ Maybe now I just own the color.”

miri weinberg “We are Jewish-Jamaican—and in middle school I was bullied because of my curls so I started straightening my hair. I didn’t feel like myself at all, and when I started getting my curls back, I started seeing my family’s roots in them more, and seeing that as my identity. And seeing my appearance as a reflection of our ancestors and their power. I always change it when I’m having an identity crisis and I need to reaffirm control over my outer identity and just how people see me.”

My Hair Lets Me Express Who I Am


ondine atwell-hudson

“My style changes a lot depending on my hair. When I had braids and bangs, I had the whole farm girl aesthetic thing. I kind of gave up. I’m very low-maintenance now. I just want comfortable clothing and pants—no dresses; they’re too much work. I cut all my hair off and now I don’t have to deal with it much anymore.”

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beauty school drawback Words by Deanna Pai Photography by William Vanderson

Beauty schools aren’t teaching techniques for textured hair, and it’s having a ripple effect that goes beyond the chair.

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In 1997, seven police officers showed up at Isis Brantley’s salon and arrested her on the spot. “[They] carted me off like a common criminal,” Brantley recounts. The crime: braiding hair without a cosmetology license.

“There is no required proficiency [in textured hair] to graduate from cosmetology school, so you don’t have to be able to do textured hair to get your license,” says Melissa Taylor, owner of The Beauty Lounge Minneapolis.

Brantley, who counts Erykah Badu among her clients, had chosen not to attend cosmetology school—and in turn get a license—because her skill, braiding natural hair, wasn’t on the curriculum.

Though Taylor graduated from cosmetology school, she, like many other African Americans in the business, had to teach herself how to style textured hair by practicing on her own. “Because the mannequins in school usually have straight hair, African-American students learn how to work on straighter hair,” says Mindy Green, licensed cosmetologist and owner of MG Beauty in Washington, DC. And even though curly-haired options are available, they tend to cost more. This may be another reason why even at the diverse cosmetology school she graduated from, the mannequins primarily had straight hair.

She wasn’t cutting, coloring or chemically treating hair at her salon, so why spend thousands of hours and dollars on an education she couldn’t benefit from? That decision cost Brantley her business. Her salon in Dallas, Texas, was shut down following her arrest.

A Non-Inclusive Approach to Beauty It isn’t just braiding that’s ignored atmost cosmetology schools. The skills needed to style textured hair typically account for less than 5% of the coursework, if that. Walk into any classroom and you’ll see mannequins with silky, straight locks—not a curl or kink in sight. And the textbooks only exacerbate the problem, as most don’t include even the most basic instruction for natural hair. More detail on caring for, braiding, cutting, coloring and treating natural hair is available separately—and at an additional cost.

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To address the colossal gap in education, schools run by and for people of color are popping up. But the rest of the cosmetology industry isn’t likely to come around anytime soon. “The cosmetology curriculum is slow to adapt,” Taylor explains. “You still have to do finger waves to get your license.” On top of that, new techniques go ignored for years. That’s because beauty schools typically teach to the exams, and until the licensing exams—which vary according to state—require knowledge of and experience in textured hair types, it’s likely not going to be prioritized anytime soon in the classroom.

Photo by William Vanderson/Fox Photos/Getty Images

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The Cost of Being Overlooked Cosmetologists aren’t the only ones hurt by the lack of a diverse education. Black women often have to go to greater lengths to get a good haircut because the majority of stylists aren’t taught to address their needs. This has led women of color to a new source for tips: YouTube. “People now are more self-serviced because they don’t trust hairstylists,” says Taylor. Rather than risking damage from a stylist who doesn’t know the right techniques—or paying money for a service that isn’t satisfying— it’s easier to test out products and styles and to take advice from other women with natural or textured hair. That might explain why 24% of women with textured hair don’t go to a salon, according to a recent survey conducted by TextureMedia. And that increases according to hair type: The tighter the curl or kink of a woman’s hair, the less likely she is to get her hair done. “I remember my mom telling me that we couldn’t go to ‘fancy’ salons, aka white salons, because they wouldn’t know how to do my hair,” says Deirdre Hering of Brooklyn, NY, who has coily hair. “I was confused that you could become a certified hairdresser and not know how to do the hair of a significant portion of the population. It’s like being a pediatrician, but only knowing how to treat boys.”

Time for a Change After years of legal battles, Texas finally passed a law in 2007 allowing students

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who work with natural hair to become licensed after completing a 35-hour braiding curriculum. (The standard cosmetology license requires practice hours in the hundreds or thousands, though it varies by state.) It’s a win for men and women who want to focus solely on braiding, but cosmetologiststo-be still lose out. “People go to [traditional] cosmetology school expecting to learn braiding, locking, twisting and different techniques,” says Brantley. She now offers her own braiding classes and was grandfathered in as part of the settlement, allowing her to skip the 35 hours of training. For now, it’s in the hands of the student to learn the skills needed to style all hair types. “The unfortunate realities of beauty schools are [that] they teach you the basics, take your money and prep you for state board, and then you are off into your career,” says Lindsay Loo, a Wella Master Color Expert in New York City. “The real training comes after beauty school, through apprenticeships,” she says. Thankfully, with more natural hair salons cropping up around the country, it’s becoming easier to supplement traditional beauty-school teachings with apprentice education. But that’s still an unsatisfying solution to a longstanding, discriminatory problem. Real change will only happen when cosmetology schools broaden their curriculum and give students an education in all hair textures.


ETHNIC HAIR AISLE Words by Nykia Spradley Illustration by Sacrée Frangine

Curly-haired women of all backgrounds are snatching up products marketed toward women of color. Is it time to do away with “ethnic hair” labels and acknowledge that skin color does not always equal hair type?

Walk into any Target or Walmart and the message is clear: For black women, a good hair day starts in the ethnic hair care aisle. There, the shelves are lined with products specifically concocted for curly, kinky, coily hair. “The term ‘ethnic’ in hair care has often been associated with ‘black,’ but the natural hair space has transformed beyond black, or even multicultural,” says Pekela Riley, a hairstylist and owner of SalonPK in Jacksonville, FL. A more appropriate description for the sign hanging above the aisle might be “multi-textural.”

Getting its roots

“ Most of my friends growing up had straight hair—many didn’t even own conditioner.

When it comes to hair care, one size does not fit all. But grouping product needs based on skin tone may not be the best solution. Varying degrees of naturally curly hair textures exist outside of the women of color demographic, just as there are many women of color who have naturally straight locks.

So how did the ethnic hair aisle, often small and tucked away, come to be? It could be argued that it’s all a marketing ploy, but

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it’s one that’s often embraced. “Some black women prefer the segmentation because it creates an exclusive, isolated point of recognition for their unique hair needs,” says Riley. “This ties deeply into the strong emotional and cultural perspectives and pride for a category that finally caters to black women after a long history of neglect and even shaming.” And the popularity of ethnicspecific products is reflected in the sales. According to a Mintel poll, black consumers spent around $2.51 billion on hair care in 2018.

New shoppers in aisle three

Today, black women aren’t the only ones filling their carts with ethnicspecific shampoos, conditioners, creams and gels. Curlyhaired women of all backgrounds browse the same shelves simply because the products work better on their hair type. “I’m a white girl and I’ve got white-girl waves,” says Kelly Melissa, of the Netherlands. “I feel like a curly imposter the whole time, but I can’t use regular drugstore products either, so I end up going to the black hair care shops anyway.”

For curly-haired Melissa Jordan, of Louisville, KY, who is of Irish descent, a trip to the ethnic aisle also boiled down to necessity. “I’ve used ethnic hair products since I was 17. I’m now 42. Most of my friends growing up had straight hair—many didn’t even own conditioner. I always felt different. So it made sense to me at an early age to try something else,” says Jordan. Check out the back of the bottles, and it’s easy to see why Jordan, Kelly Melissa and other curly-haired women gravitate towards these products: They’re often packed with moistureboosting ingredients that curly hair often craves, such as shea butter, sweet almond oil and macadamia oil, while being free of sulfates, which can be too harsh for curls.

Looking forward As more women find the “ethnic” section while discovering how to navigate the mix of textures on their heads, the question is: Is it time to desegregate the hair care aisles? Or does the marketing of multicultural hair care to all feel dangerously like whitewashing? The latter was the general reaction when Shea Moisture, a hair product line with black founders, featured white models in one of its commercials in 2017. The backlash was quick, with people arguing that the company missed the mark and had whitewashed the product. Realizing its mistake, Shea

The trend towards personalization in all areas of life, beauty included, means that people are eager to find products that work best for them. Moisture pulled the ad, saying that it “does not represent what we intended to communicate.” That said, the trend towards personalization in all areas of life, beauty included, means that people are eager to find products that work best for them. And as companies develop targeted, science-based hair solutions for all types of coils, it’s possible that skin color-specific labeling might feel less relevant—or even become obsolete. Will the ethnic hair care aisle be relabeled as the multi-textural aisle? It’s difficult to say, but what is guaranteed is that as long as the products are shelved there, women from varied backgrounds will flock to this section for the same reason: to show their curls some love.

Rethinking the Ethnic Hair Aisle


when beauty gets personal

Words by Gina Way Photography by Suzanne Saroff

Article Name




38 At Length

Q: Personalization is having a moment. When did it hit the hair care industry?

Q: And that’s why people are craving customization again?

MM: It’s by no means a new trend. It’s actually a throwback to the beginning of the beauty industry, when an apothecary would consult with a customer and then create a formula just for them. We lost that personalized touch during the industrial revolution, when mass-produced products replaced those bespoke formulas. We started putting people into boxes according to hair type or ethnicity, and they switched to shampoos, conditioners, lotions and creams intended to benefit their hair—but there’s a trade-off that happens. After a few weeks of use, many people realize that they have other issues that are not being fixed and end up switching shampoos.

MM: Exactly. They were compromising on products that target one or two needs and missed the one-on-one service and authenticity that started it all. Today we’re having that same personal conversation, but now we use modern data science and technology to build an algorithm around that initial consultation. We can be much more precise than the original apothecary ever could be. Chemists can pinpoint the issues and preferences determined by the answers to a digital survey and then hand-mix a formula that contains specific ingredients in precise concentrations.

Q: How precise are we talking? MM: At Prose, we have the capacity to customize 50 billion unique possible formulas with a huge portfolio of ingredients that are linked to specific hair benefits.

Q: That’s...a lot. Simply based on aspects like texture and dryness? MM: It’s more than that. Our hair needs and goals are based on multiple parameters and preferences, such as the level of humidity, amount of UV and pollution exposure due to where you live, your age, and how much heat styling you do. A custom product should take all of this into account and adjust your formula accordingly. You simply can’t find that level of detail at the drugstore.

Q: So what’s the secret sauce? MM: Ingredients are everything—and it’s not just about avoiding ‘nasties,’ like parabens, sulfates, phthalates, and unsafe preservatives and chemicals. You have to source ingredients that are truly effective for very specific benefits

and profiles. For example, honey is a great volume-boosting ingredient if you have healthy hair. For someone who has very dry hair, it’s not enough, so we combine it with cornstarch and carob seed extract. A personalized product is like a piece of clothing that’s tailored to your body. It fits you perfectly, always works and just makes your life easier.

Q: Do you envision that level of detail making its way to massproduced products? MM: It just won’t work. A custommade beauty product can never be formulated before someone places an order. That means everything is freshly made, and it also means that lots of ready-made products aren’t sitting on shelves for months. Many times when this happens, brands and retailers have to throw out unbought products to make way for new ones—an issue we never run into with custom. It’s much less wasteful and more environmentally friendly. A beauty product can be totally individualized and good for the earth, too.

When Beauty Gets Personal


Hair Definitions, Detangled Photography by Iringรณ-Demeter

Knowing how to talk about your hair can help you choose the right hair products or ask for the right cut or color. This is how to get it right. brassy

Brassy is the term used to describe levels of unwanted warmth in hair color, like coppers, oranges or reds. It can sometimes speak to the texture of hair.


This is the outermost layer of a hair strand. Like shingles on a roof, it’s there to protect against environmental damage, aggressive brushing and heat-styling, and it also promotes elasticity and shine.


Often confused with thickness, it’s actually the collective number of hairs on your head, not the size of your actual strands.


This is the rhythm or pattern of your hair strands—for example, straight, wavy, curly or coily.

pro tip Prevent brassiness by protecting strands from excess sun exposure and getting a water purifier for your shower to remove chlorine and hard metals.

pro tip Permanent color, bleach and heat-styling can all take a toll on your cuticles, causing dull strands and less elasticity (read: breakage). Be sure to protect strands during any chemical process to preserve your cuticles.

pro tip Look at the number of strands in a one-inch square section on your scalp. If you see a little or none of your scalp, your hair is high on the density scale. See a lot? You’re on the lower end.

pro tip It is very common for someone to have more than one type of strand on their head. A good rule of thumb is to go with the one that’s most prominent throughout your head.

Hair Definitions, Detangled



say their hair retains odors


of people who color their hair


of people use heat tools to style their hair

These stats are based on Prose data from 816,000 consultations.


Hair thickness is the diameter of a hair strand, which is determined by the presence of three layers: the cuticle (outside), the cortex (middle) and the medulla (inner).


This is your hair’s ability to absorb moisture. The higher the porosity, the more water, or even odor, that will seep into the strands. That’s because the cuticle is lifted more (think: shingles on a roof) than the cuticle of a strand with low porosity.


A man-made ingredient that adds shine and smoothes the hair cuticle. The coating effect helps cut down on breakage from wet combing, particularly for curly or unruly hair.

pro tip Coarse hair is considered to be thick hair because it has all three layers, while thin or fine hair has the cuticle and cortex, but is sometimes missing the medulla.

pro tip For low-porosity hair types, try to incorporate hair-steaming to help open the cuticle for better product absorption. For highporosity types, adding oils to your hair routine helps to lock in moisture throughout the day.

pro tip If you have unruly or high-porosity hair, water-soluble silicones can be very beneficial. Be sure to clarify your strands from buildup that can occur overtime.

Hair Definitions, Detangled


ISSUE 01 INCLUSIVITY At Length is a quarterly magazine created by Prose. The publication explores the intricacies of hair and all of the ways in which it influences our culture, our daily lives and our personal choices.