Sportin’ Waves: The Rise of Baby Hair in Fashion

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Photo by Stevie Mada

Ah, baby hair: as diaphanous as a vapor, as nimble as a wisp, they are the all but forgotten fine edges that line our scalps.

The remnants of a childhood wave pattern that coiled and coalesced, these wiry tendrils are hardly ample in size, but their cultural significance undoubtedly looms large. With a real finesse, smudge of gel, and the deft flick of a toothbrush’s bristle, these tufts of curls have over the years become a Black hair tradition that can hardly be demystified.

To locate the style’s exact impetus is a moot cause, but my devised timeline would suggest it bore from an ‘around-the-way-girl’ attitude (“Baby hair pumping/lip gloss is shining…”): an attitude that inspired TLC’s Rozanda “Chilli” Thomas, Missy Elliott, Jennifer Lopez, and cholas everywhere to artfully shape, shift, and “lay” their edges across the sprawl of their crowns. Like the sacred “edge-up”, baby hair is an intimate, delicate ritual that depends on precision and total commitment.

Photo by Aingeru Zorita

Photo by Aingeru Zorita

Of course, how this style recently meandered its way from the corner beauty shop to high fashion’s most conceptual runways and photo spreads with a real sense of urgency is not necessarily novel in all the ways we hope it would be. True, when musical darling, FKA twigs, covered i-D’s Pre-Fall 2012 issue with her fused hair strands spelling out the word “love” across her temples, it was a savvy platform to springboard an otherwise esoteric hair practice to the forefront of mainstream media. A nostalgic nod to an era that most i-D readers certainly romanticize (if I see another Camron t-shirt…), but few deign to adopt for their everyday—at least not in any “unironical” kind of way.

It is irony that’s the driving force behind most subcultural praxis emerging to light, is it not? The short-lived and shallow indulgence in the gauche, the passé, the cheekiness of things that have come before us, is what ultimately maintains our interest. I can’t help but think Susan Sontag must be somewhere, smiling….

Photo by Daniel Gil Rodrigo

Photo by Daniel Gil Rodrigo

After all, the lauded social critic famously argued in her 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp’”, it is a denial of aestheticism that ultimately fuels this kind of shtick; the void of taste that ultimately inspires fashion editors, stylists, and designers, alike, to pick up where i-D left off. From numerous fashion spreads to British streetwear designer, Nasir Mazhar, glamming out models for his Spring Summer 2014 collection in the “ghetto-fab” stylings reminiscent of Bad Boy Entertainment, baby hair is celebrated for its extravagance—not its actual style. For as Sontag continues, style is irrelevant: “it is the love of the exaggerated, the ‘off,’ of things-being-what-they-are-not” that fuels any ironic, campy kind of fascination. If we’re being honest, the style set is not genuinely interested in adopting baby hair as an alternative to, say, blunt bangs this Fall, but rather as a nominal styling cue when tackling concepts in one-off shoots(namely anything with an “urban edge”).

Photo by Stevie Mada

Photo by Stevie Mada

Because as we all know, fashion is an industry predicated upon references, tropes, and puns. There’s a lot of “channeling” to be done, plenty of “homages” to be enacted, but very limited commentary is offered to explain these choices. Cultural moments are often stripped down to their mere signifiers: these markers in turn become detached from the original phenomenon from which they arose, and eventually, are supplanted as product. It’s also interesting to note that as baby hair abounds, so does the notion of wearing tube socks with Adidas sandals. Yeah, that’s happening again, and with such a vengeance that no one can directly recall when that exactly became a good idea or, for that matter, an original one. I’ll take the guesswork out for you and let you know it’s neither. This is in fact the leisurewear of mid-90s trap lords, hip hop greats (think: OutKast’s Big Boi), and R&B sensations (Aaliyah rocked it mightly in a Tommy Hilfiger ad circa 1997), which has been usurped by the beaumonde. I get it, considering sky-high heels are a taxing and draining dimension of fashion, but is this not what happened to punk this year? Is nothing sacred?

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Photo by Aitken Jolly

By nature, an anti-establishment movement devised upon a DIY attitude, punk was eventually made to represent overpriced ripped leather pants (no shade, Hedi) as the 2013 Met Gala celebrated its overwhelming influence on fashion over the years this past spring. The odd juxtaposition of this subculture being heavily appropriated by the same industry it originally rebelled against, prompted Vogue’s fearless Creative Director, Grace Coddington, to quip she wished there were more actual punks at said event. Coddington is generally a beast (the really, really great kind) and saying what everyone else is thinking about fashion’s foibles, so no surprises there: but I would take it even one step further and ask, why not invest in the actual people who you seek to imitate? Why not locate the original impulse of a “trend”, and work to understand it, rather than simply affix it to our bodies in clumsy, silly, and thoughtless ways? But even more, why not give credit where credit is due? Stylists are hardly the masterminds of such organic expressions of personal style, but in fact, are incredibly late.

I know, I know: I realize I am asking a lot from fashion. I always tend to do so, but I believe such an imaginative forum has the gumption to think radically, rather than relentlessly mining the culture and praxis of a subculture they hardly wish to engage. Life is obviously more than a well-lit photo shoot, but it’s unsettling when certain peoples’ are reduced to little much else.