Articles By Shannon Shelton

Wedding HairstylesWhen a well-meaning older relative learned of my engagement last spring, she became excited thinking of how I would look on the big day. No, she wasn’t dreaming of a beautiful white dress or my glowing face on a lovely fall morning—she was excited that she would finally get to see me wearing straight hair.

I smiled, figuring she would just have to be surprised by what she’d actually see on my wedding day. My fiancé, however, didn’t hesitate to respond.

“She’s not straightening her hair.” he said with a big grin on his face.

“Oh,” my relative said in a confused tone. “Well, how exactly is she going to do it?”

Good question.

I honestly had no idea. I didn’t have the faintest clue about wedding hair styles that would give me the elegant look I wanted without having to straighten my hair.

I wasn’t alone. Magazines and websites geared to “ethnic” brides showed mostly straight wedding styles, with a few braids thrown in for variety. Calls for suggestions and pictures of natural bridal styles featuring unbraided kinks and coils appeared on most wedding websites I visited during that time because they were in such short supply.

While it might take a bit of creativity and practice to find a desired style, there are plenty of options for a natural bride who wants to glam up her everyday look for her wedding day—and many are easier to pull off than one might expect.

So, for all of you who are or will one day be in my former position, here are a few suggestions for curly wedding hair styles.


Decorate an afro with a lovely flower, headband or decorative clip. A bride can style her hair as she does everyday—with kinky twists, with loose curls formed with Curly Hair Solutions Curl Keeper and Curly Hair Solutions Extenzz stretched with a root brush, or done completely freeform with some Curl Keeper as a styling product—and simply place the decorative piece on the side of the head.

Others might prefer to pin up coily hair or sweep it to the side. The accessory can then be placed in a desired position for a look of old-school glamour. Leaving some loose tendrils on the forehead or at the temples adds softness and elegance.

Unveil Your Beauty

Traditional veils work well with most wedding hair styles, but the trendy birdcage veil seems to go especially well with tight curls, as the netting shows off the texture of the hair. Perch the veil slightly past the crown of the head and let the birdcage netting rest on the forehead. The top of the veil, which usually contains a decorative ornament, adds to the glamour.

Do It Up!

Use a rhinestone crystal hairpiece to feel like a princess with your natural hair. This is what I ultimately did, working with an amazing stylist to create a voluminous half-up, half-down style. We washed and conditioned my hair and used a leave-in conditioner and styling product to create definition, and then pulled the hair on my crown through the center of the headpiece.

The headpiece was pinned in place to create a tiara effect, and as my hair dried through a combination of heat drying and air-drying, it grew fuller and larger. We lengthened the back pieces by using combing techniques, and used the same heat/air drying combination.

Brides have enough to worry about on their wedding day, and I was determined that my hair would be the least of my concerns. In the end, I was very pleased. My wedding hair style lasted all day, staying full, fluffy and curly through the heat of the ceremony and the cool wind of a mid-November evening.

As for my relative? After seeing the final result, she said she couldn’t have imagined me straightening my hair!

There’s a picture that sits on the mantle at my parents’ home that attracts my grandmother’s attention every time she passes it.“Now THAT’S how I like your hair,” she’d tell me during every single visit. “You look so pretty that way.”

I don’t recognize the person looking back. She has my face, but her straight, silky and swinging locks in no way resemble the tight, kinky coils that are a distinct part of my current look.

The photo was taken in 2002, a year or so before I decided to start wearing my hair natural nearly all of the time. But to my grandmother, it represents a period in which I looked more “refined” and “beautiful.”

I’m not surprised. My grandmother was born in 1922 and grew up in the 1930s and 40s -- a time when no woman would dare consider wearing her hair in its natural state. They might have been “natural” in the sense that they didn’t use chemicals to change their hair’s texture, but some kind of manipulation with a hot comb or styling with braids was always done to prevent any sign of kinky texture from making an unwanted appearance.

I’m more surprised at my mother’s reaction to my hair. At one time, she also preferred straight styles on me. But in the last few years, she’s not only come around to the “natural” look but even prefers it for me. Maybe that’s a result of her coming of age in the 1960s and 1970s and seeing many black men and women choosing natural styles, even if they didn’t maintain them into the last few decades.

My situation is hardly unique. Many of my black female colleagues in their 20s and 30s have found that members of their family have presented the greatest resistance to their choice to go natural, with grandparents often being the most vocal critics.

The grandparents’ issues usually stem from growing up in an era in which the idea of “natural hair” as we know it today simply didn’t exist. Parents are often more concerned about natural hair preventing their children from getting jobs in corporate America or how the outside world would perceive them, regardless of numerous experiences that have shown me that many outside the black community don’t have any strongreactions to black hair, natural or not.

One common theme, however, seems to spread across generations, including my own. There’s an understandable desire for a woman to look presentable, professional and “neat” – and for many, it’s been ingrained that natural hair makes that an impossibility.

"I don't like that."

“She’s still not really sold on your hair,” my mother said of my grandmother, her mother-in-law. “I bet she’ll say that she likes it better straight.”

So I decided to ask her to see if she’d changed her mind – not only about my hair, but natural hair in general.

My 84-year-old grandmother looks back fondly on the curls that she said she wore to school everyday. Her mother would get up every morning to help shape my grandmother’s hair into Shirley Temple-style curls without using heat, but with some rollers and a light setting product.

As much as she gushed about the curls she sported as a young girl, I knew these were not the types of curls that formed naturally after getting her hair wet.

“People’s hair was ‘nappy’ back in those days,” Grandma said. “If you had ‘good hair,’ you knew how to handle it. The ones who didn’t, their parents took them to the hairdresser or they wore it in braids. But it was ‘bad hair.’ ”

Ah, good hair and bad hair -- terms that have, unfortunately, withstood the test of time.

Grandma said today that she’s not a fan of the many wigs and weaves that women wear on a regular basis, and prefers that they simply worked with their own hair to create beautiful styles. She told me now that she’s learned not to care about that, and accepts that people have to do “what makes them happy.”

That being said, I decided to ask her what she thought of my natural hair, since I was obviously happy with it.

“I don’t like that,” she answered. “Remember when I saw that picture? You looked so beautiful. I like that on you.”

So much for my happiness.

Mental transition

“If your hair was straight, you were more appealing,” Mom said. “If you didn’t have straight hair, your hair was nappy and that was not considered appealing.”

My mother, who turned 63 last month, was born in the 1940s. But her words didn’t sound much different from what black folks were told in the '70s, '80s, '90s, and sadly, today.

She said the general negative attitudes about natural hair came from viewing pictures of blacks during and immediately after slavery, and seeing the poor condition in which their hair was kept. Then came the early television depictions of blacks in the 1950s—and one character specifically stuck out.

“Ignorant, barefoot, like Buckwheat,” she said. “They were all negative connotations and stereotypical.”

As a teacher and later a principal, my mother has seen all types of hairstyles since she took her first job in the late ''60s. She went from embracing the Afro (although she didn’t wear one herself) in the '70s, to preferring straightened hair in the '80s and '90s, to now accepting the wide range of styles that can be seen today.

“I’ve changed how I feel,” she said. “I don’t care how a person’s hair looks—I just don’t like it unkempt.”

Mom said that my choice to go natural helped change her own perceptions. After initially being resistant, she grew to tolerate it about two to three years ago, and has reached a point of actually liking it today.

“Your hairstyle had a lot to do with it,” she said. “I started seeing more people with hair like that and thought, ‘It looks okay.’”

She’s gone as far as considering going natural herself – not as a permanent change, but as a styling option. With her retirement approaching next year, perhaps she doesn’t feel as beholden to the idea of having to keep it in a way that might be more “professional,” and not “unkempt.”

Or maybe she’s just ready to join the growing army of women in their 50s and 60s who have decided they've had enough of a lifetime of altering their hair.

But old thoughts about the suitability of natural hair still crop up from time to time.

“I’ve been trying to figure out how it would work for me,” Mom said. “I’d want mine to be longer, but not round.”

Embracing my hair

As much as I want to be stunned by what my mother and grandmother told me, I realize that the messages I received about the acceptability of natural hair growing up in the 80s and '90s weren’t much different. My family didn’t express them so bluntly, but it was clear what was okay and what wasn’t – and I know the message being given to young black girls and women today isn’t all that different.

Perhaps the biggest boon to natural hair acceptance has been the Internet. I know I went straight to my computer when I was looking for tips and advice in the early 2000s, and I have recommended numerous websites to people who ask me how I do my hair.

While those women who choose to wear their hair in its natural state might be in the minority, there are enough out there now to provide inspiration for others considering the transition. That’s something my mother and my grandmother definitely never had.

So the picture of my former self will remain on the mantle, next to others showing how I look today. I’ll expect my grandmother to ooh and aaah over my straight hair, while my mom and dad tell her that my hair looks fine just the way it is now.

I understand her feelings, because of the time in which she grew up. And I know she means well. Plus, I don’t have the heart to tell her that all that beautiful straight hair is just a w

Troy Polamalu didn't win the Most Valuable Player award in Super Bowl XL, but he certainly was the game's Best Tressed.

Over the last three years, Polamalu, 24, has established himself as one of the best professional football players in the United States through his fierce defensive play for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Helping his team win the latest edition of the Super Bowl, which took place in Detroit on Feb. 5, has only added to his fame.

Even those who don't know a thing about football can't help but notice Polamalu on the field. Bursting out of his helmet is a long mane of thick black tresses that would make any curly swoon.

Polamalu, a California native, cites a variety of reasons behind his decision to grow his hair long. In college, he discovered that a tuft of hair provided an extra cushion under his helmet when he took hard hits.

Strong in his Christian faith, he also relates to the Biblical story of Samson, a feared warrior who gained his strength from his flowing locks.

He also saw long hair as a fitting tribute to his Samoan heritage, which has a history of strong long-haired male warriors, and Polamalu noted that. historically. great warriors throughout the world often grew their hair long before going into battle.

While a football game may not have the same implications as those historical conflicts, the stadium is his battlefield. And when the Steelers need a warrior on defense, Polamalu's their man.

Polamalu said he last cut his hair in 2000 at the request of one of his football coaches at the University of Southern California. Luckily for admirers of his hair, he has no plans to cut it again any time soon.

"It's become like a fifth appendage to me," Polamalu said.

The fact that his hair stays in great condition despite his active lifestyle as a professional athlete is no accident. A few days before the big game, Polamalu talked about the routine he follows to keep his curls looking great -- which includes some tips quite familiar to regular readers of

Polamalu shampoos daily and conditions every other day. "When I condition, I make sure to comb the conditioner through it." Favorite product? Pantene's Hydrating Curls.

He's got the potential to be a product junkie. "As you know, you have to rotate your products and use different shampoos and conditioners," he said. Polamalu switches up every two weeks.

    Polamalu doesn't seem to experience too many problems with tangles, which could be due to the fact that he rarely wears his hair loose when he's not playing football.

    Off the field, he's a soft-spoken and introspective family man who'd rather spend a quiet night at home with his wife, Theodora, as opposed to the stereotypical wild life of a professional athlete.

    Fitting of his off-field personality, the private Polamalu usually sports a ponytail or a bun.

    Polamalu admits he didn't figure all of this out on his own. He credits Theodora, who also has a head of beautiful and healthy curly hair, with helping him find the right hair care regimen.

    Oh, and in a statement that should forever endear him to many supporters, Polamalu said he's never had the desire to straighten his hair.

    You might have seen this commercial recently. A young woman walks into her boyfriend's apartment preparing for a romantic home-cooked dinner. Instead, she sees her beloved holding up his pet cat in one hand and a butcher knife in the other. Red pasta sauce is all over the floor, as the result of the cat knocking over the pot. The man lifts the cat to keep it from running through the sauce, but the scene shocks the woman, who has no idea of what transpired before she opened the door.

    That ad for Ameriquest Mortgage Company—named one of the best of 2005 by "Adweek" magazine—featured actress Shawnda Thomas, a Hollywood up-and-comer.

    Thomas wears her natural hair proudly for auditions and acting roles. And it hasn't hurt her one bit.

    Thomas has also appeared recently in commercials for Southwest Airlines (she's the one who accidentally walks into the men's restroom) and Sears. In the latter, she convinces her 'husband' to buy a new refrigerator after he sneaks a carton of milk out of their current appliance, drinks some and discovers it's spoiled.

    Although the predominant hairstyle among black women in the entertainment industry is a stick-straight coif -- often created with extensions or wigs -- women with natural hair can find some work in Hollywood.

    T'Keyah Crystal Keymah, best known for her roles in the early '90s sketch comedy 'In Living Color,' is familiar to the younger set as Raven-Symone's mother on the Disney Channel series 'That's So Raven.' In the music industry, singers like Nadia Turner, Macy Gray, Erykah Badu and Jill Scott are known for their natural locks.

    Women with 3C hair, like Gloria Reuben of 'ER' or Tracee Ellis Ross of 'Girlfriends' are more likely to be shown, however, than those with kinkier hair textures, although that's changing with the appearance of actresses like Keymah on mainstream television programs. And commercials seem to be one of the best places for natural actresses to break in, as shown by Thomas' experience.

    Thomas has been repping for the 4s on the small screen, making a nice living starring in such national commercials. She has also had roles on television, and hopes to make it big in film and theater.

    After almost 10 years in Los Angeles, she's 'made it,' so to speak. She may not be a household name, but she's earning enough to be a true 'working actress.'

    In her case, going natural helped her career. When Thomas worked in Miami and Orlando, she often booked roles wearing braids. When she moved to California, however, she was told that look wouldn't work.

    So she switched to a relaxer, but soon discovered that the straight style didn't open doors either.

    'When I first moved to L.A., I wasn't booking at all,' she said. 'I didn't know why, so my agent suggested that I try a new look.'

    In 1999, Thomas discovered the straw set and twists and alternated those styles with press-and-curls, letting the relaxer grow out. Instantly, the jobs began coming her way when she auditioned with her new 'big hair'.

    'It just sticks up all over the place, and I let it do what it wants,' Thomas said.

    One year she appeared in six commercials. The next year it was eight. Then 12. Being different set her apart.

    'None of the girls had hair like me,' she said of her competitors at auditions.
    It has also helped her on the set of her shoots. Her hair is already done when she appears on set, saving time in the stylist's chair.

    Eventually she earned the Holy Grail of commercial jobs -- the national union spot. When an actor books a Screen Actors Guild (SAG) commercial, he or she is guaranteed residuals every time the ad airs in any market nationwide. Multiply that residual fee by the number of potential airings for a national commercial -- and also factor in a complicated formula that increases the residual payments according to the sizes of the cities in which the commercial airs -- and actors have a chance to make tens of thousands for one commercial.

    Thomas' numerous national ads have allowed her to live comfortably in Los Angeles without having to take on the typical 'struggling actor/actress' jobs that so many hopefuls need to survive. She's able to use her free time to pursue her love of theater and work to earn roles in major films.

    In addition to Southwest Airlines, Ameriquest and Sears, she has done ads for McDonald's, HGTV, Lays, Albertson's supermarkets and the birth-control pill Seasonale. She also appeared on the television show Moesha.

    Going natural hasn't been an easy journey for Thomas. Like many new curlies, she had to learn how to take care of her hair in its natural state. She also struggled with damage that came after using Rio, a so-called 'natural' relaxer that usually resulted in users losing a significant amount of hair.

    Today, she uses products from Lush, particularly the H'suan Wen Hua pre-shampoo treatment, Cynthia Sylvia Stout shampoo and Retread conditioner. She also loves Sally Beauty Supply's Silk Elements Revive and Restore Oil Moisturizing Lotion and the Goldwell Kerasilk line. For a finishing touch, a few drops of Kemi Oyl and Wildgrowth oil help keep her hair moisturized and provide shine to keep her style looking great on camera.

    When Thomas goes for auditions now, she's no longer the only curly girl in the room. Although that means more competition for those coveted commercial roles, she's proud of the fact that she has been a pioneer for natural hair in the commercial industry.

    'One day, I was watching TV with my girlfriends and three of my commercials aired in a row,' Thomas said. 'This has just been a dream come true.'

    She may not have won the American Idol title, but finalist Nadia Turner was the clear champion when it came to hair.

    Turner's signature curly 'fro made her stand out among the tens of thousands of wannabe Idols who auditioned at sites across the country, and she was one of a few hundred to earn a trip to the Hollywood rounds. From there, her hair and sultry rock/blues vocal stylings launched her into the top 32, and she later garnered enough telephone and text-message votes from American Idol viewers nationwide to advance to the final 12.

    Her eighth-place finish was lower than she might have hoped, but by making the top 10, she earned the right to go on a nationwide tour this summer with the other Top 10 finishers. After she's done touring, Turner hopes to continue pursuing singing and acting.

    Her first stop of the summer, however, was Charlotte, N.C., where she and the others -- minus wavy-haired winner Carrie Underwood and rocker runner-up Bo Bice -- sang the national anthem at the Coca-Cola 600, a race on the NASCAR circuit. caught up with Nadia as she enjoyed the Memorial Day weekend festivities in Charlotte. She hadn't lost her highlighted 'fro -- in fact it was bigger and better than ever!

    'I've been getting lots of compliments on it,' said Turner, an 28-year-old Miami native. 'Lots of celebrities I've met have told me they love it.'

    Turner didn't have much time to chat about her hair routine and her journey to naturalness, but tried to get in the important questions. Although I was just one person in the restricted crowd of about 100, she immediately smiled when she saw me. After all, we were members of a natural-haired sisterhood!

    The Idols had a packed weekend -- the finalists arrived in Charlotte on Saturday, May 28 and were immediately shuffled to a photo opportunity with NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip in Concord, N.C., the site of Lowe's Motor Speedway. That evening, they performed at Speed Street, a downtown Charlotte street festival held in conjunction each year with the race.

    The next day it was back to Concord, where the Idols toured the NASCAR garages and met other drivers. They 'raced' driver Greg Biffle in a computer simulator and had a few seconds to chat with media and fans before performing the national anthem at the start of the race. I managed to get a quick picture with Nadia though. Too bad we had to take it so fast that I wasn't given a cue to look at the camera!

    Along with Turner, fans had the opportunity to meet Anthony Federov, Constantine Maroulis, Anwar Robinson, Scott Savol, Jessica Sierra, Nikko Smith and Vonzell Solomon. American Idol host Ryan Seacrest also traveled with the group.

    Turner said she first went natural when she was in college because she just 'woke up one day' and wondered why she was spending so much time and effort straightening her hair.

    She spoke about her days as a straightie during an American Idol broadcast as well. During the show's 1990s 'theme night,' Turner said she spent much of that decade with straightened hair. There are pictures of the straight-haired Nadia on the Miami Dolphins website; she was a cheerleader for the football team during the 1996 season.
    Turner said she's had few problems being 'accepted' with her natural hair, and believes it worked to her advantage when auditioning for American Idol. On the program, she showed that her natural hair -- which is 4A in texture -- could be versatile as well. Who could forget the mohawk (or was it a 'frohawk?) she showed off on the 1980s theme night?

    She said she swears by Paul Mitchell products, particularly Paul Mitchell's 'The Cream,' to keep her hair looking great. The Cream is a leave-in conditioner that both moisturizes and provides styling benefits. Like most curlies,Turner said her biggest hair challenge is maintaining moisture, so she's always looking for products to keep her hair from becoming dry and brittle.

    I made sure to hand her a Curl Ambassador card and told her to check out the product section. Maybe she'll spend some of her American Idol earnings at CurlMart! The American Idol tour kicks off on July 12 in Sunrise, Fla., just minutes from Turner's hometown. The tour concludes in Syracuse, N.Y. on Sept. 10.

    It’s 7 p.m. on a Thursday evening and the hairstylists at Salon Dominicano are nowhere near being done for the day.

    Sobeida Sanchez finishes a relaxer.

    A stylist at Salon Dominicano demonstrates the blowout

    Mary Martes unveils a client's beautiful waves after a roller set.

    The salon's new name and exterior drew a lot more customers.

    Mary Gil does a blowout.

    Mary Gil (with long hair) and Irene Sanchez taking out a client's rollers after time under the dryer.

    Some popular Dominican products, including the famous pink cream rinse, Lafier Desrizol Rinse.

    Rosa “Sobeida” Sanchez applies a relaxer to one client’s head while women of all shades sit under the four dryers at the back of the salon. Mary Gil blows straight the roots on another client’s hair and Mary Martes unleashes a roller set to reveal the beautiful waves on yet another head.

    Stylist Irene Sanchez asks me if I want my hair done right then, after I’ve completed my interview. I decline, but promise I’ll come back very soon. I want to experience for myself what it's like ot get my hair done at a Dominican salon.

    Salons operated by immigrants from the Dominican Republic and their descendants have earned a positive reputation among clients for their styling methods and treatment of thick wavy and curly hair -- and often for less than typical salon prices.

    Fans praise the rich conditioners used in the salons, yummy concoctions that can include carrots, avocados, honey, milk and almonds among the ingredients. Hair straightening methods used in Dominican salons are also considered to be gentler than the typical flat iron method.

    Known alternatively as a blow out or blow dry, a stylist usually wraps a client’s wet hair onto extra-large plastic rollers. After finishing the head with about 10 rollers overall, the stylist places a black net over it and places the client under the dryer.

    After the hair dries, the stylist removes the rollers and in some cases, takes a hot hand-held dryer and places it close to the roots, making sure they stay straight.

    “We do magic with hair,” said Irene Sanchez, the sister of owner Rosa “Sobeida” Sanchez. “We have all kinds of hair in the Dominican Republic so we know how to do all kinds of hair.”

    Irene said the salon focuses on maintaining healthy hair -- “We want the clients to come back,” -- so preparation for blow dry, color and chemical services is a must. If a client’s hair is damaged, a stylist won’t provide a color or relaxer service that day, but instead do a series of deep conditioning treatments before having her come back for a chemical treatment, Irene said.

    Sobeida Sanchez was born in the Dominican Republic, a Caribbean nation that shares an island landmass with the country of Haiti. She worked as a stylist in New York, and after moving to the Orlando area 16 years ago, she saved money to start her own salon.

    In 2002, Sobeida’s dream came true when she opened a salon on West Colonial Drive, one of the area’s busiest thoroughfares. She named it Empire Beauty Salon, reflecting her New York background.

    Orlando residents obviously weren’t impressed.

    “The first month, only three people came here,” Irene said. “They thought we were an American salon. We didn’t know what to do, how we would pay rent and keep the business going.”

    Sobeida decided a name change might be in order late last year. “Why don’t I use my country name?” she remembered thinking.

    With that, Sobeida put a bright red awning on the small building featuring the red, white and blue of the flag of the Dominican Republic. The new name, Salon Dominicano, let passerbys know exactly what they would get if they walked in.

    It worked. Business skyrocketed, Irene said, as people familiar with Dominican styling processes and products finally knew where to find them in Orlando.

    The sign attracted Laurie Morgan, an African-American woman who had gone to Dominican salons in New York. She couldn’t find a similar place in Orlando until she saw the awning while driving down Colonial Drive.

    Morgan immediately stopped at the salon and made an appointment for a relaxer.
    “I’ve been pleased ever since,” Morgan said. “They do my relaxers with no burns and I see them doing a good job with all of their services.”

    In Altamonte Springs, outside of Orlando, I also discovered a Dominican barber shop called Mr. Eli’s, which employed one womens’ hair stylist named Felicia. Like Salon Dominicano, the atmosphere was welcoming and Felicia was more than willing to talk about her products and styling methods.

    Dominican salons are becoming more popular in Florida, with South Florida (Miami-Ft. Lauderdale-West Palm Beach) and Central Florida (greater Orlando) boasting the largest Dominican populations in the state.

    Florida, however, is far behind places like New York City, where entire blocks are filled with Dominican salons and beauty supply stores. Residents of other Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic cities such as Boston, Providence, R.I., and Washington, D.C., can probably find a Dominican salon or beauty supply store not too far away.

    Thanks to the Internet, however, it’s now possible to buy Dominican products no matter where one lives. The site Sickbay, located in Miami, has one of the largest selections of products used in Dominican salons and even lists the ingredients for some items.

    Also included are Salerm, a brand from Spain, and Alter Ego, an Italian line. Although not technically Dominican, the lines are popular in Dominican salons and are often included in the family of Dominicanproducts.

    Dominican salons and products might not work for everyone, however. While the stylists are familiar with a variety of hair types, visitors have noticed that it’s uncommon to see workers doing styles designed to enhance curly hair. During my visit, for example, everyone appeared to be getting some form of straightening or blow-drying service done.  In addition, Dominican and Dominican-affiliated products might not be the best solutions for all curly heads. Mineral oil and proteins are included in a number of Dominican products and some companies don’t list ingredients at all on their bottles. For those with fine or wavy hair, the Dominican treatments could be too heavy.Then there’s the language barrier present with some stylists -- it may be difficult for a non-Spanish speaker to communicate exactly what she wants if her stylist isn’t proficient in English.  That didn’t seem to be a problem for Morgan and other non-Spanish speakers in the salon that day, but some posters on Internet hair boards have complained that their requests weren’t understood when they visited Dominican stylists.

    At Salon Dominicano and Mr. Eli’s, the stylists do their best to speak English to clients who can’t communicate in Spanish. But the most important form of communication, they prove, is listening to their clients’ hair.

    “We try to understand what your hair needs,” Irene said. “We give love to all people and all hair.”

    Curls are back!

    So exclaimed a flyer from the hair company Tressa at Premiere Orlando 2004, the annual end-of-summer hair and beauty trade show that forecasts fall trends and announces seasonal product launches. The Tressa flyer advertised the company's new perm system, designed to let stylists create curls, apply color and shampoo it all out in the same visit.
    The ad might have been one of the most obvious signs at the show that curly hair was truly making a comeback -- after all, how long has it been since companies touted products that ADD curl instead of take it away?

    Tressa wasn't alone, however. Across the 1-million-plus square feet of space at Orlando's Orange County Convention Center, numerous companies were promoting new products designed to enhance curls and waves or even create them where they didn't exist.
    Curly and wavy models were everywhere, and even straight-haired models were given curls for their stage debuts. Major hair care empires handed out brochures about their new lines, featuring designs that strayed from straightness.

    'Curl is definitely back,' said Richard Gundry, director of education and business development for ABBA. 'We're seeing the desire for more waves and movement. Flat-ironed hair has no movement.'

    Gundry, the owner of Flare The Salon in Clearwater, Florida, said he rarely uses his straightening and flat irons these days, as customers are no longer requesting a poker-straight look.

    ABBA will also launch a curly hair line later this fall. Called 'True Curls,' Gundry said the line will have very little, if any, silicones or sulfates and use plant-derived preservatives. The launch will take place in San Diego in October. Basic products will include a shampoo, conditioner and curl activator.

    Sister company Modern Organic Products was also touting its relatively new line for curls, known as C-system. With its distinct bright orange packaging, signifying the usage of Vitamin C extracts, C-system includes a curl enhancing cream and a texture lotion for hold.

    As with the return of any past trend, there's usually a modern update. The curls seen at Premiere Orlando differed greatly from the big fluffy styles of the 1980s and instead were sleeker versions that emphasized shine and softness, rather than poof.

    Matrix, for example, continued to promote its 'Twist on Classics' approach to styling, which featured coifs for straight and curly hair. The key to the Twist styles, however, was an emphasis on creating softness and movement. No stick-straight flat ironed styles nor gelled-up curly looks were to be found.

    'Unlike the solid shapes of yesterday, the contemporary classic has no hard lines or interruptions. Cut and color are fluid and connected,' the brochure said.
    When doing perms, Gundry said his processes are much different than in the past. 'I might use about 13 perm rods,' he said. 'It's all about the quality and the placement of the rods versus the quantity.'

    One of the more interesting booths featured a product from a company known more for its nail care line. One Minute Manicure promoted its new hair system, called One Minute Scrunch and Curl. The product consists of a kit designed to create or define curls with a forming cream, a scrunching glove and a styling comb.

    'I have no curl and never thought I could have curly hair,' said Shauna Scott, a company representative. 'You can take any type of hair and create curl from it. And natural curlies love it. It defines curls and gets rid of frizz.'

    Another positive was the emphasis on enhancing the curls of women of color. Black, Hispanic and Asian curlies graced the stages of Redken, Matrix, L'Oreal and Wella, among others, showing off their natural waves and coils. Gundry of ABBA also said the needs of multicultural hair were taken into account when developing the new True Curls line.

    It remains to be seen whether the looks on stage at Premiere Orlando will eventually trickle down to middle America, but many of the world's top hair companies are putting their money on a curly resurgence.

    Shannon Shelton

    Maybe it was the moment when I brushed my hair and the classmate sitting behind me yelled at me for shedding on her desk.

    Or it could have been the time I noticed that my hair -- and the hair of many of my chemically relaxed friends -- had a noticeable orange-red tinge, a combination of damage from over-processing and the rusty water from our dorm showers.

    Whatever it was that pushed me over the edge doesn't matter at this point -- I just know that in October 1998, I decided I was going to transition to wearing my hair in its natural state, as curly and nappy as that happened to be.

    Transitioning is a term used among many women, particularly black women, to describe the process of converting one's hair from a usually straightened state to its original curly texture. The fact that there's a name for the process implies that transitioning is not as easy as it sounds -- a mental as well as physical change often has to take place before one is totally comfortable with her hair.

    Ericka Guy, a 29-year-old Michigan native now living in the Orlando area, said she never knew what her real hair felt like since it had been heat-treated or chemically processed from the time she was a child. For her, going through the transition process meant she had to learn for the first time how to care for her own hair in its natural state. Her transition lasted less than a year, as she started with putting her hair in braids, moved to cutting her hair short and texturizing and finally growing out the texturizer.

    "After the texturizer, I had no idea what to do with it," Guy said. "I asked around, tried to investigate different products. It was totally different from anything I had ever done."

    Sometimes the physical process of returning to natural hair is the easiest part. For women who are used to hearing negative comments about nappy or curly hair all of their lives, deciding to transition to natural can be a game of mind over matter as they learn to deal with their own fears.
    Guy faced that issue as well, but was thrilled when she finally cut it all off.

    "At first my reaction was 'oh my god,' since I had never had it that short before," she said. "But I couldn't believe how freeing and how easy it was. I got a lot of compliments."

    For those of you considering transitioning, there are a variety of ways to complete the process. Most transitioners usually try at least one of four options.

    There's the lengthy way of clipping off the chemically treated ends bit by bit until the natural hair grows to the desired length. That can take years -- in my case, it took about a year and a half to grow my desired 12 inches of hair. A drawback of this method is that you're often left dealing with two textures on one head and you have to find a way to make it look halfway decent.

    Other women choose to texturize the new growth, which is a milder relaxing process. Guy said that helped her get used to what her natural hair might feel like and allowed her to learn new ways of taking care of her hair. Some natural hairstylists advise against texturizers, saying they still can cause damage because they are a chemical process, no matter how mild. Guy, in effect, did a double transition -- first from chin length and relaxed to short and texturized, then to completely chemical-free. If texturizing is used as an option, it should be remembered that processing damage can still occur.

    Then there are alternate styling options that allow one to leave the chemically treated hair un-manipulated while the new hair grows in. Braids, weaves and wigs are popular choices since they hide or cover the relaxed hair while the new nappy or curly hair grows. Braids and hair weaves/extensions can be left in for a month or more and then redone later. Some women will keep braids for a year and cut off the chemically straightened ends once they get the length of natural hair they want. Like the other choices, there are drawbacks to this method as well -- the natural hair can become dry and brittle if braids and weaves are left in too long, or if the natural hair underneath the braids/wigs/weaves isn't rinsed and moisturized during the process. Ask your stylist for advice.

    The most dramatic option -- but often the option that leaves women and men the most satisfied in the long run -- is simply cutting it all off one day and emerging with a short, curly afro style. Among many in the natural community, that style is affectionately known as the TWA, or teeny weeny Afro. As the shortest of the transition processes, chopping it off forces you to into a crash course of dealing with your new hair right then and there. And for others, cutting it all off can take a lot of courage for women living in a society where long hair often equals femininity.

    Guy recommends going for the chop.

    "Why not start completely fresh? You get to know yourself and your hair. And you can save yourself from that stage of embarrassment where you have part of your hair that's straight and part that's nappy."

    My own transition took about two and a half years, likely because I didn't realize I was 'transitioning' at the time. I also had no idea how to go completely natural. The women I knew who grew out their relaxers usually returned to pressing their hair regularly, like the older women in my family.

    It started when I went for a relaxer touch-up, a reapplication of the chemical straightener to the new growth, one day in October 1998. A month later, when it was time for me to go for my regular touch-up appointment, I just decided I wanted to grow the chemical out of my hair. However, I didn't plan to go completely natural -- I just planned to use a hot comb and flat iron to straighten it, like I did when I was a child.

    By the summer, I realized it was too hot and humid to continue the heat process, so I started to put my hair in braids. After two months, that got too expensive and I began to slick it back into a bun. This was the beginning of my mental transition process -- I began to notice my cute little curls and naps and grew to like them. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad if I wore them in their natural state.

    However, as one of those women who always had long hair, I was scared of cutting it off. I had to problems with other women who did so, but oh no, I just couldn't do that. I was not one of those women who could 'do' short hair. So from June 1999 to March 2001, I went through the process of trimming the relaxed ends bit-by-bit while my natural hair grew out.

    Looking back, I would have cut, or 'big chopped' my hair earlier -- it would have given me more time to learn about the texture of my naturally curly hair and enjoy a totally different look. Plus, when I see my old pictures of half-nappy, half stringy-straight relaxed hair near the beginning of my transition process, I realize how silly my attempts at a style probably looked. Another part of my mental transition was learning that short hair isn't a bad thing -- it's just as beautiful and feminine as long hair!

    Once the transition is complete, it's time for a whole new step -- learning how to care for your naturally curly hair. Sometimes, frustration with this process can cause one to return to the old tried-and-true straightening method, which erases all the hard work done up to this point! And who wants that?

    Corine Marie, the owner of, a salon in Winter Park, Fla., outside of Orlando, helped me with the final stages of my transition process in early 2001. My hair was about 80 percent natural then. I learned that the oil-laden products I had used on my straightened hair only dried out my naturally curly hair and I had to learn how to find and apply new treatment and styling products. When I moved from Michigan to Orlando, I searched's salon database and found quite a few positive recommendations for Corine.

    "You have to make sure you go to a stylist that likes curly hair," said Marie, a 'straightie' who loves hair in all states. "You don't want to get a stylist who wants you to go back to straightening it."

    Sounds obvious, but I do remember visiting a few stylists during my transition who heat-pressed my hair by my request and then said, "Why don't you just go back to the relaxer?" Glad I didn't listen -- I don't mind temporary heat straightening for an occasional style change, but I'm not going back to the relaxer!

    Marie cut off the rest of my relaxed ends and then introduced me to a variety of conditioners that I learned were rich in glycerin and some silicones. She told me to condition every day even if I didn't shampoo daily. Soon my hair was incredibly soft and growing like a weed. We also tried styling products to make my hair look great from casual to glamorous occasions.

    "It's all about product," she said. "And keep getting regular trims to keep it healthy."

    I get my hair trimmed about four times a year now, and Marie trims it in its natural state. She's always trying out some new conditioners and styling products on my hair to see how they might work on the other curlyheads that come to the salon.

    I think I finally got it right last summer, when my hair not only reached the length I wanted, but it was healthy and downright cute to boot. It may have taken five years to finally undo the negative physical and mental conditioning afflicted on my curly hair, but it was worth it. It may not take as long for some women to transition and for others, it might take longer. Just remember that transitioning is a process, and for the health and well-being of your hair, it pays to be patient.

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