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The way we wore

FROM FLARES and afros, and dungarees to box braids, Rykesha Hudson takes a look back at black fashion and hair trends throughout the decades

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1950s

Immigration from Africa and the Caribbean to Britain in the 1950s, added new flair to the British fashion scene.

With ladies staying true to the styles of ‘back home,’ short-sleeved dresses and light materials were the order of the day. But as many of the new arrivals were from countries that were under British rule, they already showcased an element of European style.

Ladies fashion was generally conservative; knee-length or longer hemlines and full skirts were almost always worn with a petticoat underneath. Cardigans were also part of the fashion, to accommodate Britain’s colder climes, and a neat handbag was an essential accessory.

Black British fashion of the 1950s was beautifully captured in the 2004 musical The Big Life (pictured inset), which charted the tales of Caribbean immigrants to the UK throuhout the decades.

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1960s

By the 1960s, black immigrants had adapted to European trends, which included box-shaped dresses in psychedelic prints, fluorescent colours and mismatched patterns. In short: ‘hippie’ fashion.

Also adopting trends from across the Atlantic, hair straightening became more commonplace and the beehive hairdo – which was puopularised by US R&B groups like The Supremes and The Ronnettes (pictured, above) – made its way into the UK fashion scene.

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1970s

Influenced by the American Civil Rights Movement, many black British women turned their backs on hair straighteing and began sporting their natural hair. As such, afros were commonplace, becoming a symbol of black pride and identity.

As for the fashion, with hippy-chic beginning to lose its popularity, there was room for new trends to emerge. Enter bell bottom trousers (flares, as demonstrated by US group The Three Degrees, above) and platform shoes, complete with high, chunky heels.

The ‘70s also saw ladies becoming more daring, with halter-neck dresses, boob tubes and other midriff-baring tops. Wide-rimmed hats (as featured on the late reggae star Louisa Mark, pictured above) were another feature of ‘70s fashion.

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1980s

In the ‘80s, it was hip-hop that truly galvanized black social identity – and the early female stars of hip-hop were in your face, fly and flashy.

As such, heavy gold jewellery and baggy clothing – as popularised by rap duo Salt-N-Pepa (above) – was hugely popular amongst the ladies.

The thriving pop music scene also had a huge influence, bringing about the resurgence of fluorescent colours, (think ‘80s Whitney Houston, above) and mini skirts. Spandex, shoulder pads and shell suits also enjoyed their heyday throughout the decade.

The ‘80s also marked the introdution of the jheri curl, which became a popular choice of hairstyle for both black women and men. The ‘wet look’ hair do was comedically represented in the 1988 film Coming To America (above). Two words: Soul Glo.

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1990s

The ‘90s was a period that embraced the dressed-down style sensibility. It was the decade of denim, dungarees, flannel shirts and all things baggy.

The late R&B singer Aaliyah (above) and US group TLC (below right) created a fashion trend among women, wearing oversized bottoms with either baggy t-shirts, basketball shirts or midriff-baring tops, to create a new and unique version of femininity.

A decade that spearheaded a host of styles, other notable trends amongst black British women included jelly shoes, loafers, combat boots, bandanas, baseball caps, Nike Jordans and Timberlands.

As for the hairdos, box braids were the order of the day, popularised by US singer Brandy and British girl group Cleopatra (below).

Relaxed hair with a slicked across-the-forehead fringe (kept firm with either gel or spritz) was also another common hair style.

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