I went natural before going natural was cool, back in 2000, 17 years ago, when curly-hair products for black hair were garbage.
Armed with some stuff called “CurlUp” (which was clearly made for white hair), a tub of clear hair gel, the only book on natural hair I could find in 2000 and some hot-oil treatments, I blazed my own hair trail without the help of YouTube tutorials or supportive sisters also doing the “big chop.” I’m amazed all my hair didn’t break off just from the struggle, because the struggle, my friend, was real. And no one—I repeat, no one—was supportive of me cutting off my permed hair—not my first college boyfriend (who called me “Mustafa” whenever my long hair wasn’t pressed straight), nor my proto-Hotep second college boyfriend, who complained that encouraging me to go natural “was a mistake.”
Seventeen years later, New York City has a whole fashion week runway show dedicated to bouncy, black-girl curls, with a plethora of products to choose from for every curl, every hair type and every texture. And unlike in 2000, when people balked at my Afro, now it is embraced and celebrated, along with everyone else’s gorgeous manes. Long, short, curly, flat-ironed straight, hair technology has advanced, and NaturallyCurly’s “Texture on the Runway” event Thursday at Gotham Hall in New York City demonstrated that fully.
Welcome to Antisocial, The Root’s events-society column, where I, Danielle Belton, someone who used to be a social butterfly but now is a ball of anxiety and weirdness, talk about getting back out there and going to thangs. Interesting thangs. Sexy thangs. Fun thangs. Or just thangs! I’m going to them! Have this adventure with me! (Check out the first post here, where I struggled through the incredible, but rainy, Harlem’s Fashion Row event Wednesday.)
I fared better at “Texture on the Runway,” where, upon learning my lessons from Harlem’s Fashion Row, I showed up early, wore one of my fav African print dresses from D’iyanu and generally was in a better mood about my entire situation.
I was fun Danielle. Chatty Danielle. Confident Danielle. I like it when this Danielle shows up. She’s a rare treat. When you’re bipolar, sometimes you’re a mystery even to yourself, so even when you’re in a “good” mood, you still don’t know which version of you might show up at an event.
Will you attempt to talk to people or just drink wine and stare? Will you meet new people or find a friend and cling to his or her side the whole night, like a life preserver in the ocean? Thursday night was all right for talking, so run my mouth I did.
I also, eventually, found a friend and clung to her for the remainder of the evening. So I did both!
Having curly, wild, crazy hair is fun when you’re in a room full of beautiful, fellow curly-headed women—and some men—for whom the sun did far more than kiss but made glorious love to all of us, creating a symphony of skin tones from honeyed olive to the darkest, deepest and richest of blacks and browns. Melanin was on display. And it was poppin’.
Feeling myself because I, too, possess a head of curly hair, I was happy to hop in line for many of the interactive aspects of the evening where you could make fashion-magazine-ready gifs of yourself by The Bosco.
What I love about us as a people (and by “us,” I mean us black people) is that we can’t “do” anything regular. Our entire mantra could be, “Why be ordinary when you can be extra?” Not “extraordinary,” but extra, my favorite slang for describing the types of people who throw in a split on top of a spin-kick on top of a twirl on top of a death drop in their pageant routines while singing with all, not some, but all the melisma.
Did you need to do all that mess when you were just supposed to be doing a basic two-step and wave? Probably not. Do you need to go for the 360-degree dunk when you could just do a layup? They’re both worth 2 points. No one needs to be extra. You want to be extra!
“Texture on the Runway” was hella extra.
Sure, the brothas and sistas who rocked the hair and the fashion could have simply walked down the runway while the latest bop played passively in the background, but there are hundreds of shows during New York Fashion Week that have that going for them. If you want that, you can get that all day.
That was not what was being served at “Texture on the Runway.” The only dish it was offering up was a hot, steaming plate of “slay,” topped with a heaping of “Yaaaaas, Queen.” The music? Loud. The fashions? Somehow louder. The hair? Loudest! If you weren’t prepared, you were overwhelmed by it, especially since it went on seemingly forever. (It was probably only 60 minutes, but I swear it felt like two-ish hours, with so many brands, models, dance moves and music. You’d think I had been up there poppin’ and droppin’, considering how bad my feet hurt by the end.)
Hair and beauty brands Creme of Nature, Cantu Beauty, Carol’s Daughter, Mielle Organics and Curlformers took the conventional and pretty much trashed it at the show, opting for futuristic metallurgy, hip-hop you don’t stop by way of Brooklyn, N.Y., and—of course—some Beyoncé. By the time New York City’s own Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow” came on, people had forgotten they were at a chichi hair-themed fashion show and were dropping things like they were very “haute.”
Setting the tone for the evening were two women I’m happy to call friends, Maud and Chloe Arnold of the Syncopated Ladies, who opened “Texture on the Runway” while repping Cantu Beauty. Rocking the wildest, most gorgeous curly looks, the tap dancing troupe got real extra and tapped it out to Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).”
Tap dancing, one of my favorite forms of dance, is mad extra. Like, you’re already gesticulating wildly and working that body, but on top of all that, you put taps on your shoes so folks can hear as well as see what you are laying down. It literally might be the third-most-extra dance form after break dancing and voguing. I’m almost positive that if you put tap shoes on someone voguing, the fourth wall of extra would be broken.
Maud and I go back to 2011, when we both worked on the pilot of BET’s short-lived late-night talk show Don’t Sleep Hosted by T.J. Holmes. She helped me find an amazing hairdresser in Washington, D.C., who actually loved and appreciated my then-long, oft unwieldy, very extra hair. Maud also opened The Root 100 gala last year with the troupe Apartment 33.
She and her sister Chloe are, by far, the happiest, dancing-est people I know. When I die, I want to come back as one of them, preferably with one of the hairstyles pictured above.
One of my lamest regrets is that I don’t really have “baby hair”: those little wispy hairs you can lay down and make wavy or swoopy or straight or whatever. My mother, when I was a child, tried to give them to me and failed. I told the woman at the Creme of Nature counter during “Texture on the Runway” this: “Nothing lays my edges flat. Nothing!” And she thrust a jar of their new Perfect Edges edge control into my hand and insisted this would give me the look I so desired. I’ve yet to try it because, well, the event literally just happened yesterday and that swag bag was full to the brim of product I will need to test out over the coming months.
I’ll eventually try it and hope to not be disappointed, but my hairline is very pro-black to the point of militancy. I’m convinced it’s planning a hostile takeover of the crown of my head’s waviness any day now. Much like how Rosa Parks wouldn’t sit in the back of the bus, my hairline refuses to be pushed back, brushed over or tamed by any gel or cream.
I wish I had my hair’s personality. My hair clearly doesn’t give a shit. It possesses a confidence I could only wish to emulate.
Speaking of confidence I’d like to emulate ... while at the show, the friend I ran into (and clung to toward the end as if I were going to drown in a sea of well-coiffed people), was none other than legendary society columnist Audrey J. Bernard of the New York Beacon. Audrey was the one who encouraged me to stop indulging my newfound introversion and inspired this blog series.
I found her standing near the bar, which was disturbingly closed throughout the entire show portion of the evening. But considering that several women were willing to cut loose on “Bodak Yellow” with no alcohol in their system, maybe that was the best plan.
While I’d done a great job all evening of interacting with people—beauty writers, editors, bloggers and vloggers galore, all kinds of hair-product people, a thespian, a few aspiring journalistas and some folks I hadn’t seen in years (shoutout to Sirius XM’s Zerlina Maxwell, whom I used to edit for a defunct website back in 2011)—after an hour and a half of social time, I was pooped. It felt comfortable to hang back and just chitchat politely with someone I already knew pretty well in between fits of extroversion.
Which reminds me, I really need to start bringing a plus one to these things. For years when I lived in Washington, D.C., my designated date to literally everything was illustrator Jada Prather, my longtime friend. We went to the first The Root 100 gala in D.C. together back in the Paleozoic era. If not Jada, I had one of my closest of friends, the dearly departed and sorely missed by all Toya Watts. If not Toya, I had my other longtime friend and writing partner, Yesha Callahan (you may know her from this obscure blog called The Root).
Of course, all these people were in the D.C. area and I’m in New York City now ... alone, without designated running buddies. Having a wingman or wingwoman or wingperson is pretty important when you’re doing this kind of work, especially when you’re prone to awkward fits of silence and staring, like me.
While I love all things extra, I’m, sadly, no longer extra. I am “chill” and “low-key” and “easygoing,” not proudly prancing around delusionally as if someone should be throwing a parade in my honor. Not that this was the most awesome part of my old personality (it wasn’t), but it was easier to get through a party when you were not aware that you were extra. After all, most people who are extra don’t realize they’re being extra. They are just being themselves.
I was just being myself back then, and now. It’s all we can be.