THE 1960s and '70s were the years of the Afro, also known as the natural. Some women, like singer Roberta Flack, fluffed it several inches from the scalp with a pick. More conservative types kept it short and carefully shaped.
Either way, neither chemicals nor combing straightened the hair. This year, stylists say, trends in New York City and Los Angeles will give new meaning to the word natural.
This year's version looks naturally curly, but it is far from the original spherical style.
The long locks sported by stars like Whitney Houston are no longer restricted to the stage. According to stylist John Atchison, who has salons in Los Angeles and Manhattan, it is the style that many career women want for evening \o7 and \f7 day.
The hairdo, which is shoulder-length or longer, takes full advantage of black hair's natural volume and texture. Some interpretations call for using a chemical relaxer on sections and / or twisting strands into long ringlets or braids. The strongest statement is made when hair looks dramatic and windblown, full of waves, curls and crinkles.
The look is accomplished with an intricate process variously called interlocking, locking, trap-weaving or hair-extending.
In most cases, lengths of human hair that have been processed into loose curls or braids are attached to the client's own hair by a method similar to corn-row braiding.
Some hair stylists, however, attach the extensions with needle and thread or a crochet hook, according to Ellin LaVar of the Harold Melvin Salon in New York City, who does extensions for Houston, model Iman and actress Lisa Bonet.
William Utsey, who styles at Precious Hair on Wilshire Boulevard, adds that the look began with women who have naturally curly hair, but now women of all races and hair types are asking for it.
Utsey says most extensions last three months, and he recommends shampooing about once a week, washing in between extended sections. He adds that extensions should be brushed from the ends toward the scalp to avoid undoing the weave. Extended hair can be permed or colored, he adds, "but it's best to have a professional do it. Otherwise, the weave that attaches it could be loosened." Prices vary from $250 to more than $1,000.
Utsey explains that prices are high because most extensions are composed of four to eight ounces of human hair in lengths of 12 to 30 inches. (Synthetic attachments are less expensive.) Furthermore, he says, the attachment process can take three to six hours.
Atchison, who cuts and styles the hair of Phylicia Rashad of "The Cosby Show," created Bonet's look for her new series, "A Different World." After LaVar put in the extensions, Atchison clipped Bonet's hair \o7 and \f7 the extensions to chin length for a thick, chic mop top.
"The trend is to layer the hair around the face, like Jane Fonda's old shag," he says.
Mikki Garth-Taylor, beauty and cover editor for Essence magazine, says the pixie cut is a sleek alternative to the long, full look of extensions.
"The new pixie is very short," she says. "It's a very versatile cut that can be worn by black women with natural hair that has been blown out with a dryer, or by women with relaxed or permed hair. You can gloss it with a lubricant or a sheen spray."
Atchison says the new looks transcend color lines. Just as non-blacks were inspired to perm their hair to emulate the natural Afro, the voluminous advantages of extensions are being discovered by women of all races.
"This year, black women are wearing the style first," he says, "but anything I do with a black woman's hair I can do for a white woman and vice versa." That's the beauty of it.
Hair and makeup by Casey Storey / Celestine; stylist: Becca Glesby / HMS Bookings; model: Melanie Caldwell / Elite.