The Problem With Baby Hairs, 'Urban' and the Fashion Industry

We need to discuss some recent, ill-advised uses of the word “urban.” I am not a fan of using that word to describe anything other than a city because the vast majority of the time, “urban” is just white people speak for “black.” Some dictionaries will list a variation on “popular black culture” under the definition of urban but here’s the thing: We don’t refer to ourselves as urban, which should tell you all you need to know.

I once heard someone talk about issues surrounding the “urban youth of New York City,” by which I assumed they meant every single child in New York City. (Spoiler: They only meant the black ones.) More often than not, the use of this word is just plain incorrect. If you live in any major metropolitan area and you’re using urban to describe anyone other than all of the residents of said metropolitan area, you’re using the word wrong and you might be a little racist.

To be fair, describing black people as urban actually used to make more sense in the days when black people were kept out of the suburbs and forced to move into actual urban areas. But the demographics of cities have changed and now people of color are the ones being pushed out of those same cities. Most of the time, urban is used when someone just doesn’t want to say black.

Which bring us to these images from New York Fashion Week:

UPDATE: The pictures on the left are of models actually using do-rags to flatten their hair before walking the Derek Lam runway show. I was duped by the model’s convincing blue steel face and my continued low expectations for the fashion industry.

Now, to be fair, it’s not clear if Chanel and DKNY coined “Urban Tie Cap” and “Urban Fabulous” themselves, but the issue still remains.

The models on the left are rocking what we in the urban community call baby hairs. Baby hairs are those small wispy hairs on your hairline that are often very fine and a bit unruly. Us members of the urban community tend to have a different hair texture than those in the, let’s say, farming community. As a result, those baby hairs are often a different texture than the rest of the hair on our heads, so they have to be styled differently. Chilli from TLC is the unofficial queen of baby hairs within the urban community.

Many black and Latino women with textured hair will style their baby hairs by brushing them smooth and holding them in place with some sort of gel or pomade. While there are practical reasons for smoothing down one’s baby hairs, highlighting them has become a specific look that black women will deliberately style.

The second look—the Urban Tie Cap—is just a damn do-rag. A do-rag is used by men, or women with short hair, to preserve waves or certain hairstyles like cornrows. A do-rag is a utilitarian piece of fabric that eventually became a fashion trend amongst us urbans.

What both baby hairs and do-rags have in common is that they have historically been perceived as “ghetto” or “hood,” when really they’re just creative and practical approaches to hairstyling that are unique to people with a certain kind of hair.

Artist Jennifer Li created this excellent piece which perfectly sums up the double standard that arises when something black people have been doing for years suddenly becomes acceptable when put on a white body.

When we do it, it’s ghetto or unattractive but when white people do it it’s cool and unique and fashion. HELLO we’ve seen this before, folks.

Personally, I’m actually less concerned with Chanel and DKNY showing do-rags and baby hairs on their runways at all. For one, the models look absolutely ridiculous wearing a do-rag over long flowing hair and having those sorry wet tendrils pasted to their foreheads. And secondly, it’s not the fact that they’ve been inspired by (or stolen, depending on how you look at it) black culture in the first place, it’s that there is absolutely no acknowledgment of where these looks originated.

Saying “urban” is just them trying their hardest not to say black. Like it would just fucking kill them to admit that black culture has a direct influence high fashion. Calling these looks urban is not the same as crediting black people. It’s nothing more them doing linguistic gymnasts to completely erase black people from black culture.

Lede image and image of Chilli via Getty; Instagram screenhots via @PlMPCESS‘ Twitter.

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