tignon woman of color

Woman in Tignon credit

“Did you know that in late 18th century Louisiana, black and multiracial women were ordered to cover their hair in public?” My sister asked me.

“WOW. Really?” I replied.

I’d probably heard of this in one of my black studies classes in undergrad, but who remembers everything they’ve been taught? Besides, this information felt instantly relevant and I was absolutely intrigued.

It wasn’t unusual for me to feel myself gaining brain cells while in conversation with my sisters, but by the time I caught my racing thoughts so I could ask her some questions, it was time to take care of my baby girl. I knew, however that this was a topic worth visiting again.

With a little digging I found that there was in fact a “law” of sorts that demanded women of color in Louisiana to cover their hair with a fabric cloth starting in 1789 as a part of what was called the Bando du buen gobierno (Edict for Good Government).  What these rules were meant to do was try to curtail the growing influence of the free black population and keep the social order of the time. The edict included sections specifically about the changing of certain “unacceptable” behaviors of the free black women in the colony including putting an end to what he and others believed to be the overly ostentatious hairstyles of these ladies which drew the attention of white men, and the jealousy of white women. These rules are called the “Tignon Laws” A tignon (pronounced “tiyon”) is a headdress.

woman of color tignon 2


Apparently, women of color were wearing their hair in such fabulous ways, adding jewels and feathers to their high hairdos and walking around with such beauty and pride that it was obscuring their status. This was very threatening to the social stability (read: white population) of the area at the time. The law was meant to distinguish women of color from their white counterparts and to minimize their beauty.

Black and multi racial women began to adopt the tignon, but not without a little ingenuity. Many tied the tignon in elaborate ways and used beautiful fabrics and other additions to the headdress to make them appealing. In the end, what was meant to draw less attention to them made these ladies even more beautiful and alluring.

This bit of history only makes me feel even more proud about wearing my natural hair out or in pretty head wraps.

My take away: We should realize and embrace the inherent beauty of our blackness and all that makes us unique, especially our hair. Even history teaches us it’s all so notably beautiful!

Have you heard of any additional laws specifically targeting black women of the past?

Cassandre Beccai: Just another naturalista playing by my own rules!

To read more:

Clinton, Catherine and Michele Gillespie. Sex and Race in the Early South. New   York: Orxford University Press, 1997.

Fosset, Judith Jackson and Jeffrey A. Tucker. Race Consciousness. New York: New York University Press. 1997.

Roman, Miriam Jimenez and Juan Flores. The Afro-Latin@ Reader History and Culture in the United States. Duke University Press, 2010.

“Tignon of Colonial Lousiana” http://medianola.org/ Jeila Martin Kershaw Web. 5 July 2014

Roberts, Kevin David, B.A.; M.A. Slaves and Slavery in Louisiana:

The Evolution of Atlantic World Identities, 1791-1831. Diss. The University of Texas at Austin, 2003.

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265 Comments on "Shocking History: Why Women of Color in the 1800s Were Banned From Wearing Their Hair in Public"

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Lousianna has an interesting history concerning women of color. I took note of this history when I was watching an old movie on TCM with Ingrid Bergman..called “Saratoga Trunk”. In the movie, Ingrid Bergman returns to Lousianna from Paris to reclaim her status as a half creole woman. In the movie they only intimate that she was descended from women of color called Placees. See below: “Plaçage was a recognized extralegal system in French and Spanish slave colonies of North America (including the Caribbean) by which ethnic European men entered into the equivalent of common-law marriages with women of color,… Read more »
Brandi Quezaire

thanks, mlank 64! You just cleared up a lot questions I had about why I couldn’t find a lot about my 4-times great-grandfather Alphonse a white Spanish man and my 4-times great-grandmother Rosella a mulatta from Louisiana. That’s why I love this site, I learn something new all the time on here.

Wow, this article was so timely because I just came across the movie on TCM about a week ago. The movie sparked an interest in me because I know so very little about black women in Lousianna, and creole women in general. Creole…aristocracy of spanish and french people? Many women typically light skinned women or women who can pass for white but had african ancestry often were in this “common law” marriages with creole men. There seems to be a common thread throughout history concerning women of color and are desirability to other races. Laws and social constructs were established… Read more »

Very interesting to know! Had no idea…

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