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

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Very inter­est­ing to know! Had no idea…

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