Tignon Laws were targeted at free women of color and made it compulsory for Black women to cover their hair in public, because their intricate hairstyles were seen to threaten the social status of white women and, therefore, the patriarchal social order.
The difference between Black women wearing blond and straight weaves and nonblack women wearing culturally Black hairstyles is that blond and straight hair does not have a painful history of discrimination that it’s been trying to escape for — at least — the past 230 years.
Although the tignon — similar to a West African head tie — was meant to be a kind of scarlet letter for free Black women’s naturally coily hair, it was reappropriated as a fashion statement.
Sadly, the beautiful and intricate hairstyles that originated from Africa, and evolved through Afro-Caribbean and Black American cultures, have not fully escaped the painful history of stereotyping and discrimination created by white and nonblack people of color.
Sumptuary laws were historically meant to regulate consumption and access to luxury, as to reinforce social hierarchies and legitimize discrimination — meaning that it was illegal for certain types of people to wear elegant clothes, or extravagant hairstyles depending on their race, gender, and socioeconomic class.
Tignon Laws of the 18th century are some of the earliest known examples of enforced discrimination against Black hair, but it didn’t stop there.