Hair Stories

From Hot Stoves to Electric Hot Combs

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For many African Americans, hair styling is of great importance with a lot of time, money, energy and effort put into the practice. Before chemical relaxers, some African Americans straightened their hair using a hot comb that had to first be heated on the stove before being applied to the hair to straighten it.

Hot comb from a travel hair care kit used by Anna Mae Queen Holmes. See More from the collection.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Cheryl Dozier Payne in memory of Anna Mae Queen Holmes, Educator & Historian.

Since those earlier days, electric hot combs have been made available, making it easier to control the heat being applied to the hair. Ideas about hairstyles and beauty standards that favored straight hair are somewhat changing. While straight hair was once considered to be “good” hair, today African Americans embrace a range of natural hairstyles including, dreadlocks, braids, Afros, and more.