One of the most striking styles at the Met Gala this week was Lupita Nyong’o, whose structured hair style had outlets covering the event scrambling for a reference point. Some, like USA Today, called it Whoville hair, others pointed out its resemblance to Marge Simpson. For their part, Vogue found a somewhat more stylish analogue, asking Is Lupita Nyong’o the New Audrey Hepburn? A little better, but also wrong, as the actress pointed out in an Instagram today. Setting aside the tradition of such towering hair in African traditions, Nyong’o specifically mentioned Simone on the red carpet.
Lori Tharps, a professor at Temple University and co-author of Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America explained a bit more to NPR.
In the African past, sculptural formations of hair signaled status and wealth. “There’s that sense of adornment, but it can have meaning,” Tharps says. A towering hairdo has historically signified a person’s tribal background, rank in society — or a wife’s ability to live a life of leisure because of her husband’s wealth. Some of these styles can be seen in the late Nigerian photographer J. D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s anthology of nearly 1,000 Nigerian women’s hairstyles: elegant, braided, complex, architectural masterpieces.