BLACK UTOPIA: THE BEAUTY SUPPLY OASIS
By Erin White
April 11, 2019
In Crenshaw, my mom and I would buy braiding hair in the early morning before a day-long braiding appointment. I remember the bins of fabric, mesh embroidered sandals, bags of barrettes, and the du-rag display. Hair of all types. Kanekalon for box braids, deep wave virgin Brazilian bundles for a 24-inch quick weave, pre-plucked lace fronts. A cardboard display stacked with $5, wildly transparent leggings. There’s a glass display case lined with plastic eyelash strips in white and blue packaging. Roller-ball lip gloss, eyebrow razors, box relaxer, oil sheen: the beauty supply store is what laid edges are made of.
Every city across this country is home to a local beauty supply store. Not a chain like Sally Beauty, but a nameless, red letter marquee yelling “BEAUTY SUPPLY.” A strip mall oasis housing a world of cosmetic possibility and outlets for creative expression.
Beauty supply stores are one of those things that exist as if from thin air. Ubiquitous in communities across the country, the beauty supply store is a sanctuary for Blackness in a whitewashed society. A place for us where our nappy kinks, curls, and coils didn’t call for niche “specialty” products found on the bottom shelf of the haircare aisle. Here, Blackness was catered to, not otherized. Where culture was created and identity reaffirmed.
The beauty supply is where DIY dreams are born. Why pay $100 for some creamy crack you can slather it on your damn self?
Yes, there is craftsmanship to these skills and hairdressers deserve to get paid. But if you can’t afford to pay them…the beauty supply store gotchu. The point is, Black women, make use of their resources to create culture. We were the ones rocking highlighter wigs and silk press bobs 20 years ago. Remy, yaki, kakolone — all that! The Beauty Supply is the belle of the bundle.
The barber shop is for Black men as the beauty supply is for Black women in that both spaces create culture. Be it through conversation and heated discussions that take place while you’re getting your line-up or the silent conversations we have with society through how we present ourselves as Black people. Proud afros can be signifiers for militancy and waist-long locs, a symbol of free-spiritedness.
Black women take whatever resources we have and we make it work. More than that, we create and dictate culture. The same looks that Black women were rocking twenty years ago, the ones we were called ghetto for, have trickled over to the rest of society. From the glamorization of du-rags and the Jenner-fication of neon wigs and acrylic extensions to the proliferation of lip, butt, and hip injectables and normalization of weaves. The ‘round the way girl beauty supply diva look has fallen victim to gentrification. They even out here layin’ baby hairs!
Whatever it is, white folks are gonna try to colonize it. And as hard as they try to monetize the culture, they can never capture the magic of the corner beauty supply.