Three Friends Share Their Favorite Natural Hairstyles

Three Natural Hair Styles for Summer

Every summer, an exhilaration comes over me at the thought of changing my hair — the options are vast and beautiful! This year, I decided on a short, angled cut (I’m in the red dress), and it has been one of my favorite styles. But I’m still experimenting and searching for the right products. So, I asked two of my friends about their summer styles and techniques for taking for natural hair, and here’s what they told me….

Three Natural Hair Styles for Summer by Kim Rhodes

First, I’d love to share my natural hair journey.

Sitting in my cousin’s kitchen a few years ago, I was thrilled by the thought of feeling my hair’s curly texture for the first time in 20 years, since I was in kindergarten. I was doing my “big chop” — when your relaxed or chemically straightened hair is cut off from your natural hair. My hair had been chemically straightened since I was five. As a kid, I never really understood why I had to change my hair, although my mom told me it would make my “difficult” hair bone straight and easier to manage. The chemicals used in relaxers are very harsh, and can burn your scalp if left on too long. They also make hair weak to the point that it just breaks off. As a kid, I had hair all the way down my back, but after a few years of relaxing, it wouldn’t grow past my shoulders.

Societal pressure also played a part in how I perceived myself as a kid with curly, kinky hair. All sorts of things — from relatives making disparaging comments about the tightness of my curl pattern to being the only black kid in all my classes — took a toll on how I thought I measured up to society’s standard of beauty. It’s still something that black men and women are up against today — for example, this year, California and New York signed laws that ban employers from discriminating against people with natural hair.

So, 20 years after my first relaxer, after figuring out what was healthy for me and using this natural hair video as a lifeline, I cut my straightened hair and I didn’t look back.

Fast forward to a few months ago — it had been five years since my big chop and my hair was big and full and beautiful and everything I’d wanted it to be. But caring for all this luscious hair was completely overwhelming. If you’ve lived through a wash day with natural hair longer than a couple of inches, (and I do mean an entire day), you understand my anxiety around this.

After scouring Pinterest for ideas, I felt excited about doing something new with my hair. I finally decided on a short, angled cut, which has been one of my favorite styles. I started wondering if other women had similar feelings about summer styles or techniques for taking care of natural hair. I asked two friends, and here’s what they had to say:

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

Hair type: 4c hair (very tight, coarse curls)
Summer style: box braids

Why I chose this style: I work 12-hour shifts as a nurse and love to explore New York City on my days off, so I need something easy to take care of. Box braids are a protective style, which gives my hair a break from constant manipulation and provides me that extra 10 to 15 minutes of sleep in the morning that we all need. I can wear my braids down or in a top knot, depending on my mood, so there’s never a dull moment when I choose to rock them. The braids last six weeks per installation, so, for me, it’s a summer no-brainer! I also love that natural hair pays homage to my love for being a black woman.

My natural hair journey: I grew up getting relaxers on my hair, which caused irritation and long-term damage. In college, I decided to cut my hair completely off except for a few inches, just to see if I liked it — and I loved it! It was the first time I felt beautiful in my own skin. I ditched the relaxers and embraced the possibilities of my natural hair. A few years later, I tried a sew-in weave, which I liked but there was still lots of maintenance (hair stylists every two weeks, expensive reinstalls, and expensive bundles of hair). And don’t even think about getting it wet or walking in the humidity — that was a day-ruiner, and I used to carry around a mini hair straightener. I felt like I always had to have perfect hair to meet people’s expectations of a “palatable black woman.” Once I got over trying to please everyone, I decided to give a more natural look a try and here I am today. Best decision!

How I care for my curls in the summer: Every six weeks, I get my box braids redone by a stylist that I found by searching the hashtag #boxbraidsbrooklyn (the power of social media!). When I take down my braids at home, before getting them redone, the process takes 90 minutes from start to finish and is accompanied by a glass of red wine and Motown tunes. Then I take a picture to track my hair growth. Next, I wash my hair using Mielle Organics products, which were developed by a black nurse. I use a pre-shampoo treatment, wash/condition with the Rosemary Mint Oil, and twist my hair into two strands for the evening and style using a curl-enhancing styling creme. I also love to wear West African-inspired head wraps from Harlem-based Cee Cee’s Closet.

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

Hair type: 3c hair (well-defined, tight corkscrews or coils)
Summer style: Pineapple — pulling the curls up with a silk scarf — on hot days, and on cooler days I just rock the fro.

Why I chose this style: It’s way too hot and humid in the summer to be playing games with my hair. I choose the pineapple style on hot days because the fro traps heat around my neck and forehead. But on cooler days, the fro is just so effortless and a show stopper.

My natural hair journey: Four years ago, I was graduating from high school and my hair looked so short in the pictures. It was relaxed and cut in a bob, which I just wasn’t confident with. Short hair is bomb — don’t get me wrong — but I love big hair and knew that’s what I wanted. This was before wigs started popping, so I figured the only way to get my hair to grow long was to leave it alone. And I was becoming more conscious of the hair products I was using from watching natural hair videos for hours at a time. I learned about sulfate-free products, as well as the brands Shea Moisture, Curls and Mixed Chicks. During the next four years, I wore my hair in protective styles — buns or two puffs. Then, junior year in college, I was running late for class, struggling with my hair. So, I wore my hair out in a fro for the first time. I couldn’t believe how much my hair had changed! After years of the same styles, I finally released the beast and it took me a while to get used to, but it grew into such a beautiful shape — like a beautiful tree.

How I care for my curls in the summer: This summer, I moved here from California and am adjusting to the NYC weather — and so is my hair. I wash my hair once a week with Not Your Mother’s Natural Repair + Protect Shampoo. For conditioning, I swear by Palmer’s Olive Oil Deep Conditioner — I lather my hair and leave it in for the day. The next day I rinse and then style it throughout the week using Jamaican Castor Oil and Eco Styler Olive Oil Gel if needed on frizzy parts. This is the only way I can keep my curls looking moisturized and fresh, or else this humidity will have its way!

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

Hair type: 4b/4c hair (tight curls, coarse texture)
Summer style: short, angled cut

Why I chose this style: For the past two years, I’d had box braids, so I wanted something fresh to shake things up. My mom pled with me not to cut it, but I just had to! Short hair makes me feel the most like myself — it’s just a gut feeling that’s like, “YES. This is us.” I’m also low-maintenance and wanted to be able to wash and condition it quickly, without devoting a whole day to it. I love that it stays off my face when the weather is hot, and I can wear a head wrap on days I don’t have time to deal with it.

How I care for my curls in summer: My hair type is arguably the most complex to care for (which is part of the reason I chopped it off) and always needs a lot of moisture. I’m still experimenting and researching which methods work best for me, but for now I wash and condition it every week with Trader Joe’s Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo and conditioner. Leslie introduced me to Mielle Rosemary Mint Oil and I’ve started using their Pomegranate Curl Smoothie as a styling creme. On their own they smell amazing, but together they’re INTOXICATING!

3 Natural Hair Styles for Summer

Do you have natural hair? What are some of your favorite styles? Thank you, Leslie and Nakia for sharing your stories!

P.S. Three beauty uniforms featuring women with natural hair: Paola Mathé, Ingrid Silva and Klancy Miller.

(Photos by Christine Han for Cup of Jo.)

  1. Lisa Thornton says...

    I just began my 4c/4d hair journey 3 months ago. If there is no such thing as a 4d type, let me get it started. Did the big chop after having a relaxer. Have always worn wigs as a cover up on my super dry, very coarse, wirery, dingy brownish-black color hair. But when my hair was long enough to cornrow before the big chop I also wore crocheted hair. The first two months after the chop I did nothing but washed it, used a conditioner, slapped on a wig. Then I started doing research on why is it that my hair is so dry, tight and hard to comb?! I went to YouTube. Typed in natural hair, dry 4c hair, etc. I cannot say enough about how those videos helped me to connect the dots as to how to manage my hair. From washing, co-washing, conditioning, deep conditioning, moisturizing and oils, hair porosity to how to penetrate the shaft; I learned a mint! I’ve stacked up on products to try. In the past to weeks I know what to eliminate and what ingredients to look for that might harm my hair, as well as what oils and ingredients will help. Even the oils have varying benefits, some absorb well and others protect the strands and add the shine. Moisture Moisture Moisture us key for low porosity hair and 4c hair is more prone to being very dry because of the tightly coiled tresses. I have learned a lot in just a few weeks of research. I found a great line of products for my hair by Qhemet Biologics. In just one use I can already tell it is top drawer and excellent for my hair type. I have been using the “greenhouse moisturizing method at night by wearing a plastic cap and putting satin bonnet on over it to retain moisture and soften my hair. When I wake up it is just as soft as when I went to bed, and pillow case is protected from oils and stuff. My next purchase will be a hair steamer. And I need to purchase a hooded home dryer for when I “deep condition” to open up the hair shaft. I think if I keep up a good regimen my hair will behave and be healthy and grow luxuriant :)

  2. D. says...

    I’m not sure if you’ll see this, Kim, as it was written months ago, but have you tried the Curly Girl Method? It has changed my life and given me the best, healthiest curls. It’s been one year now and I’m never going back to straightening ever again. I hope that it might help you too? x

  3. Very late to the party here, but I love this post! Thanks for always upping your diversity game, CoJ.

  4. Jamie says...

    Gorgeous!! Thank you!

  5. Maeve says...

    Chiming in super late here but YESSS!!! So wonderful to be seen and represented. These stories are so like my own and love all the product recs. Well done CoJ!

  6. Sharyn M Taylor says...

    Thanks for educating me about the intricacies of managing African-American hair. I was first apprised of this when I read Americanah by Chiminanda Ngozi Adichie. The book starts in a braiding parlor in which it takes 8 hours to braid the main character’s hair. I was so shocked and sad that I had no idea and had to get to my 60’s as a white woman to find this out. Now I usually have two visceral reactions to fashion articles/images etc: 1) Why are all these women so sickly-skinny and 2) Where are the African-American women?