By Chuck Nwoke
The look was all the rage last season, pitting her rebellious feminist against her outward femininity. There was only one question she pondered: How was a black girl who shaved one side of her thick, curly hair supposed to go about growing it back, and doing so evenly? It took nearly a decade to grow her hair long, a fact her mother didn’t hesitate to mention whenever giving the space to talk. “You’re blessed with good hair,” she reminded her only daughter for the millionth time. “Never once had a weave.”
It wasn’t like the Chinese star-looking tattoo on the small of her back that she regretted getting in college and tucked out of sight until she mustered the courage to go through the pain to remove it. Besides, so many others had done it, women blacker than her, with hair that didn’t grow back as fast. When the time came for an evened out regrowth, women would figure it out together, same as they always had. And just like that she dismissed her mother. She didn’t want a white woman talking to her about good hair anyway.
Her stylist insisted her remaining hair was best dyed: bright purple, green, orange or pink – a color that popped. The hairstyle was worn best with black. White, if striped with black. She needed a reliable pair of all-occasion boots. Black. Leather. New wave or no wave? She couldn’t decide and did both. The total cost for her new look and wardrobe: she didn’t know, she put it on her credit card. On social media, her new profile picture racked up a hundred and fifty likes. “Sexy mama,” one mom-friend wrote. The comment itself received dozens of likes. She felt cool, current, edgy.
Until edgy was out, and edgier was in. Punk rock. So her magazines said, unanimously. Beauty blogs insisted she shave the other side of her head, distress her expensive jeans and spray-paint wild colors all over her white pieces. DIY. Striped pieces could stay as-is. So could her boots. They were wearing in perfectly.
“Throw Everything In Your Closet Away,” her paper’s weekend style headline read, declaring the season “white trash.” Only in New York City and L.A. was white trash cyclically chic. What had evolved into a mane-ish mohawk atop her head didn’t work anymore. Her stylist suggested she take hair off the top. Her new mullet screamed for hats and she devoted her next few paychecks to building a collection of expensive headwear – hats she wore with the price tags left dangling for all to see, just as the style called for, and white double-laced Kaepa sneakers, with snap-in color changing logos.
Kaepa had stopped making the shoe thirty years ago and only a thousand were still available, stored in the company’s warehouse in North Texas; then a famous actress was spotted wearing a pair in a “Celebrities Are Just Like Us!” magazine segment. The teen star was standing alongside a road, crying after fatally rear-ending a smart car with her SUV while texting.
Her pair of Kaepas was number eight hundred and nine and because of its rareness cost just as much. Adding to the look, were an assortment of plaid flannel shirts, expensive versions of the kind her high school sweetheart wore. What’s he up to? she wondered, and cast a wide internet search for him after her husband fell asleep on the couch.
Scrolling her fashion photo-sharing app before getting out of bed to start her morning, she pinned a new pair of jeans that had come out, and then later that day purchased pairs in black, and blue, and acid washed. The jeans fit skintight and had horizontal rips at the bottom of both butt cheeks, from one end to the other, so when she walked she flashed a little something. Heavier since having children, for the first time her rump was the envy of the have-nots, and want-mores, the It appendage de jour. “Cheeky jeans,” as they came to be known, were so popular they were on backorder everywhere, from Target to Forever 21, Marc Jacobs to Prada. Wearing the jeans, she snapped a picture of her backside in a mirror and, blocking her husband and daughter on social media, posted it immediately. Nearly three hundred likes.
The upcoming season was all about sporty androgyny. Always en vogue, she let the top of her hair grow back, then shaved the back for an Elvis-style pompadour. Three hundred dollars, her stylist charged, a deal since he was a “friend.” He’d already done six that day at five hundred a pop. “Business is booming, girl,” he told her. She rocked nothing but activewear, leggings mostly, leotards sometimes, lots of patterns and prints and hot fluorescent colors, worn with an assortment of sneakers that were just as bold and bright. The deluge of likes and comments her gym selfies got was intoxicating.
Summer hit hard and Boho-chic was in. Again. She stocked up on long, flowing skirts, fashionably saggy hammer pants, and roomy sleeveless tops that hung off her shoulders for a little flirty edge – or nerdy flirt, if she wore her newest accessory: a pair of big black-rimmed glasses. Prescription or without lenses, the geek look was hot. She visited her stylist, told him she trusted him and didn’t want to see the result until he was finished. He’d given her the “Krishna blowout.” The style was ubiquitous; everybody had it. The cost: three hundred dollars. But money was no object. Her friend had hinted that her boots could sell on eBay for three times the original price; after five days of intense bidding, the boots sold for five times the original amount. Boondles were what they were calling her new boot and sandal hybrid.
By the end of summer, pregnancy had made her weary, too lazy to keep up with the latest fashion. The dog days continued through fall, pushing her to shave her head completely. On an expecting-another-baby budget, she enlisted the help of her husband’s head-shaving expertise. With his assistance, she wore variations of military crew cuts, bowls then bobs, cycling through her high school, college, and freewheeling twenty-something hairstyles, until she could afford to visit her stylist.
Back at her salon, she overheard a woman request the hairstyle so-and-so from such-and-such had. The triple-threat pop star in question, a third her age, had shaved a clown-like bald spot into the top of her head and dyed her hair white. Makeup to match called for rosy cheeks and bubble gum red lipstick colored just outside the lips’ borders for fullness. She texted her husband with a picture of the hairstyle and asked what he thought about the new look. “She looks like a clown,” he replied, but she didn’t trust the opinion of a man who worked out incessantly and dieted like a teenage girl with an eating disorder. Why should she? The pop star’s look had broken the Internet, according to the Internet
Plus, the TV star that had inspired every iconic hairstyle for a decade had jumped on somebody else’s bandwagon and wore the hairstyle. So did the First Lady, and women idolized her, wanted to be her. Her nemesis at the gym that always worked out in full makeup and never sweat had the style. Her celebrity doppelgänger too, whose personal style mirrored how she would have dressed in high school if she had had more confidence. Her best friend back then, Angelique de la Bonette, had confidently worn an early prototype of the style. She recalled hating how boys noticed Angelique de la Bonette, especially the boys she liked. Desperate for advice back then, she wrote to Seventeen magazine’s advice column. In the next issue, it was suggested she make other friends, less threatening friends, friends beneficial to her self-esteem. Validated, she laminated the article, treasuring it well into adulthood, applying the advice until she’d rid herself of the wrong kind of friends, them and their so-called honesty.
Reminded of Angelique de la Bonette, she got nostalgic and wished they had stayed close. Curious as to what Angelique de la Bonette was up to, she found her on social media. To her surprise, they lived in the same city but in different boroughs. About Angelique de la Bonette: model, actress, comedian, science writer, divorced mother of three, and yoga instructor. Strong adolescent feelings for Angelique de la Bonette instantly resurfaced.
She couldn’t bring herself to friend Angelique de la Bonette, but the algorithms based on her social media search prompted Angelique de la Bonette to friend her. She didn’t accept. Not right away. Not until she stopped eating and lost the remainder of her baby weight. Then went shopping. Visited her salon. “Girl, go out into the world and fuck it to death!” her stylist ecstatically screamed after he’d worked his magic.
Her latest style in place – lots of drapey cold tones, eighteenth century breeches, and loud wooden Dutch clogs, similar to the pair she borrowed from Angelique de la Bonette in eighth grade and never returned – she went to her daughter’s room and asked her to take a picture for her to post. It had been a while since she posted pictures of herself.
“You mean selfie?” her daughter corrected.
“No,” she clarified, “I want you to take a picture of me.”
“Duh,” her daughter sassed, rolling her eyes. “Yah, selfie. Nobody says ‘picture’ anymore.”
Friend request accepted. One hundred and seventy-five likes. Thirty comments.
Chuck Nwoke was born in Nigeria and raised in Houston,TX. A sponsored skateboarder, music writer and award-winning screenwriter in his former lives, he’s been published by Broome Street Review, Litro Magazine, Akashic Books, Bull, cahoodaloodaling, Streetlight Magazine, Huffington Post and Salon, and is a 2017 nominee for Best of the Net fiction. He lives in Brooklyn, NY and is currently on scholarship in the Pratt Institute's MFA Writing program. Follow him @chucknwoke.