For this month’s “Hair Story” we caught up with 24-year old former New York Model Management model, Elyce Cole and shared a look back at some of her hairstyles over the years and the inspiration behind them.
Overall when I think of my feelings towards my hair, the first thing I equate it with is fuss – years and years of experimenting with different styles to see what felt most organic. I’ve tried every popular style available for black women, but never had the funds, patience, or time to maintain it for long. I guess in a way I’d characterize my relationship with my hair as detached. Each style served a purpose but at some point or another I’d get bored and no longer felt loyal to the hair style.
Fall 2009: Mohawk
This photo was taken in the fall of 2009; however, I actually cut my hair in this style at the beginning of the summer. At the time, I was in my fall semester of my senior year of college. I recall not thinking long term as far as how the hairstyle would affect future job prospects and instead enjoyed the sense of creative individualism I had carved out for myself. As an African American female college student living in DC with limited funds, I had finally hit a breaking point. The pressure to mind my hair and my studies became too much fuss for me personally. I woke up one morning frustrated, my relaxer had grown out and my hair was at an odd length, too difficult for me to style on my own. All week I had slipped in and out of class with either a hoodie or ill-fitting beanie since my slick back could no longer pass as acceptable for public viewing. What made it even worse was that the weather was warming up so my excuse to cover my head all the time could no longer be justified with the weather. In a panic I called several different salons, all of which were either booked or beyond my budget. I flipped and told my best friend to come with me to the barbershop. I didn’t have a clear style or plan in mind I just wanted to act right then and there. That was it! I rocked the look for an entire year even through graduation. To this day, my graduation photo sits on my mom’s mantle…gown, no cap, just all Mohawk!
Fall 2011: Baby Afro
This photo was taken during New York Fashion Week, walking for Shamask Spring/Summer 2012 collection. It was my second fashion week modeling in New York since graduating from college. My first fashion week had been extremely rough on my hair; I felt that if I didn’t take a stand to start over and go natural I would end up with no hair at all. Because modeling was still new to me, I didn’t feel it was detrimental to my career since I had barely gotten my feet wet. My agency did warn me that clients may view my hair as less versatile and thus book less work, but I didn’t care. The health of my hair was more important to me. I was fed up the constant stress on my hair and encountering stylists who knew nothing about how to manage my hair texture. I didn’t care that most of my counterparts dawned long, relaxed hair…I thought my features went better with natural hair regardless. There was no real inspiration for this look but rather it was born out of necessity. To spice it up, occasionally I’d part it on the side. That detail in particular was inspired by Fredrick Douglas believe it or not. It was a Halloween costume idea that just stuck.
Early 2012: Flat Top
This was during NY Fashion Week, Fall/Winter 2012. The exact time frame was February 2012 and I walked for designer, William Okpo. At the time, my baby fro had grown out to an awkward in between length and I was exploring exactly what my natural hair could do beyond being pressed. Fashion Week was around the corner and I felt a decision had to be made on how to best present my natural hair to casting directors and designers. One day after washing my hair I was in too much of a rush to let it air dry, so I grabbed the blow dryer instead. From that I saw the faint outline of a flat top and just went with it. Similar to 2009, I checked into a barbershop to have it cleaned up and that was that. My agency didn’t mind and I just ran with it. Because the cut was so severe, designers either hated it or they loved it. Traditionally, the intention behind fashion show casting is for the look of each model to blend into one another, but a few designers were willing to make an exception. When I reflect back on it, at this time in my life I was more driven by what I felt in my gut than what the popular decision would have been. As long as I could afford my rent in New York, I was not concerned with how to wear my hair. While rocking that flat top, I can honestly say it made me more confident and comfortable being in my own skin.
Summer 2012: Relaxed w/ Clip-ins
At the start of the spring I had decided to fly to London to shop for representation abroad and felt that now would be the best time to experiment with being conservative. I finally gave in and was curious to see if having long, relaxed hair really did make a difference in the amount of jobs I could book. I remained busy all summer and booked a lucrative recurring job, which made me ignore my hair for the moment; however, as time wore on I began to regret relaxing it again. I don’t know why I chose to punish my hair after it worked so hard to become thick and healthy again. Suddenly I felt like I had been tricked and was surrounded by women with long straight hair, but wear actually naturalistas in disguise. I realized at this point that every black model with my complexion had a weave. It was reinforced in my mind repeatedly that being a black model, you fall in either one of three markets. If of mixed race, curly hair was acceptable, if not then a weave was the only option, and if of native African descent, natural or short hair was allowed. Trying to mesh into any other category then what was deemed appropriate for me was not encouraged.
Early 2013: Natural- Afro Weave
At the time, my only concern was that it was winter and since I had decided that the relaxer I had in June would be my last (I had been transitioning my hair via flat iron all fall). This moment coincided with my decision to stop modeling full time and thus I felt freer to experiment with a weave. For the first time I was open to using a weave as a protective style but wanted to experiment with an uncommon afro kinky weave instead. In the moment I was obsessed with big hair and so to pass the time of growing it out again, I figured I’d just buy some. In the beginning it was liberating to wake up and feel pulled together all the time, but over time which my stylist could anticipate based on my history… I like to switch it up too often and would miss the feeling of my own hair. Hands down, my main inspiration for this look was Solange. I carried her photo with me for a week as I prepped for my weave buying hair and visiting stylists.
Fast forward to today (spring 2013) and I’ve never felt more confident, cool, calm and collected than I do now rocking a Cesar cut. I’m entering a new phase of my life and the nearing the end of a few chapters and I chose this cut because it is everything I need in a hairstyle. It’s easy on my budget, workout friendly, fits well with any outfit, and above all, it’s no fuss. I felt I’d been too irresponsible over the years to have hair so now I just limit it to a few centimeters off my head and I’m ok with that. I have a feeling I’ll be rocking my hair short for a long time to come. As I enter professional life soon and toy with the idea of returning to grad school, my hair is the last thing I want on my mind. After two years of feeling like my hair defined my beauty, it is refreshing to feel beautiful without it. My friend, Chadette, who first did her big chop over the summer, initially inspired me. If she could be brave enough to make such an extreme transition then so could I.