While hosting the 62nd-annual Grammy Awards ceremony earlier this year, an almost barefaced Alicia Keys accessorized in a way that screamed Black Girl Magic. The singer-songwriter graced the stage with her hair cornrowed back into a low bun, complete with jewel-encrusted baby hairs.
The act of strategically styling the finely textured strands along the hairline, or laying baby hairs, as it’s called within the Black and Latinx communities, has a profound history that dates back to at least the Roaring Twenties. It first emerged as a means of acceptance: Black women wanted to give off the appearance of “groomed” hair in order to fit European beauty standards. Notable entertainers of the time, like Josephine Baker and Esther Jones (credited as the inspiration for Betty Boop), were known for wearing their hair short and in uniform finger waves, with dramatic swirls framing the face. The intentional placement of swoops and loops paved the way for a multitude of uniquely styled baby-hair looks in modern times.
In the ’70s, Good Times actress Bern Nadette Stanis and singer and Sugar Hill Records cofounder Sylvia Robinson were known for taking the main stage with perfectly laid edges. Before breakthrough brands like Baby Tress and Pattern Beauty sprung onto the scene with specialized edge tools, people of color would oftentimes manipulate their baby hairs into mesmerizing shapes using just a toothbrush or bristle brush and gel or pomade. And as with many phenomena of Black culture, appropriated iterations of the technique started cropping up in fashion and pop culture as a quote-unquote hot new hair trend—think Katy Perry’s gelled-down hairline in her 2014 music video “This Is How We Do” or the Fall/Winter 2015 Givenchy runway of mostly white models wearing their strands plastered to their foreheads in a show that was themed “Chola Victorian.”
For many of us, taking the time to set our baby hairs is a highly regarded act—how we express ourselves, the cherry on top of the perfect hairdo. “I like my baby heir with baby hair and Afros,” declared Beyoncé in “Formation.” For Lauraine Bailey, the London-based hairstylist behind the visuals in this story, incorporating edge styling and African-derived aesthetics into her work is a form of artistic expression and excellence. “It says to me that I’m paying attention to detail and not leaving any stone unturned,” she says.
What we know for sure is a) baby hair is beautiful, and b) whether you like your hairline slicked down into swirling shapes or prefer to keep it free and untamed, there are absolutely no rules to styling—but there is inspiration. Ahead, four looks from Bailey to get you primed to play.
Accentuate your blowout by shaping subtly swooped baby hairs before tucking the strands behind your ear.
- Starting on stretched or blow-dried hair, use the tail of an edge tool to create a precise deep side part.
- Apply an edge control, holding gel, or pomade best suited to your texture to the hairline below your part, and smooth out the hair along the hairline toward your ear.
- Bring the short, wispy hairs forward with the bristles of a double-sided edge tool.
- Gliding the edge tool in a J motion, create three swoops. Complete the design by tucking the final swoop behind the ear.
- Draw even more attention to your beautifully laid edges by accessorizing with a hair clip.
Give your high puff some extra drama by adding swoops and S-shaped swirls along the front of your hairline.
- Using the bristles of an edge tool, separate the short, wispy hairs and brush them forward.
- Smooth out the hairline along the forehead in a small, circular motion to create mini swoops.
- Mold the baby hairs along the sides into S-shaped swirls. For precision, Bailey used the super-skinny tail end of a rattail comb.
- Complement your fabulously laid baby hairs with mini braids in a crisscrossing pattern along the top of your head.
A Myriad of Loops
Longer baby hairs call for dramatic loops and swirls. Let your hairline take center stage with this freestyle, face-framing cursive look.
- Section off four or five pieces of hair from ear to ear.
- Apply holding gel to the full length of the loose strands.
- Use your fingers and an edge tool to strategically mold your strands into loops and swirls along the forehead and sides of the hairline. Let loose; creativity is the key here.
Set your baby hairs in place before taking your look to the next level with pearls or jewels.
- Using the bristles of an edge tool, create subtle swoops and swirls along the hairline.
- Section off four pieces of hair from ear to ear and braid each.
- Curl the loose ends of your braids using a small-barrel curling wand.
- Finish by decorating the hairline with your choice of pearls or jewels, using clear lash glue and tweezers to fasten the gems.
- To finish, freeze your baby hairs into place by tying down your hairline with a silk or satin scarf and letting your look set for 10–15 minutes.
Photographer: Olivia Lifungula | Models: Mariah at Wilhelmina Models and Isabella at Models1 | Hair: Lauraine Bailey at Moja Management | Hair Assistant: Sam Lascelle | Makeup: Laila Zakaria | Styling: Palesa Dlamini