ode to the humble hair bonnet - offcultured

Ode to the Humble Hair Bonnet

The hair bonnet is nothing new, but it’s been a best friend to Black people, especially Black women, for generations.

The nightcap (satin bonnet, sleep scarf, etc.) is nothing new and is not unique to any one culture. But it is, and has been, a best friend to Black people — especially Black women — for generations. We owe our hair bonnet a debt of gratitude for keeping our hair from tangling, frizzing, drying out, and otherwise looking a hot mess. I honestly don’t know a Black woman who doesn’t use one — or at the very least, she wraps her hair up every night with something. I know I’m not the only one with the sixth sense of being able to detect if it falls off in the night.

Seeing a Black female character on television going to bed or waking up without a bonnet tells me who’s missing in the writers’ room. I always feel so bad for her, but through the magic of TV, her hair is usually fine. (But we know.) I don’t know if it’s a kind of anxiety, but thinking of waking up or going to sleep without a bonnet gives me an upset stomach. 

hair bonnet tips

When I was a little girl, nearly every night my mother would set up in the living room. She’d have a bag of sponge rollers to one side, a jar of TCB and bottle of Hair So New to the other, and a tabletop mirror perched atop an old popcorn tin. Carefully, she rolled her hair, greased her scalp, and topped everything off with a blue, white, and gold satin scarf to keep it all in place.

My mother set the example, and when I wasn’t being a total handful, I might also manage to slap a scarf on at night.

It served as a mundane rite of passage, but as I grew older I began to appreciate the nightly ritual. I loved how it was an instant connection between me and my girlfriends when we’d have sleepovers. Gossiping about the goings on at school, all of us with our hair wrapped up, remains a favorite memory of mine.

But the covering of Black hair isn’t always a purely happy thought. Black women are especially subjected to sumptuary laws regarding the covering of their hair while in public. Tignon laws in colonial era Louisiana were forced upon light skin Black women so that it was immediately known by any onlooker they were not white and should not be given the graces or privileges afforded to white women. Of course this law backfired as headwraps became fashion statements, being beautifully decorated and extravagantly wrapped.

Free women of color stood out more than they ever had before the law, which only heightened their desirability in colonial society.

Laws like these and treatment of Black hair in white supremacist societies in general means that the sleep bonnet has a different meaning when worn on Black person’s head. The difference these days is that there is a choice. 

For whatever reason, let’s say respectability politics, it’s generally okay to wear a hair wrap in public; but when the hardworking sleep bonnet gets worn outside the house, it’s treated with derision. We don’t play like that here. Sleep bonnets serve a function, providing protection to hair from rough pillows cases and sleeping; but they’re also a cultural shorthand for when someone has more important things on their minds than doing their hair. Don’t cross a Black person wearing a sleep bonnet outside. I guarantee you they do not have the time, but they might make time for any out of pocket remarks. Trash behavior over something so innocuous can be completely avoided.

Let’s be easy when it comes to sleep bonnets. They do so much for us.

If you’re not Black and you’re wondering if it’s okay to wear one. all I can say is please do. As mentioned before, they’re more of a tool before anything else. Black people aren’t the only ones who use or can benefit from them. Use one for sleeping or when you’re awake and simply need to keep your hair out of the way until you’re ready to deal with it. All of this is fine. What is not fine is claiming you’ve come up with something new.

Think of them like hoodies: Anybody can wear a hoodie but Black people in hoodies are immediately suspect in a society soaked in white supremacy. So if you want to try it out, buy from a Black company. We’ve perfected sleep bonnets and chances are good you can find something perfect for you and all your loved ones. Everyone can wake up without happy hair if they want. The choice is yours.  

Best Hair Bonnet Tips

  • Wash your hair bonnet(s) at least weekly.
  • Have more than one bonnet in more than one size.
  • Avoid bonnets with velcro closures or exposed elastic — they can tear hair and irritate skin.
  • Store one in a pillowcase so you can always find it.
  • Long flight? Pack one in your carry-on.
  • Don’t go back for a forgotten bonnet at your ex’s. Let it go. It’s theirs now.

Nowadays, I generally prefer the bonnet to the scarf. It’s easy to use, and for me, stays in place more reliably than silky scarves. I also have a satin pillowcase to ensure against a wayward hair bonnet and hairstyles that don’t suit one. I adore my bonnet and everything it does for me.

Where to Buy a Satin Hair Bonnet Online

Buying a satin bonnet is as easy as dropping into your favorite beauty supply store down the block. However, depending on where you live, they’re sometimes limited in colors and styles. Fortunately, there are online stores that ship just about anywhere in the world. If you don’t know where to start, here are three to check out:

Baddie Bonnets

Baddie Bonnets has a large assortment of bonnets to choose from so there’s bound to be one that you love. A portion of each sale goes to support young adults who recently aged out of the foster care system. So, you can protect your hair and the youth at the same time. They have silk-lined and 100% silk bonnets in sizes generous enough to keep long hair covered. You’ll also find gorgeous reversible satin bonnets in their 100% silk line and tons of fun options in their silk-lined collection. My picks are Lailah and The Baddie.

The Satin Diaries

Based in Toronto, Canada, The Satin Diaries offers a selection of reversible satin bonnets from Small to Large. They even have coordinating satin sleep masks, pillow cases, and scrunchies that together will make sure you sleep tight all night. They offer free shipping to the U.S and Canada for orders over $100. My pick is the Olive and Pine Green Reversible Bonnet.

Luxy Crown

Luxy Crown is a UK-based brand with diverse collection of sleep bonnets to choose from. Offerings include satin-lined Ankara print, reversible bonnets, and bonnets for use in the shower. Unique to this brand is you can purchase a bonnet package that includes one bonnet from each of their collections as well as a coordinating hair clip. Be patient when ordering as they make each bonnet to order. Follow them on Instagram for the most recent shop updates. My picks are the Essential Package 2 and Bulu.

Header: Jessica Felicio

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