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The conk was a hairstyle popular among African-American men from the 1920s to the 1960s. This hairstyle called for a man with naturally "kinky" hair to have it chemically straightened using a relaxer (sometimes pure lye), so that the newly straightened hair could be styled in specific ways. Conks were often styled as large pompadours although other men chose to simply slick their straightened hair back, allowing it to lie flat on their heads. Regardless of the styling, conks required a considerable amount of effort to maintain: a man often had to wear a do-rag of some sort at home, to prevent sweat or other agents from causing his hair to revert to its natural state prematurely. Also, the style required repeated application of relaxers; as new hair grew in, it too had to be chemically straightened.
Many of the popular musicians of the early to mid 20th century, including Chuck Berry, Louis Jordan, Little Richard, James Brown, and the members of The Temptations and The Miracles, were well known for sporting the conk hairstyle. The gatefold of the 1968 album Electric Mud shows blues legend Muddy Waters having his hair conked. The style fell out of popularity when the Black Power movement of the 1960s took hold, and the Afro became a popular symbol of African pride.
The conk is all but extinct as a hairstyle among African-American men today, although more mildly relaxed hairstyles such as the Jheri curl and the S-curl were popular during the 1980s and 1990s.
References in popular culture
In Malcolm X's autobiography (and in the Spike Lee movie based upon it), the author describes how he, with the help of his friend Shorty (played by Lee in the movie), conked his hair.
On the television series Sanford and Son, Fred Sanford quoted a jingle from a fictional hair product commercial. "If your hair is short and nappy, Conkaline will make it happy."
Categories: Hairstyles | African American culture
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