The new black

Hair has always been as much of an identity issue for black men as it has for black women. But instead of wondering whether or not to relax their hair, black men are pondering the long and short of it; cropped styles (grades one and two) have never been so popular. At the same time, more men are keeping their hair natural, but growing it longer.

I'm pretty sure, at some point in their life, every black man (and for that matter, most black women) considers growing dreadlocks. This is not a decision to be taken lightly. To keep dreadlocks looking good (and the emphasis is definitely on the plural, rather than the singular, considerably less attractive option), takes commitment. The hair must be twisted constantly, and kept in good condition or it will look dull.

The connotations of wearing such a hairstyle are a big issue. I know better than to assume a black man with dreadlocks is actually a Rastafarian. These days, dreadlocks are more likely to be an assertion of the wearer's individual style than an outward indicator of their religion. That said, dreadlocks are still a style that demand a level of political awareness from the wearer. People will not give you an easy time if you have them. But maybe that's the point: "Black men have always used their hair as a way of fighting against the mainstream," says Stephen Durham, co-owner of Radical Design hair salons. Ironically, it is this, the most political of the black hairstyles, that has been appropriated most widely by white society.

The popularity of dreadlocks, symbolic or otherwise, is another signifier of the trend for increasingly intricate, but ultimately natural hair. By the same token, the prominence of Craig David has led to a revival of the China bumps, another natural style. Next up its twists, but again, styled naturally, using wax, rather than a harsh relaxer, says Durham. Afros are also coming back, but think Lenny Kravitz, rather than Jackson 5, adds Terry Jacques (three times afro hairdresser of the year).

Men will be making more use of the colour palette in the coming months, predicts Durham, with blues and purples tipped to be popular choices. For the really adventurous, there's the brash blond/silver, as favoured by SisQo.

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