To honor Black History Month, we’re continuing to celebrate the beauty of Black Joy and all the hope and transformation it brings. From personal essays to deep-dives into history and culture, join us as we amplify Black voices and explore the products, traditions, and people leading the way.
From the way we style our hair to how we wear our nails, Black people have continuously influenced beauty culture throughout history. Our expressions of style have laid the foundation for global trends then and now. From Pam Grier's afro, to Diana Ross's lengthy lashes, to Florence Griffith Joyner's four-inch nails, each decade has been filled with iconic beauty moments we still turn to for inspiration.
So, it's only right to pay homage to the beauty trendsetters of the last century during Black History Month (and beyond). Take a trip down memory lane as we spotlight 45 of the Black models, entertainers, activists, and athletes who will forever be revered as full-blown beauty muses.
Josephine Baker was the first Black person to grace the screen in a major film when she took on a role in Siren of the Tropics in 1927. The performer often wore her hair in a sleek and swooped pixie cut.
Celebrated as one of the best jazz vocalists of all-time, Billie Holiday often performed with a cluster of gardenias in her hair. Her signature on-stage look reportedly came about after she burned her hair before a performance. To help her disguise her singed strands, fellow jazz singer Sylvia Sims purchased a gardenia for Holiday to place in her hair and the rest is history.
When we think of old Hollywood glamour, we think of Lena Horne. The Grammy-award winning actress and singer (whose career spanned seven decades) often wore her hair in perfectly sculpted updos that accentuated her alluring features.
After her performance in the 1954 film Carmen Jones, Dorothy Dandridge became one of the first Black entertainers to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress. Dandridge's curled tresses and red lips always captivated viewers.
Donyale Luna is remembered as the first Black supermodel. With her March 1966 British Vogue cover, she became the first woman of color to appear on any Vogue magazine cover. Her striking features and all-around natural beauty still leave us in awe today.
The hair looks that Diana Ross and The Supremes served throughout the 60s and 70s solidified their spots as beauty trailblazers. As a solo artist, Ross continues to be an embodiment of real diva glamor, often adorning bold lashes and larger-than-life hairstyles.
Eartha Kitt experienced success as both a singer and an actress. Her classic Christmas song "Santa Baby" hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1953, and she notably played Catwoman in the television series Batman. With her sculpted cheekbones and bodacious curls, Eartha Kitt always exuded natural beauty.
Coretta Scott King
Throughout her life as a civil rights activist, Coretta Scott King donned sophisticated hairstyles ranging from coiffed waves to intricate beehive-like updos. A vibrant red lip was also a part of her signature beauty look.
For political activist Angela Davis and the many Black people who wore their hair in an afro during the 60s and 70s, it was more than just a style. It was a statement. Afros were a rejection of Eurocentric beauty standards and sent the message that Black hair is beautiful in its natural state.
The Queen of Soul gifted us with a timeless discography of hits and beauty looks galore. You could always catch Franklin with a bold brow, sharp eyeliner, and fluttery lashes. And whether she styled her hair in a bouncy bob with bangs or tapered afro, her hairstyles were just as noteworthy.
Diahann Carroll broke barriers as the star of Julia, the first American television series to depict a Black woman in a non-stereotypical role. Whether she wore minimal makeup or was decked out in eyeshadow and liner, the actress always looked flawless.
Beverly Johnson became the first Black woman to land a Vogue cover in 1974. Throughout her trailblazing career as a model, Johnson's jaw-dropping beauty has always mesmerized us.
Pam Grier deserves her flowers for being the first Black woman to headline an action movie and for the beauty looks she graced the screen with. The afro Grier wore in 70s films like Foxy Brown and Coffy was an iconic hair moment then and still is today.
Since she entered the modeling scene in the 1970s, Grace Jones' androgynous appearance has exemplified the beauty of fluidity in self-expression. We often refer to her bold makeup looks for inspiration.
Whenever she was on-screen or attending red carpets, the late actress Cicely Tyson radiated elegance. Her iconic appearances were often accompanied by statement-making beauty looks like the afro she wore in the 1960s series East Side/West Side, a role that made Tyson the first Black woman to take on a leading role in a television drama.
As the Queen of Disco, Donna Summer's hair and makeup looks were just as electrifying as her music. Her classic barrel waves were often paired with a vibrant lipstick, smokey eye, and bold lashes.
Tina Turner has never been one to shy away from experimenting with her hair. The vocal powerhouse dominated the 80s with spiky brown-blonde hair, a style we consider to be one of her biggest hair hits.
Iman's career as a supermodel made her a beauty icon. But, the launch of Iman Cosmetics in 1994 made her a beauty pioneer as well. At a time when few beauty brands met the needs of women of color, Iman Cosmetics showed the industry what inclusivity actually looks like by offering products that flattered Black and Brown skin.
Florence Griffith Joyner
Florence Griffith Joyner is the fastest woman of all time, but she also may also be the most stylish runner of all time. Whenever she hit the track, Griffith Joyner always showed up with a fresh set of acrylic nails. And for the 1988 Olympics, she famously wore six-inch nails painted red, white, blue, and gold.
Lisa Bonet has always taken a free-spirited and minimalist approach to beauty. In the 80s, she let her natural hair and bare skin take center stage. And in the 90s, she switched things up and began wearing her hair in waist-length locs and has ever since.
Before becoming the most awarded female artist of all time, Whitney Houston worked as a model and became the first woman of color to appear on the cover of Seventeen in the early 1980s. With her curly bangs and colorful eyeshadow, Houston was the poster girl for 80s beauty.
With ten Grammys under her belt, Chaka Khan is legendary, and so is her hair. From her bouncy waves to her larger-than-life red crimped hair, the "Feel for You" singer's versatile hair moments deserve their own archive.
Patti Labelle's hairstyles throughout the years have been as dynamic as her voice. But, it's her sky-high hairdos in the 80s that still have us talking today. The gravity-defying hair designs are nothing short of incredible.
In addition to their Hip-Hop hits, Salt-N-Pepa became known for their cropped cuts and red lipstick. Their position as longtime beauty trendsetters led to a 2020 makeup collaboration with Milani Cosmetics.
Campbell's four-decade-long modeling career has been filled with barrier-breaking moments (like becoming the first Black woman to appear on the cover of French Vogue in 1988), and memorable beauty looks.
Alek Wek was one of the few dark-skinned models to rise to fame during the 90s, becoming Elle's first Black cover girl in 1997. Her radiant complexion and nearly six-foot stature made her one of the most electrifying models to watch on the runway.
Toni Braxton's chic pixie cut is one of the singer's most memorable hairstyles. She famously wore the cropped 'do on the cover of her 1993 self-titled album.
Brandy and braids go hand-in-hand. Since she sprang onto the music scene in the 90s, she's worn the protective style in all forms–ranging from micro braids to knotless braids.
Singer Monica effortlessly pulled off every major 90s beauty trend: frosted eyeshadow, super straight hair, and the classic gloss-and-liner combo.
Aaliyah's imprint on music and beauty is hard to summarize succinctly. But if we had to try, we'd say she was one in a million. No one pulled off side-swept bangs or berry-colored lipstick quite like she did.
Lil Kim was a risk-taking trendsetter when it came to her beauty decisions and goes down in our book as one of Hip-Hop's greatest beauty icons. From the colored wigs she wore in her "Crush on You" video to the dark brown lipstick she was often pictured in, the rapper has gifted us with endless inspiration.
Two things come to mind when we think of Sade Adu: a rope braid and red lip. The two have long been a part of Adu's signature beauty look.
Kimora Lee Simmons
Kimora Lee Simmons has been in the fashion and beauty world for three decades, landing a modeling contract with Chanel when she was just 13. Throughout her career, she's shown us what it means to be fabulous and glamorous.
Tyra Banks' career has included many barrier-breaking moments, including being the first Black woman to be featured on the covers of GQ and the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Whether's she strutting down the runway or on our television screens, Banks always turns heads.
TLC left an indelible mark on music, and their beauty aesthetic has proven just as impactful. As a group, they helped us think outside-of-the-box in terms of hair and makeup. Each member took a different approach: T-Boz had her signature blonde mushroom cut, Chili was known for her cascading black waves, and Left-Eye played around with now-iconic sculptural hairstyles.
When it comes to Janet Jackson's beauty influence, where do we begin? Her auburn curls, Poetic Justice braids, and statement red lips were just a few of her standout hair and makeup looks she served in the 90s.
You can't talk about the 90s without mentioning Nia Long's pixie cut. Throughout the decade, she appeared in movies and shows like Friday and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air with the look, inspiring countless viewers to get the style too.
Jada Pinkett Smith
Jada Pinkett Smith's affinity for switching up her hair is something that has spanned her entire career. Among her many styles, her platinum blonde pixie cut is one that deserves some recognition.
Missy Elliott's creativity is unmatched when it comes to her artistry and beauty looks. When it comes to her hair looks over the years, we could rave for hours. She's rocked everything from finger waves to spiky pixie cuts with unparalleled coolness.
Beyoncé, Michelle, and Kelly's status as statement makers in beauty dates back to their days as Destiny's Child. Kelly's wispy cut, Michelle's straight dark locks, and Beyonce's blonde tresses gave us all the hair inspiration we needed back then.
Kelis is a beauty chameleon that was ahead of her time. Her brightly-colored curls and bold makeup choices (like her colored brows) put her in a league of her own.
Halle Berry's pixie cut is just as legendary as she is. From a voluminous mushroom-shaped cut to slicked back, the actress has worn the style in almost every variation since the 90s
Eve has always known how to have fun with color. In the 90s and 00s, the rap star often wore her hair in electrifying blonde and red hues.
It wasn't just Alicia Keys' voice that grabbed our attention in the early 2000s. Her signature Fulani braids had everyone running to their local braid shop to recreate the style, and the style still remains popular today.
From pixie cuts to blunt bobs, looking back at Rihanna's 2000s beauty looks has us nostalgic. When we first met the Barbadian beauty in 2005, she wore her brown-black hair in loose waves and shimmery makeup that enhanced her island glow.