Circa 2017

Why Did We Ever Commit to the Jheri Curl?

Choosing grease over the fluff didn’t quite work out

Ezinne Ukoha
6 min readNov 8, 2017


We can’t escape the uneven legacy from the 80’s — that the late founder (Comer Cottrell) of the products that left our hair dripping wet— bequeathed us when he passed away back in 2014.

Apparently it’s the 40th anniversary of the infamous Jheri curl and I couldn’t help but conjure up the cultural references to that era when greasy fare was more acceptable than the natural moisture — that can be contained without the humiliation of spending the night with a plastic bag — erected to curtail the slow accumulation of over-priced activators.

My mom sported a Jehri curl — and in pictures — I see that she actually looked quite snazzy. Her black hair cascaded into patterns that seemed to indicate the very best version of whatever activator she was using to maintain “the wet look” — in order to avoid the crippling effects of coarseness.

However her allegiance didn’t last long for obvious reasons.

The scene in Coming to America that hilariously depicts a whole family — drenched in the oily mess of damagingly coiled tresses — has become a mandated favorite — and that is hugely based on the fact that it sums up the disaster of a hairstyle that was formulated to teach us about the very opposite of ourselves.

Send us the bill!

My relationship with my own hair has undergone massive undertakings due to how easy it is to improvise with varied forms of manipulation. I was forced to keep my hair in corn rows or braids while I was in boarding school. Then my mother gave me permission to perm my hair after I graduated from high school.

I still remember the almost unbearable sensation of burning — that rotted my scalp as slabs of white creme slathered my hair with the bid to gift me with bone-straight hair. It was a…