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Honky Tonk Hairdos: Winifred Atwell and the Professionalization of Black Hairdressing in Britain

by Kim Smith

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This article will examine the circumstances surrounding the professionalization of black hairdressing in Britain, which was relatively unknown before the 1950s. Prior to this, Britain’s African and Caribbean diaspora was scattered throughout the country in small communities, warranting little attention from white hairdressers who seldom had occasion or the expertise to cut or dress black hair. All this was to change after the Second World War, with increased immigration, and the arrival of one person in particular, whose gifted musical talents endeared her to the nation. This article focuses on the role of Winifred Atwell (1914–1983) who, as a chart-topping entertainer in the British public spotlight, recognized that her appearance required high maintenance in dress, make-up and hair. 

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