Welcome to Lace Frontier, a column about the world of wigs, the players in it, and how wig culture is evolving. This month, writer Sharine Taylor speaks to Angelica Ross on how her wigs — and her natural hair — empower her as a woman.
Keeping up with Angelica Ross is no easy feat. Just last year, she wrapped up her role as Candy on the critically-acclaimed hit show Pose and started her new role as Donna Chambers on American Horror Story. All that is outside of gracing runways, collecting awards, and being featured in Louis Vuitton's Pre-Fall 2020 campaign. Ms. Ross is booked and busy, honey, so it’s only right that she has an extensive catalog of looks to choose from when she’s called to make an appearance.
Through her life experiences — from going to beauty school to being a drag performer — Ross has learned a thing or two about the empowering element of hair in particular. Take the aforementioned campaign with Louis Vuitton, for instance. Upon arriving on set, she was presented with a selection of wigs as options but advocated to wear her natural hair. "I sat down and Duffy, who was my hairstylist, had a couple of wigs to the side. He was like, 'I have these wigs over here [that] have that pattern,' and I said, 'What do you think about me wearing my own hair?' He was like, 'let me ask the creative [team]'," she tells Allure. "He was gone for a second — 'Yes, they love it. Let's go for it.'" As Duffy styled her hair, he asked Ross exactly what she was thinking of doing with it. "Let's just 'fro it out as big as it can go." And the rest is history.
But though Angelica clearly loves her voluminous kinks, [gently picking and fluffing them until they bloom out into the heavens, she's also a wig lover. The actor consistently switches between proudly wearing her natural hair and playing with hairpieces of all textures. Because if Ms. Ross is anything, she's versatile.
ALLURE: Beyond aesthetics, what does hair mean to you?
ANGELICA ROSS: My hair is an extension of myself in the sense that I used to think that my hair defined me as a woman, and especially as a trans woman, I just did not consider a life without wigs and extensions. But when I went natural and did the big chop, I was able to relate with so many other women, who weren't just struggling with their hair growing back, but saying, "actually, I don't want my hair to grow anymore beyond this and I look and feel beautiful." I challenged myself as my hair was growing back to always reflect that I'm beautiful at whatever stage my hair is [in]. It's this thing about being able to wear your look and not have your look wear you.
ALLURE: In an interview you did a few years ago, you mentioned you used to do drag shows and shared that styling your hair was a means for you to find your womanhood.
AR: I don't know if I want to say sad, but it's almost like I feel a loss when I think about RuPaul's Drag Race. I think about all the girls like myself, Silkie Munro, and all of the girls who grew up with [drag culture] who honed ourselves through it by being performers. [We were] dismissed by our own community because we [were] somehow "not working that hard" because we're enhanced, have had surgeries, live as women, or whatever the case is. We still are artists, beautiful artists.
I used to work at this bar called The Kit Kat Lounge in Chicago. I got in at seven and got off at 2 a.m. I would have to be out of the dressing room every 15 minutes in between each performance doing a number to the front of the restaurant, then doing a number to the back. Doing that many costume, makeup, and hair changes, it got me to learn so much about my womanhood. The best thing we can do is learn that everything else is an accessory. You are the star. Nothing else can shine brighter than you can. You can play with these things, but you don't need to be defined by them.
I thought that I could never play with blonde hair, but let me tell you, César DeLeön Ramirêz is a god when it comes to hair. Period. He has made me blonde twice and I almost fell out each time. The first time was for the 2018 Marco Marco fashion show. I had a blonde Afro, and I thought it was beautiful. It was gorgeous. Then for the Emmys this past year, he made this sickening long ponytail for me and had the wisps coming out of the front. He just sprayed some blonde in it, put some blonde pieces in the front. The way he put that magic in there and made it look like I was blonde from my scalp? Baby, I was through!
ALLURE: You recently did the big chop. You mentioned that you didn't consider life as a trans woman without wigs. Now, you're killing this pixie cut. What were your wig-wearing habits back then and what has changed since?
AR: Synthetic wigs were my best friend back in the day. It's all I could afford. In the beginning, it was a lot of falls [extensions], drawstring ponytails, and quick weaves. After going through cosmetology school, I learned ways in which I could keep my hair healthy and take risks. But back in the day, you would not catch me without a wig or some kind of extensions. I wasn't confident enough in my womanhood, which was being surveilled rejected all the time. But now not only do I not need them, I don't actually care if you clock me or not. I know I'm blessed.
ALLURE: Do you think that hair or hairstyles can be political? Has it been for you?
AR: Oh, absolutely. When I was waiting tables back in the day, I remember having blue hair mixed into my cornrows and being told that I'd have to take them out because that was "ghetto," or I’d be fired. But then the white girls were able to do whatever color they wanted to. It's like with anything, when white people do it, all of a sudden it's acceptable. Now you got white people doing mermaid-colored hairstyles and all kinds of bold color and it's acceptable at many jobs. So, yes. I would say that, especially as Black women, I feel that what is most political about our hair is the freedom of choice. I think that is what bothers people the most.
That's why I advocate for everyone to go natural with lace-front wigs. Girl, invest in one good lace-front, and you got your hair done for the year. You can be bald, have short hair, not be bothered, or rock whatever. For me, my essence and my default state are very much rooted in Black power, strength, and resilience. Sometimes I’ll boldly pick my hair out [into a 'fro] and wear that as a political statement that says I can be just as free and do what I want to do.
There are other times when I'm wearing these beautiful headwraps and I'm protecting my hair, but also, for me, it's a time to bring less attention to it.
ALLURE: We know you love your natural hair, but tell us a bit about your wigs.
AR: I have a wig collection for red carpet events and when I'm working with a lot of different stylists. To have the most flexibility, I have wigs that are curly, straight, and everything in between. But one of my go-tos — I mean, I'm giving away my secrets — but [when] I did the #DontRushChallenge, I go from having my hair in twists and in a scarf to this big, beautiful twist-out.
People like Brittany Packnett Cunningham were in my mentions like "okay, give us a twist-out routine right now," and the routine is this: yes, I care for my hair, twist my hair up, detangle, and all those things. But I also find a beautiful wig [with a curl pattern] that looks exactly like mine, add it to the back of my head, fluff in the front of my hair and, baby, it's a flawless frontal. When I wear her, I feel like Whitney [Houston] in "Didn't We Almost Have It All" — just that big, curly, glamorous coif and that's my favorite because it communicates both boldness and beauty, but also it says I don't need to be perfect, I'm a little wild.
I'm able to put that wig on a wig head, wash it, and detangle it in a way that doesn't tire me out like doing my own hair tires me out. Having that at the ready is a game-changer, 'cause that means all I have to do is two-strand twist my hair and pop that thing on. I can even put on a bandana or a scarf. It's just so much versatility when you find a wig that matches your own hair texture and color.
ALLURE: You constantly switch up between wearing your natural hair and wearing wigs. For many people (obviously not all!), it's either one or the other. Why is it so important to you to play with your hair so often?
AR: I am an artist. It's important that I be pliable and able to take on whatever aesthetic is more appropriate for my character. I understand that Black women have the flexibility and freedom to wear our hair any way we want. Sometimes protective styles like braids and twists are more appropriate for an on-the-go type lifestyle, but I don't wear braids normally when I am filming, because I want to be able to play as many different roles and express myself on the red carpet depending on how I'm feeling that day. Overall, I am modeling the power of choice.
ALLURE: You talk about Black hair being political and I feel like that also pertains to wigs, specifically when Black women and femmes wear them. What do you think are our biggest challenges as a culture with our attitudes towards wigs?
AR: I think our biggest challenge has been how much hair has been used to define and qualify women. And for most, it's been hard not to internalize that. No matter the subject, women's choices are always heavily criticized. There's the duality in knowing that wearing wigs can make getting up and going to work a lot quicker, on the other hand, folks associate wearing certain textures as trying to be something that we are not. And that's just so unfair to Black women.
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Originally Appeared on Allure