Bonnets – The Height of Black Fashion?

Written by Nicole

Is it just me, or has there been an uptick in talks about bonnets on social media lately? A photo of several black women wearing an assortment of bonnets at what looks like an airport was shared around recently, and I think that restarted the discussion. Then Mo’Nique weighed in on her Instagram. Black women flooded comment sections to declare that there was nothing wrong with it. Some even called this outfit, coupled with pajama bottoms and fluffy slippers, a trend. I, like usual, found myself disagreeing, so I wanted to ask our readers a simple question:


Once and for all, is it okay to wear a bonnet outside?


For reference, I’m not referring to the ones from Little House on the Prairie or The Handmaid’s Tale. This is not Ye Olde Pilgrim days.


More like these:

The basic black ones seem to have fallen out of favor, replaced by bold prints and patterns instead. I’m sure you’ve seen them, or even have one yourself.


For the life of me I cannot understand why we are, once more, vigorously defending our right to look sloppy in public. Bonnets, and hair practices in general, are deeply enmeshed in the black experience. Show me a black woman who has never worn some kind of hair covering and I’ll show you a liar. So, of course we all know about bonnets. But…do they belong outside?


No, they don’t.

We’ve talked about this before. It was discussed when a high school principal told black women to wear something other than pajamas to pick up their children. It came up again this year when an article said it was okay to wear a bonnet to Zoom meetings at work.


It’s not self-hating to not want to wear a bonnet outside. No one is saying you need to leave your house with your face beat to the gods, decked out in your finest jewels and an evening gown with matching opera-length gloves. How about some jeans and a t-shirt with a baseball cap though?

It is not anti-black to be annoyed at fellow black women who wear an item typically intended for sleepwear in public, either.

It is simply not a good look and is not presentable. I saw one tweet asking who we should look presentable for. The implication was that we should remove our pajamas and pajama-adjacent accessories as to be pleasing to the white gaze. But um, no. We should do that for our OWN benefit, irrespective of the opinions of others. Another tweet brought up the “white people don’t wash their legs” debacle from last year. Sigh. As long as white and non-black people practice dysfunction, there will be a black person around to point and say “See! White people do it tooooo!” – as if being unwashed and bedraggled is something aspirational.

For all the chat that we are not a monolith, if some disagree with wearing a satin sleeping hat to the airport, the grocery store, or any place of business, then we are all manner of agents, sellouts, c**ns, and whatever new term will be coined for black people who vocally do not aspire to, and speak out against dysfunction and struggle. Funnily enough, I’ve never seen women sporting bonnets at the club, or where pictures are likely to be taken. However, I’ve never been much of a club goer myself, so please do correct me in the comments if you have.


The False Equivalencies


I have seen the comparison of black woman wearing a bonnet outside being like a white woman wearing a messy bun. I disagree. To me, it’s more like if she was wearing a shower cap to run errands. Do they do that? They sure do! Is it sloppy and disheveled? It sure is! However, I do not aspire to unkempt styles of white and nonblack women.

This is easily identifiable as unkempt and slovenly. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING TO ASPIRE TO.

So even if Becky Sue was living her biggest bonnet fantasy, with a head full of rollers underneath and unwashed legs to boot, it would still be a no from me. Not because other groups practice bottom shelf behaviors means that we should get on board with that too.


An Interesting Trend


I have my own thoughts, but I have to ask, why is this one of the hills we choose to die on? We all have our own personal hills we would tirelessly defend that wouldn’t make sense to other people. But bonnets? With everything else going on with black womanhood (the murder rate, the molestation, the maternal death rate, and on and on), we’re going to bat for a sleeping hat? Why do you think this is?

Alternatives to Bonnets

I get it, natural hair takes work and sometimes there isn’t the time or energy to detangle our hair, much less style it. But fear not, there are multiple options available to hide a bad hair day without looking like you just rolled out of bed. These include:

  • Headwraps

    Look no further than Amazon for a wide variety of stylish and good-quality headwraps. There are solid-colored ones, patterned ones, floral ones, and the list goes on! Not sold on those options? Here is a list I compiled featuring black-woman-owned headwrap options! Struggling to tie one? YouTube’s got your back!

  • Wigs

    Though we are still in the era of got2b hair spray and swooped baby hairs, you don’t need to do all that to get a wig to look good. Now more than ever there are options that mimic natural hair, and many of those options are quite inexpensive. Due to the shady practices of the human hair industry, I strongly suggest going the synthetic route. For those days where you know styling your hair simply will not be on the itinerary, get a satin lined wig cap (to protect your hair from the rubbing and tension wigs are known to cause), and slap a wig on! Here’s a list sharing sources where you can get afro textured options.

  • A Plain-Old Hat

    And if all else fails, a simple hat can suffice. From baseball caps to fedoras, a hat is a far better option than a bonnet.


My hope is that as black women realize and internalize that our image is indeed important, we will see less and less defense of wearing apparel inappropriate for the setting. Bonnets themselves are fine. But not every element of our routine needs to be shared with the world for all to see. The real anti-blackness is putting anything but our best foot forward and believing that struggle and dysfunction is our lot in life.

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