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The Jheri curl (often spelled Jerry curl or Jeri Curl) is a permed hairstyle that was common and popular in the African American community especially during the 1970s and 1980s. Invented by the hairdresser Jheri Redding, the Jheri curl gave the wearer a glossy, loosely curled look. It was touted as a "wash and wear" style that was easier to care for than the other popular chemical treatment of the day, the relaxer.
A Jheri curl required a two-part application that consisted of a softener (often called a "rearranging cream") to loosen the hair and a solution to set the curls. The rearranging cream used pungent chemicals, causing the naturally tight curls to loosen and hang. The loose hair was then set and a chemical solution was then added to the hair to permanently curl it.
Perming the hair was time and labor-intensive and expensive to maintain. The harsh mix of chemicals required for the process caused the wearer's natural hair to become extremely brittle and dry.
To maintain the look of the Jheri curl, users were required to apply a curl activator spray and heavy moisturizers daily and to sleep with a plastic cap on their heads to keep the hairstyle from drying out. These products were relatively expensive (a typical bottle of activator was small, retailed anywhere from $3 to $6, and was quickly depleted.) The activator in particular had the undesirable side effect of being very greasy; this would often stain clothing, furniture and anything that came into contact with it.
Washing the hair cleansed it of the styling products but also exposed the damage done to the hair by the chemical process. Also, as the hair grew out, the wearer would be forced to return to the hair salon for a touch-up, further adding to the overall expense. The hairstyle went out of fashion by the late 1980s and was replaced in part with the hi-top fade haircut.
Notably, actor Samuel L. Jackson (as the character Jules Winnfield) wore his hair Jheri-curled (actually a jheri-curled wig) in Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction. The style was also satirised in John Landis's 1988 comedy Coming to America where Eriq La Salle's character, Darryl, was heir to the dynasty of a fictional product named "SoulGlo", which gave the wearer a style reminiscent of a Jheri curl while at the same time leaving the infamous nasty residue on soft furnishings.
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