The level of extra was your choosing. On the more accessible end, there were finger waves, a take on a hairstyle that first became popular in the 1920s. For the last decade of the 20th century, the waves were deeper, more defined, and practically shellacked into place, thanks to the advent of firm-hold gels. In 1999, Halle Berry styled her honey-brown cropped hair in loose finger waves. Missy Elliott wore hers extra small on the cover of her 1997 single, “Hit ‘Em With The Hee,” her hairline cut straight across like Caesar (fitting, as she was the empress of hip-hop at the time).
For all of these styles, the more intricate, the better. And the hours spent in the salon being showered in spritz, sweating under hooded dryers, and wincing preemptively as the marcel iron came a little too close to the back of your neck were well worth the mileage you’d get from the look. “Those hairstyles would last at least a week or two,” Nelms says, crediting two things: the advancements in hair product formulations that happened in the ‘90s and the fact that most Black women at the time had their hair chemically straightened or relaxed. “The products you would normally use for styles like this make natural hair revert [back to its curl pattern].”