What Is a Jewfro?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
Woman posing
Woman posing

The term Jewfro is a portmanteau or invented word derived from "Jewish" and "Afro." Some people of Jewish descent, most notably the European Ashkenazim culture, prefer to wear their hair in a naturally curly style reminiscent of the traditional black Afro. A Jewfro does not generally feature the tight curls of a black Afro, but is more of a compilation of curly and wavy hair teased out from the wearer's head in a loose Afro style. Some Jewfro wearers will have their hair professionally cut and styled to produce a more balanced effect, but others prefer to wear it more unkempt. This hairdo is often styled or combed by using the same type of pick combs used on traditional Afros.

The expression Jewfro didn't become especially popular until the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, many African-Americans began to wear their hair in a more natural style, which for many was a tightly curled Afro. Younger members of the Jewish culture also decided to express themselves by wearing their naturally wavy or curly hair in a style that didn't necessarily conform with the social norms of the day. By wearing a Jewfro, many influential Jewish entertainers, athletes and other public figures could establish their own cultural identity.

Growing a Jewfro hairstyle is not restricted to those of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, however. Many people have naturally curly or wavy hair which can grow out to a substantial length. The wearer can ask a hairstylist to trim his or her hair for length, but not as much for height or thickness. Some people may find that blow drying and the use of certain hair products which encourage curling and stiffness can also help create the Jewfro hairstyle. Pulling and teasing the hair with a traditional Afro comb will also help create a fuller Jewish Afro.

There are a number of famous celebrities and notable figures who have helped to popularize the Jewfro. Singer Art Garfunkel, for example, sports a prominent Jewish Afro, as does Nick Jonas of the Jonas Brothers band. During the 1970s and 1980s, iconic singer/songwriter Bob Dylan wore his hair in a teased Jewish Afro. Other famous Jewfro wearers include Larry Fine of the Three Stooges, fitness guru Richard Simmons, music producer Phil Spector, film critic Gene Shalit, comedian Adam Samberg and comedic actor Seth Rogen. In some pop culture circles, wearing a Jewfro successfully gives the wearer a certain cache or personal charisma.

The Jewfro is a neologized portmanteau of two words — “Jew” and “Afro.” Since its emergence in the 1960s and 70s, it’s become an icon of retro aesthetics for people of Jewish descent. Through controversy and changing trends, it remains a staple of style. Of course, you can’t understand the Jewfro without first understanding its namesake and predecessor — the original Afro. What do the Jewfro and Afro have in common, and how are these two hairstyles different? Start here to delve into the historical context and modern application of the Jewfro.

Jewfro vs Afro

Differentiating between a Jewfro and an Afro requires an in-depth exploration of both. Unsurprisingly, these styles have a lot in common, but they are also fundamentally different. One of the key similarities between the two is the general style itself.

Both the Jewfro and the Afro give hair a rounded shape that’s produced by tightly curled coils of hair. The result is hair that puffs out from the head and creates a halo-like effect. For wearers who are Black, this typically requires little effort to create due to their naturally kinky hair. Many Jewish people have similarly curly hair that derives from their Middle Eastern ancestry. Both Black and Jewish people who are of mixed ancestry may have hair that’s more relaxed but still curly.

When comparing Jewish hair and Black hair, though, there are differences. On average, Black people have much kinkier curls, which means that crafting an Afro may be easier than crafting a Jewfro. The execution of these styles is also often different, with an Afro typically being densely styled and a Jewfro often being more loosely curled in appearance. Black people are often able to achieve an Afro with little effort put into styling, while Jewish wearers may need to tease and comb hair a specific way to cultivate the Jewfro style.

History of the Jewfro

The Jewfro has a rich history in Jewish tradition, with its popularity peaking in the 1960s and 70s. Since that time, it’s become slightly less popular, but the emergence of Jewfro-wearing celebrities might make it poised for a comeback. Seth Rogen is one of these celebrities, and he’s sported a Jewfro at various points throughout his successful Hollywood career. Jonah Hill — a frequent collaborator of Rogen’s — also often rocks a Jewfro-style head of hair.

Both of these actors draw on the rich history of the hairstyle. Jewish people have always had unique hairstyle traditions, with sects such as Hassidic Jews often adopting a unique sidelock style known as Payot. Though the Jewfro does not hold the same religious significance of the Payot style, it is a uniquely Jewish hairstyle nonetheless. Jewfros have carried Jewish aesthetic styles into the modern era and will likely continue to do so.

Jewfro Hairstyles

If you’re looking for a way to adopt the Jewfro hairstyle, there are a few key steps you need to follow. The first of these is obtaining the right haircut for the style. For Jewish people who naturally have extremely curly hair, a haircut may not be necessary to achieve a Jewfro style — but it will still make the final result look more polished and stylish. In order to create a trendy look, the hair around your head should all be evenly trimmed. Most professional hairstylists recommend that your hair be between four and eight inches in length for an optimal Jewfro look. Shorter hair won’t produce the signature rounded look that defines the Jewfro, and longer hair will result in your curls weighing down the style.

Once you’ve got the right length, you need to achieve the right styling routine. Most Jewfros are achieved through strategic teasing of the hair. With a fine-tooth comb, you can gently comb your hair downward, towards the direction of your scalp. This will result in minor tangles and a volumized look. If your hair is not curly enough to achieve the Jewfro look with teasing alone, you may try getting a perm or using a curling iron prior to this step in the process.

Finally, in order to hold your Jewfro style in place, you need to find the right products. There are many products on the market specifically made for textured hair. These may be too heavy for some Jewfro wearers, though. In many cases, a quick layer of hairspray is sufficient to protect your style and hold it in place for hours. If you find that you need additional support, styling creams and curl-boosters may provide the result you seek.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular BeautyAnswered contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular BeautyAnswered contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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Discussion Comments

anon1007397

Funny you write they "prefer to wear"...When in actuality they have no choice, it is tight curly hair that prevents a combing.

EricRadley

@lonelygod - As with dreadlocks, the way you clean and condition the hair can make a huge difference as to whether it ends up looking great or ratty. If it does get to a stage where it's completely unmanageable, you could always opt to trim it or even shave it entirely!

LTimmins

@pennywell - Well, what about if someone who has that type of hairstyle even if they're not Jewish. Don't you think it's a generalization in that case?

pennywell

@AnnBoleyn - I don't think it's that bad, to be honest. The word has been around for a long time and I think it's a valid way of describing an Afro hairstyle on someone who is not of African-American origin.

AnnBoleyn

Does anyone else think that the word "jewfro" sounds a bit awkard? I'm not sure if it could be construed as racist but it seems a bit politically incorrect.

Moldova

@Sunny27 - I agree and I think that this hair style requires the use of a lot of hair spray which is not healthy for the hair. It actually makes the hair look at little stiff and artificial.

With excessive teasing you also run the risk of developing split ends because you are always pulling the hair outward. You really have to take extra care and condition your hair properly so that you don’t damage it. Doing a deep conditioning treatment once a week should also help keep the hair healthy, along with regular trims.

Sunny27

I have curly hair and I don’t think that I would look attractive in a Jewfro because it would make my face look too round and I don’t think that it is a flattering style at all.

I think that people that have thinner hair like to tease their hair in efforts to create more volume, but it actually makes the hair look thinner. If you have thin hair whether it is curly or straight, it is better to go with an angled bob.

This style not only frames the face, but it actually makes the hair look fuller because the style is more compact. Keeping the hair closer to the face actually makes the hair look like it has more body.

lonelygod

Looking back it is really surprising that the Jewfro didn't get popularized much sooner. Albert Einstein, Marc Chagall and Harpo Marx could have all been candidates for Jewfro fame, although in Marx's case that may have been a wig. Even if it was a wig I am pretty sure he could have been a honorary member of the Jewfro club for what it was worth.

Has anyone actually tried out the Jewfro look for themselves?

I have considered it in the past, but I am not really sure if it would be easy to maintain or not. With my curly hair I am worried it would just end up looking like a rats nest.

wander

When I first heard the expression Jewfro I automatically thought of Art Garfunkel. He was famous for his wild and curly hair and inspired a lot of people to follow in his footsteps when it came to choosing a funky do. Whenever I picture a first generation Jewfro it has to be him.

Art was really well known for his involvement in the group Simon & Garfunkel. I've been a fan of their music for years and if you really want a good image of a Jewfro you should search for an image of their album cover from Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme. I really believe that Art's 1966 Jewfro was at its peak during that time.

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