In the 1970s and 80s, the Jheri curl made its mark as a popular hairstyle among black people in the United States. The Jheri curl is characterized by long, loose curls that hang down the back of an individual’s head. Commonly, hair that was done in this style would be saturated with activator, giving it a glossy appearance. The style was all the rage and was worn by popular black celebrities as well as people on the street. It even made a humorous appearance in the movie Coming to America, where its shortcomings were satirized.
The Jheri curl, which is a type of perm, was invented by Jheri Redding, an icon in the hair-care business who also developed hair conditioner and pH-balanced shampoo. The chemicals used to make the Jheri curl style softened the tight, curled texture of a black individual’s hair. This process allowed the hair to hang in loose curls. After the softener was used, more chemicals were put into the hair to keep those curls loose. Once the procedure was finished, the person would have to be sure to put a product called an activator in his or her hair at least once a day to keep it looking the way it was supposed to look.
The result of all this was a moist hairdo that looked shiny and glossy. Unfortunately, the chemicals used in the Jheri curl often damaged the hair. In addition, without the activator to keep it moist, the hair could dry out, become brittle, and break easily. There were also problems with the activator as it caused the hair to become greasy. This often resulted in grease stains left on clothes and furniture. All of this maintenance added up in cost, too. Not only were the bottles of activator small and relatively expensive, but as soon as the person's hair started to grow, they had to visit their salon for a touch up.
These characteristics of the style were satirized in the movie Coming to America. This movie featured individuals with dripping, wet hair who left stains on the couch in at least one scene. Some attribute the downfall of the Jheri curl to the amount of care the style took to maintain. Whatever the cause, it was mostly out of fashion by the 1990s. This does not preclude it from being an important aspect in pop culture, as the style was worn by many celebrities, such as Michael Jackson, during its heyday.