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The Black Republic and Louisiana
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Louisiana State Museum [07102]

L.R. Reeds. Portrait of an African American Woman Wearing a Tignon, 1885


After the 1803 Louisiana Purchase, New Orleans authorities continued Spanish laws restricting the mode of dress of women of color. A municipal ordinance required all women of African descent to bind their hair in a kerchief. The tignon law helped reinforce the restrictive Anglo-American racial order. The mandatory tignon quickly became an opportunity for a new fashion as women of color defied the ordinance. Beautifully patterned fabrics were folded into elaborate shapes to express the wearer's individuality. The cowry shell, widely used as currency in Africa in colonial times, was often depicted in the complex folds of the tignon.

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