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Great Outfits in Fashion History (Beauty Edition): Lupita Nyong'o's 2016 Met Gala Hair

An iconic moment in celebrating natural textured hair.
Lupita Nyong'o at the 2016 Met Gala.

Lupita Nyong'o at the 2016 Met Gala.

Over the better part of the last decade, Lupita Nyong'o has made her mark on the red carpet, solidifying her status as a fashion icon and routinely wearing looks (and hair and makeup) worth discussing and remembering. One of the most significant examples? The towering, conical hairstyle she wore to the 2016 Met Gala

Nyong'o paired structural updo — a masterpiece by her go-to hairstylist, Vernon François — with a sparkling sequin gown by Calvin Klein for the gala's "Manus x Machina" theme. This look was momentous not just because of the level of artfulness, creativity and skill it displayed on François' behalf; it was also a careful study in cultural appreciation and a tactful means of bringing the actor's heritage to the red carpet.

Lupita Nyong'o at the 2016 Met Gala.

Lupita Nyong'o at the 2016 Met Gala.

Nyong'o's choice to wear any natural textured style on the red carpet would have been significant on its own: Black celebrities (and Black women in general) have historically been pressured into straightening out natural kinks and coils for formal occasions. But beyond simply choosing to display her 4C curls on the red carpet, Nyong'o drew upon years of African culture and history for a conversation-starting, carpet-stealing look. 

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"We aimed to showcase the classic, towering structures which have existed throughout traditional African culture. Also, we wanted to demonstrate the versatility of textured hair and this was a great way to do that," François told Fader's Lakin Starling at the time

Beyond consciously choosing a style that would allow for discourse and education, and even serve as a tool to fight against cultural appropriation, Nyong'o made sure to clear up any misconception or confusion about the hairstyle and the inspiration behind it. When, for example, a headline asked, "Is Lupita Nyong'o the New Audrey Hepburn?" and identified a 1963 Vogue shoot featuring the actress as a possible inspiration for the look, the actor spoke up publicly, posting a video on Instagram to provide context and education of the history behind her look, writing "Hair inspiration. Check." She also tagged Vogue's Instagram handle.

That, folks, is what we call a major hair moment.

For a selection of products to treat and style natural kinky hair like Nyong'o's, click through the gallery below.

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