The tignon law was a 1786 law in Louisiana that forbade black women from going outdoors without wrapping their natural hair with a Tignon headscarf.
During the 18th century, laws restricting the lives of black people were common, and almost every colony had one. The French colonies had the Code Noir, which restricted the lives of both enslaved and free black people living in French colonies. Virginia had their act of 1705, which included the Virginia casual killing act of 1669, which gave slave masters the right to kill their slaves. While Louisiana had the Tignon law.
The Tignon law was enacted by Louisiana’s governor Rodríguez Miró in 1786 in an effort to rein in free black women who were beginning to pose a threat to the social hierarchy by dressing too elegantly, and competing too freely with white women for status. The governor intended the tignon to be a symbol of shame that linked free black women and creole women of mixed race to their peers who were still enslaved.
The Tignon laws which intended to regulate and reinforce social hierarchies were enacted at a time when Louisiana was a French colony, and they were modeled after the sumptuary laws that had been enacted in France, Spain and other European nations.
According to historians Sybil Kein and Jessica Marie Johnson, the governor enacted the law because he thought freed black women were too showy and elegant in their demeanor and because he wanted to appease Louisiana’s white women, who were mounting pressure on him to restrict non-whites’ ability to dress in certain ways.
The June 2, 1786, decree, formally titled “bando de buen gobierno” or “proclamation of good government”, required black women to wrap a scarf or handkerchief around their heads to form a kind of turban as a visible sign of belonging to the slave class, whether they were enslaved or not.
Miró’s intention of having the tignon represent inferiority did not pan out as planned; in fact, it had a slightly different effect.
In response to the laws, black women who have always found ways to establish and express their own beauty, wrapped their hair in the finest, brightest-colored materials that were at their disposal and adorned it with ribbons and pearls. They basically turned the headdress into a mark of distinction and a part of their fashion which ultimately ended up enhancing their beauty.
The Tignon laws were enforced well into the 19th century before finally ending around the early 1800s after the United States acquired the territory of Louisiana from the French First republic.
To this day, black women everywhere, not just in America, wear headdresses as clothing staples to pay homage to their heritage and as fashion statements.