This dissertation examines how during the twentieth century hairdressing remained a gendered domestic activity during which girls acquired education from their peers and adult women, and persons in Ghana provided, discussed and promoted hairdressings as status symbols, symbols of a person's stage in life, fashion and a new profession. During the British colonial era, the processes of dressing and maintaining hair in the urban areas of the Gold Coast colony provided avenues for the colonized people to express their consistent as well as changing needs. Africans' interest in hairdressing developed initially as a paradox, a visual symbol of attainment of class for some colonized persons in urban areas, and avoidance of the demarcation of class and subjectivity for colonized African intellectuals. These African intellectuals together with people of African descent across the Atlantic turned to artistic creativity that unified them as pan-Africanists.
From the 1950s, Kwame Nkrumah's government portended to “African Nationalism” as the Gold Coast was renamed Ghana, and Ghanaians performed “African pride” through dress and the promotion of oral narratives, theatre, film and television that utilized visual and aural senses to provide entertainment, information and education for social and political transformations. The media played a central role in shaping readers minds about dress, beauty and the roles of school-educated women in their communities, and featured the workplace of hairdressers as a space of desire based on gendered ideas about family, nationhood and international skill training.
However, during the 1970s and 1980s, public evidence of the importance of hairdressing dwindled as Ghanaians experienced a crisis of nationalism due to the Cold War, frequent coup d'états and economic malaise, and an expanding informal economy. The government of Ghana sought loans from the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and implemented their Structural Adjustment measures.
From the 1990s, women and men in Ghana's informal economy created ethnic and cosmopolitan networks that aimed to transform gendered practices into professions. The ordinary women of Elmina took advantage of concepts such as “African pride,” “World Heritage site” and “Structural Adjustment” to rework the concepts of hairdressing as regalia to include ordinary women in the economic activities that celebrate their society. They formed an occupation by exhibiting cultural ntakua headgears for companies and organizations, both local and foreign. In a similar sense, commercial hairdressers and beauticians sought skill-training and certificates to provide hairdressing as their transnational vocation. They formed professional associations and with the guidance of the Industrial Commercial Unit of the Trades Union Congress, they negotiated successfully with the appropriate government institutions for new tax rates, utility rates, and a hairdressing syllabus. Consistently, hair serves as a gender based symbol that is combed or braided or straightened into new styles to depict the varied ideas and ideals of Ghanaians and those with whom they interact.