An afro is a hairstyle where very curly hair is combed out so that is stands as straight out from the wearer’s head as possible. This style was popular in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s. An afro comb is a large comb or pick with big, wide teeth that can get into tightly curled hair and lift it up and out from the head without destroying the curl. This type of comb is often used to create an afro hairstyle.
The term “afro” comes from the phrase “Afro-American” or “African-American.” The afro of the 1960s was as much a statement of identity as it was a hairstyle. Many famous African-Americans such as Jimi Hendrix and Angela Davis styled their hair into prominent afros during the 1960s. These styles were often exaggerated into huge clouds of hair surrounding the person’s head, styles that could never be accomplished with a regular comb or brush.
The afro comb is based on a traditional African hair care tool that used long teeth attached to a handle to work the hair into the desired style. The original African hair picks were usually made of wood or bone, but the more modern combs, often still called "afro picks", or even "‘fro picks", are usually made of plastic, though some are made of metal or at least have metal teeth. The teeth are extremely long, at least 3 or 4 inches (about 7.6 to 10.1 cm), so that they can reach down into the hair.
Sometimes the afro comb is quite plain and strictly functional, but at other times it may have ornamentation, unusual colors, shapes or designs. The traditional picks in Africa were decorated so as to reflect important aspects of the user’s culture, and that continues to be true today. Specialty afro combs have handles with detailed carvings depicting African themes or other illustrations significant to the owner.
To create an afro, the hair cannot be combed or brushed with regular hairstyling tools, but instead must be lifted from the scalp outward with an afro comb. This style is not limited to African-Americans, and can be used with some degree of success by almost anyone with thick, very curly hair using the proper tools. The afro comb will work equally well on long or short hair, lifting it out and away from the head to form the thick, rounded hairstyle known as the afro.