The Tignon Law of 1786

"Portrait of a Woman: A Study of The Social Implications of Antebellum Portraiture in New Orleans" by Rebecca Villalpando

...a headscarf worn—under penalty of law—by women of color in Louisiana. In 1786, Spanish colonial Governor Don Esteban Miró passed this sumptuary law enforcing “appropriate” public dress amongst women of color, free and enslaved. In his edict, Miró describes, “free negro and quadroon women,” as “detrimental,” referring to them as the, “the product of their licentious life without abstaining from carnal pleasures.” Miró was, “Suspicious of their indecent conduct [and] the extravagant luxury in their dressing” (Edict of Good Government, 107). In an attempt to temper their attractiveness to white men and associate them with enslaved people who wore kerchiefs, free women of color were ordered to cover their legendarily beautiful hair, and to refrain from “[excessive attention to dress]”(107). Miró’s early edict responded to the perception of mixed-race women in New Orleans as “licentious” and sexually immoral and the bright crimson hue of this creole seductress’ tignon underscores these associations. That said, through wrapping their hair in sumptuous fabrics (and, perhaps, drawing influence from the West African gélé), women of color, like those featured in the portraits by Collas and Fleischbein, transformed this object of constraint into an enduring trademark, one of revolutionary beauty and pride. In many ways this tignon became a symbol of solidarity and a cultural asset.

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"Turbans, Voodoo, & Tignon Laws in Louisiana" by Barbara Wells Sarudy

The tignon was the mandatory headwear for Creole women in Louisiana during the Spanish colonial period, and the style was adopted throughout the Caribbean island communities as well. This headdress was required by Louisiana laws in 1785. Called the tignon laws, they prescribed appropriate public dress for females of color in colonial society, where some women of color & some white women tried to outdo each other in beauty, dress, ostentation and manners.

In an effort to maintain class distinctions in his Spanish colony at the beginning of his term, Governor Esteban Rodriguez Miró (1785 - 1791) decreed that women of color, slave or free, should cover their heads with a knotted headdress and refrain from "excessive attention to dress." In 1786, while Louisiana was a Spanish colony, the governor forbade: "females of color ... to wear plumes or jewelry"; this law specifically required "their hair bound in a kerchief."  But the women, who were targets of this decree, were inventive & imaginative with years of practice. They decorated their mandated tignons, made of the finest textiles, with jewels, ribbons, & feathers to once again outshine their white counterparts.

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  Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, Creole in a Red Headdress, ca. 1840, New Orleans

Jacques Guillaume Lucien Amans, Creole in a Red Headdress, ca. 1840, New Orleans