From gravity-defying afros to waist-length braids, experimentation has always been an integral part of Black style. Despite decades of being overlooked by the beauty industry, Black women have carved out a space to use beauty innovatively, often as a means of self-expression. Take the empowering TikTok hashtag #BlackGirlMagic, for example, which celebrates Black women everywhere through original content — the majority of those videos being hair and makeup tutorials. Though there are countless vibrant trends and aesthetics synonymous with Black beauty, arguably nothing is more recognizable and admired than 'boughetto'.
If you're not already immersed in the aesthetic, boughetto is an amalgamation of the words 'bougie' and 'ghetto'. Characteristics of the beauty look include but are not limited to long acrylic nails (often intricately painted and embellished), made-to-order lace-front wigs in all manner of Instagram-worthy cuts and colours, and a love of semi-permanent makeup, like perfectly microbladed brows, painstakingly applied eyeliner and sweeping lash extensions. The slightly camp and occasionally quite garish aesthetic blends traditionally 'highbrow' and 'lowbrow' elements of beauty, taking styles that were once perhaps viewed as tawdry and distasteful and giving them a glamorous, classy edge.
Though boughetto has undoubtedly become one of the boldest Black beauty aesthetics of the moment, it's not entirely new. Boughetto draws from Black beauty trends spanning decades. The beauty movement was first popularized by '90s hip hop heavyweights like Lil' Kim and Missy Elliott. As American hip hop and R&B music video show 106 & Park began to make its mark on the UK in the early '00s, boughetto invaded homes and created a niche within Black communities there, too.
Historically, much like fashion, the mainstream beauty industry has covertly placed Black trends into opposing categories: chic versus ratchet. A lot of these beauty trends exist within a classist and racist beauty binary. Take the 'Bo Derek' debate of 2018, where Kim Kardashian's braided hairstyle ignited a discussion about cultural appropriation. It's no secret that the beauty industry refers to Black beauty trends as 'unrefined' or 'too much' until they are worn by non-Black people — but boughetto turns this on its head.
Celebrity nail artist Fleeked by Fee credits the UK's boughetto boom to the mix of different beauty standards within diasporic Black communities in the UK – a refreshing contrast to white, Eurocentric beauty ideals. Her nail style? More is more. Think ultra long, coffin-shaped talons bedecked with gems, glitter and crystals. Scroll through any UK-based nail salon's Instagram account and you'll be presented with countless similar styles, all inspired by boughetto. Fee (who has worked with the likes of Ms Banks, Shaybo and Stefflon Don) says that Black women are pushing back against major beauty stereotypes more than ever through their beauty choices. "Words like 'ratchet' were used to discredit Black women who rocked long eyelashes, long nails or extreme makeup," she says. "Now, thanks to the likes of Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion and so many other Black women putting their foot down, we're saying loudly, 'Actually, this is a creative expression of beauty in its own right, regardless of what the mainstream industry thinks'."
Boughetto carved out a space in the '90s and early '00s but saw a huge resurgence in 2020 and is arguably even bigger this year. As the lyrics from Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage" – "classy, bougie, ratchet" – continue to fill every corner of TikTok, the boughetto beauty aesthetic has become a marker of social progress. In the wake of cries for an end to racial injustice following the Black Lives Matter movement came calls for accountability across the beauty industry. We found ourselves immersed in conversations about the harmful impact of microaggressions, for example, and unfairly stigmatizing the "loud, ratchet Black girl with the long nails and lashes". Since then, a shift has occurred. That Black girl has reclaimed those words and changed the connotations. A new and widespread understanding that different does not equal less than (or unprofessional, for that matter) has been born. Beauty has a new inclusivity mandate and it highlights the bold, unapologetic aesthetic that is boughetto.
Besides the BLM movement, the beauty aesthetic has also flourished as a result of working from home during the pandemic, which broke down social barriers between Black women and society. There were jokes about wearing bonnets during Zoom meetings and discussions with friends and colleagues about the versatility of hair (no, you still can't just touch it). During this time, Black women truly presented themselves how they wanted. Now with the curtain officially pulled back, Black women are no longer celebrating unapologetically bold aesthetics like boughetto in select spaces. "For so long Black women were slandered for expressing themselves, including their style, mood and personalities, through bold aesthetics," says Fee. "What was once discriminated against (even down to workplaces not allowing long nails, thick lashes or creative makeup) is being celebrated for the unique masterpiece it truly is," she says. "Aesthetics like these are our personal stamp on beauty."
Celebrity hairstylist Pashcan'el Mitchell says that boughetto's no-holds-barred approach to beauty is now ingrained within the Black beauty community. "Black women have always been very bold and unapologetic when it comes to their beauty choices. Just look at some of the trends from the '70s," like big afros and swathes of iridescent colour on lids and lips. "Boughetto is no different," says Pashcan'el, who believes it's about being seen. "Not just in visual sense," they say. "It's a form of reclamation within an industry that is notorious for repackaging beauty trends Black women have created."
Boughetto's new recognition is culturally important, too. "Black women are saying, 'We've had enough of trying to fit in, or trying to have an equal seat at the table,' so they are creating their own spaces," continues Pashcan'el. The stylist credits social media as a driving force behind renewed traction around the aesthetic, too. "We are seeing a new generation which is smarter and wants to stand for something. Black women are now saying, 'We are here and we're proud of who we are and where we come from.' They are not scared to shout it from the rooftops." In the '00s, we may have felt far removed from celebrities like Lil' Kim and Missy Eliott. But in the age of social media where you can reach your favourite celebs at the click of a button (and shop their looks online in the same, speedy way), the boughetto aesthetic has become more attainable. Makeup trends like microblading and Russian lashes are no longer reserved for celebrities with money. Now they are available in beauty salons and aesthetic clinics worldwide. Add to that our obsession with nostalgia for beauty trends of the '90s and early '00s (thin but defined brows, dark lip liner and heavily embellished nails) and it's clear to see why boughetto is so idolized right now.
Boughetto's rise is also credited to the steady increase in Black cultural capital across film, music and TV. Overly accentuated nails and perfectly quaffed wigs are among the signature styles of pop culture influencers like Normani and Lizzo. Styles like these are no longer deemed unrefined as they gain cultural co-signs from fashion and beauty's biggest names. Pashcan'el explains this has been pivotal in boughetto's resurgence. "The look itself has not changed since it was first sported by women like Lil' Kim. However, as music like hip hop and R&B has taken centre stage in the entertainment industry, people are no longer watering down the aesthetic. Now, we're seeing it in its truest form."
Pashcan'el adds that the impact the aesthetic has had on the beauty industry means far more than Black women simply being able to wear their hair and makeup in specific ways without fear of resistance. It has helped bring about change. "It's a move towards inclusivity," says Pashcan'el. "Think of the rise of brands like Pat McGrath Labs and Fenty, all the way to Megan Thee Stallion becoming a spokeswoman for Revlon. It means that brands are not only stepping up to cater to all complexions but to all beauty styles."
Society often deems beauty to be surface level but it is obvious that the boughetto aesthetic goes a lot deeper. Time and time again, Black women have shown up in a world which has called countless beloved beauty trends 'too much' or 'over the top' but boughetto is unabashed and endlessly admired. Of course, there is still much progress to be made within the beauty industry, especially when it comes to diversity. But one irrefutable fact remains: beauty is power — both culturally and creatively — and through the power of boughetto, Black women are redefining the beauty zeitgeist.