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During the Antebellum period in New Orleans, many African American women were mistresses to rich white men. The men would support them and their children, going so far as to buy them clothing and even a house.
Certain people got tired of seeing gorgeous African American women walking around town in fancy gowns and elaborate hair, so a law was passed in 1785 forcing them to wear head wraps called tignons. This was meant not only to lessen their beauty, but also to distinguish the white from the colored during a time when interbreeding made it hard to tell who had cafe au lait in their blood and who did not.
The African American women wore such decorative tignons that soon the head wraps were associated with beauty, and they continued to wear them long after the tignon law was revoked.