28 Days of Black Fashion History: Pat Evans
“Me and Grace Jones were ahead of our time.”
Way before Alek or Lupita made bold statements with their beautiful, clean shaven heads, an exquisite Black beauty chose to shave her head in protest of an industry obsessed with what some of us refer to as ‘good hair’. It became Pat Evan’s signature look and captured the attention of some of the most legendary figures in music, fashion and entertainment.
Pat Evans was born in Sugar Hill, New York of mixed African American and Native American heritage. She initially cut her hair (or rather it was cut for her) as a teen when she danced for Nigerian percussionist Olutunji. Though it wasn’t bald, it was cut very short so she would conform to his Afrocentric aesthetic.
Years later rocking that same short ‘do, she would be discovered in Washington Square Park. But even with her striking good looks, she was met with uncertainty. At that time, darker skin and afros was the look and she was met with rejection for not being ‘black enough’. She was eventually signed with Steward Model, a top white modeling agency that signed Twiggy. Pat didn’t think she had a chance, but they signed her on the spot. She became the highest paid model, other than Twiggy.
As her career took off, she was again confronted with the hair issue. She began calling them the ‘hair worshippers’ when speaking of the modeling industry’s obsession with hair.
‘It’s all about the hair. Since I was a child, people were talking about good hair, bad hair, this hair, that hair. People with kinky hair were straightening it and making it blonde to look like white women. I think it’s the hair factor that messes up everybody.’
This obsession prompted her to think, ‘What if there wasn’t any hair at all?’ And with that, she went home and shaved it all off. However, she later began to second guess the decision, and as a single parent with 2 small children to take care of, she began wearing wigs to her modeling go-sees. But an accidental slip would change the trajectory of her career.
She was trying on a dress for Stephen Burrows when her wig slipped off. Burrows loved her bald head and asked if she would walk the runway like that. Pat was reluctant, believing her agency would fire her if she took her wig off. However, she agreed, and she became somewhat of an overnight sensation! Not only did she get more offers for work, but she also inspired others to shave their heads as well.
It was around this time that she began posing for album covers including a provocative series of covers for the Ohio Players. Work with the Ohio Players would also help her segue way into a second career as a makeup artist where she worked with celebrities such as Melba Moore, Angela Bofill, Gil Scott Heron and Isaac Hayes.
Her modeling career would come to an abrupt halt after writing a scathing but truthful article published in the 1974 edition of Essence magazine. In it, she spoke of the discrimination against black woman and the race-based advertising. And while everything she said was true, she was black balled and no one would hire her. “When truth is ugly, only a lie is beautiful. I exposed the industry for not creating enough jobs for people of color.”
Though she would no longer model, she continued to use her makeup skills to work as an artist as well as a stylist on television shows and movies. And in 1980, she decided to show the industry how a modeling agency should be run by creating Pat Evans Models. She was the first to have Asian and Hispanic models and was a top minority agency in New York.
Today, Pat Evans lives a much quieter and purposeful life. As she reflects on the modeling industry today, she had this to say. ‘Why can’t people just be who they are? Everyone’s trying to fit the image of someone else. Don’t change to look like somebody else. . . . You came to this earth beautiful. But people just keep trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.’
Pat Evans, embracing her Native American roots.