Plaits of Hair

Plaits of Hair

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Victorian Hairstyles: a short history, in photos

In the Victorian era, a woman’s hair was often thought to be one of her most valuable assets. Styles varied quite a bit throughout the nearly 7 decades of Queen Victoria’s reign, with everything from simple middle parts to elaborate pieces made from human hair being in fashion. Accessories such as combs, pearls, hats and bonnets each had their time in the spotlight throughout the 1800s. Victorians weren’t as serious as people think they were, but they sure took their hair seriously. Scroll down and take a look at some of the different ways Victorian women wore their hair from the 1830s to the turn of the century.

Hair was long in the Victorian age. Extremely long. Haircuts weren’t exactly a thing yet for women.They did occasionally trim split ends, or even singe them, but long hair was viewed as being ultra-feminine and desirable.

We can find plenty of photos of women wearing their long, wavy hair down. However, loose hair wasn’t something that “respectable” women would wear in public and was mostly a style used for the sake of art. Girls often wore their hair down, but were expected to begin wearing it up around the age of 15 or 16. More often than not the women with long, cascading hair were models and actresses intended to depict intimacy and romanticism.

When it comes to long hair, nobody could top the Seven Sutherland Sisters. They became a national sensation in the 1880s because of their hair (37 feet in total), and made a living doing musical performances with their hair down. They capitalized on it even further by producing a line of hair care products, and became quite rich. When the 1920s and the bob rolled around, they began to be ridiculed as unfashionable relics of the past and lost the public’s eye.

Long hair styled in an updo was the way most women, especially upper class women, wore their hair during the 19th century. Neatness and cleanliness were important. Hairstyles also often reflected dress styles, with the entire silhouette of a woman being taken into account. To create more elaborate looks, women would use false pieces, usually made from human hair. These pieces were much easier to style and also added volume.

Women in the 1830s usually rocked a clean middle part with their hair tied back in a neat bun, braids, or twist. Occasionally they curled the sides, but bangs weren’t in fashion.

In the 1840s, women began sporting “barley curls”, long ringlets that were worn mainly by children before they came into style for adults. Chignons moved to the back of the head.

Hoop skirts took over in the 1850s, and hair expanded to match. While still parting it in the middle, many women began padding the sides, creating large wings or rolls.

Chignons began to move towards the back of the head in the 1860s, mimicking changes in dress style. Huge hoops reached max fullness and women began wearing dresses that were full in the back, giving the silhouette more of an S-shape.

When bustles burst onto the scene in the 1870s, hair moved even higher.

Hair got a little weird in the 1880s. Pompadours appeared, sometimes accompanied by bangs. Just like the 80s of the 20th century, frizzy bangs were hot. Middle parts fell out of fashion.

Did you know that Victorian women had rats in their hair? No, not rodents. Rats (or ratts) were used to increase volume. They were usually made from the loose hair collected from a woman’s comb, which would be stuffed into a hair receiver — a small box or dish kept on the vanity table. Rats were used as padding to fluff out the sides or top of the hair, often in order to create a more balanced silhouette in which the head appeared to be approximately the same size as the waist.

The 1890s introduced a hairstyle that later became an Edwardian icon: the Gibson Girl look.

Would you wear any of these Victorian hairstyles? Let us know which one you think looks the best (or the worst) in the comments below.

Polish Plait - History

The Polish plait was quite common in past centuries when hair care was largely neglected. It affected mostly the peasantry, but was not unusual among higher social classes. The most notable person in history said to have been afflicted with it was King Christian IV of Denmark (1577–1648). His plait had the form of a pigtail hanging from the left side of his head, adorned with a red ribbon. His courtiers were said to have adopted the hairstyle in order to flatter the king.

Due to superstitious beliefs, the Polish plait used to be particularly common in Poland, hence its English and Latin name. Similarly, in German it is called Weichselzopf, or Vistula plait, after a river in Poland. Initially, the plait was treated as an amulet, supposed to bring good health. For this reason people not only allowed it to develop, but even encouraged it. Spreading fat on their hair and wearing wooly caps even in summer were common practices.

In the early 17th century people began to believe plaits were an external symptom of an internal illness. A growing plait was supposed to take the illness "out" of the body, and therefore it was rarely cut off in addition, the belief that a cut-off plait could avenge itself and bring an even greater illness discouraged some from attacking it. It was also believed that casting a magic spell on someone could cause that person to develop a Polish plait, hence also the name "elflock" was used in English.

These convictions were so widespread and strong that many people lived their whole lives with a Polish plait. A plait could sometimes grow very long – even up to 80 cm (31.5"). Polish plaits could take various forms, from a ball of hair to a long tail. Plaits were even categorized in a quite sophisticated way there were plaits "male" and "female", "inner" and "outer", "noble" and "fake", "proper" and "parasitical".

A British diarist and Samuel Johnson's friend, Hester Thrale, in her book Observations and reflections made in the course of a journey through France, Italy, and Germany, describes a Polish plait she saw in 1786 in the collection of the Elector of Saxony in Dresden: "the size and weight of it was enormous, its length four yards and a half the person who was killed by its growth was a Polish lady of quality well known in King Augustus's court."

In the second half of the 19th century some intellectuals waged a war against superstition and lack of hygiene among the peasantry. Many plaits, often to the horror of their owners, were cut off. In Western Galicia, it was Professor Józef Dietl who made a particular effort to examine and treat Polish plaits. He organized an official census of people suffering from the disease, which spawned rumors that plaits would be taxed. Those rumors were said to have helped eradicate the Polish plait in the region. A huge, 1.5-meter long, preserved Polish plait can be seen in the Museum of the Faculty of Medicine (Medical College, Jagiellonian University) in Kraków. The Polish word for the Polish plait, kołtun, is now used figuratively in Poland to denote an uneducated person with an old-fashioned mindset.

Read more about this topic: Polish Plait

Famous quotes containing the word history :

&ldquo The view of Jerusalem is the history of the world it is more, it is the history of earth and of heaven. &rdquo
&mdashBenjamin Disraeli (1804�)

&ldquo History takes time. History makes memory. &rdquo
&mdashGertrude Stein (1874�)

&ldquo You that would judge me do not judge alone
This book or that, come to this hallowed place
Where my friends’ portraits hang and look thereon
Ireland’s history in their lineaments trace
Think where man’s glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends. &rdquo
&mdashWilliam Butler Yeats (1865�)

Peru: The Cultural Significance of Braids

The Quechua are a group of indigenous people scattered throughout areas of South America. I was fortunate enough to spend time with a tribe in Peru and experience their culture. The first things that stood out when visiting the tribe were the women’s unique clothing and style of hair. One of the most significant aspects of the Quechua woman’s look and culture is her hair.

Throughout Peru, you will see the native women of all ages wearing long braids. Long, braided hair represents much more than just a hairstyle to the Quechua the braids signify the marital status of Peruvian women.

Two braids reveals that a woman in the tribe is married, while one or many braids mean that she is single.

I traveled through the Andes and visited a Quechua tribe in Patabamba (Sacred Valley). I asked them: how do you make the perfect braids?

One of the elders braided her own hair for me to observe and then insisted upon putting braids in mine. I really wanted two braids but explained to her that I wasn’t married. This caused the women to laugh and I worried about bad luck, but they assured me that it wouldn’t ruin my chances of finding “the one.”

Steps for Creating the Perfect Braid:

First, you need a bowl of water and a brush. Your hair needs to be wet before you start braiding. Next, separate your part and then section it right down the middle. Just like a French braid, you start at the crown and work your way down. Quechua tip: Try to finish each braid in less than a minute. A woman in the tribe swiftly braided 2 pieces in less than 2 minutes. she then used the excess hair to tie a knot at the end.

Long, virgin hair is considered beautiful in Quechua tribes and is a symbol of health and well-being.

When women start losing hair due to aging, they incorporate yarn into the braids to lengthen and thicken the hair. The yarn is attached into the braid where the braid ends so it is difficult to tell the difference.

Braids among the tribe is a tradition that has been passed down by many generations and continues to grow and evolve as time goes on.

Why, Exactly, Is It Called a French Braid?

French braids are popular the world over, but they certainly aren't emblematic of France. It's unclear what about them, really, is so Gallic. As it turns out, "french" braids aren't French at all. So who's really responsible for the technique? The style's history is much cooler (and longer) than you might imagine.

If we're looking for the origins of modern-day french braids, Eurasia isn't even the right continent. Instead, the place to start is North Africa. People have been wearing the three-strand gathered plait for thousands of years, and the earliest evidence of the style comes to us from the Tassili n'Ajjer mountain range in Algeria. There, rock art depicting women wearing rowed braids dates back almost 6,000 years. In the millenia following, the style also appeared in early Greek art, particularly iconic kouros statues, on Celtic warriors and lasses, and as part of the elaborate updos worn by courtly women of the Sung Dynasty.

It appears, really, that there are very few cultures unaware of french braids, making their unusual moniker even more puzzling. How could something so universal be named after a single country? Wisely, the French themselves don't even claim the style as their own.

So why are Americans so confused? We can trace the origins of this particular misnomer back to an 1871 short story from Arthur's Home Magazine in which a rather misogynistic husband tells his wife to "hurry up and put on that new cashmere I sent you, and do up your hair in that new French braid."

Perhaps because France has always been so immediately connected to fashion and high living to people on this side of the Atlantic, any "fancy" braid would have registered as Continental. Just like fries and a host of other things, our love affair with the French is writ large on our delicacies and refinements.

In short, although you can feel free to keep calling it a french braid, the hairstyle is actually one of humanity's oldest and most popular hair inventions, just as much in use now as it was in ancient Sparta. They aren't from Paris, but whatever you call them, gathered braids are unquestionably as timeless and chic as the City of Light.

This History Of Cornrows And The Tradition Of Braiding

I remember sitting in history class being captivated by the stories of the Middle Passage, learning about slave ships and trade route between Africa and the Americas. My class was pretty diverse we had all races but the guilt you hear about when learning about slave history was never a thing for anyone of us regardless of race.

History lessons in the Caribbean were told without inhibition, there was nothing left out because that is how history was meant to be told.

Fast forward to these days, I am raising a son who will have to learn the same history as I did growing up but I often wonder will he hear it all? Will the parts of history that captivated my mind as a child be removed from the shool curriculum to serve some sort of subservient political agenda?

Sadly in most cases the answer is ‘yes’ and with that said I think as a parent it is my duty to teach my child everything about his history even the hard parts. Historical mistakes, hardships, and developments all shape who we are now and gives us the blueprint on how to be better humans.

Historical mistakes, hardships, and developments all shape who we are now and gives us the blueprint on how to be better humans, I am not going to rob him of that.

In the hair space the same holds true, do you know what cornrows mean? Do you understand what your “Summer 16” trendy braid style meant back in the day and the type of history the style holds?

Maybe sometimes when you are just getting a style you aren’t thinking about ancient history but I do believe at some point it is important to understand it and to learn about it.

I was reading a short article on the History of Cornrows and I thought it would be interesting to quote some of it here so that the next time you sit between your mother’s legs to get a braid up you understand just what she is doing.

I often look at little African girls and boys braiding hair and wonder how do they have such a skill? Their little fingers move so fast and some of our own stylists will tell you they just felt as if they were born to braid. I think the history is weaved into their blood past down from generation to generation and the skill is something they are born with.

Cornrow hairstyles in Africa also cover a wide social terrain: religion, kinship, status, age, ethnicity and other attributes of identity can all be expressed in hairstyle. Just as important is the act of braiding, which transmits cultural values between generations, expresses bonds between friends, and establishes the role of professional practitioner.

Rebecca Busselle, who took the above photo of a Mende style in the 1970s, notes: “As westerners, it is difficult for us to appreciate the communicative power that Mende attribute to women’s hair.”

The date of this photo, 1939, helps remind us that cornrows were invented long before the civil rights era in the United States.

Like many other “Africanisms” in the new world, knowledge of African hairstyles survived the Middle Passage. Heads were often shaved upon capture, ostensibly for sanitary reasons, but with the psychological impact of being stripped of one’s culture. Re-establishing traditional hair styles in the new world was thus an act of resistance one that could be carried out covertly.

“The slaves that worked inside the plantation houses were required to present a neat and tidy appearance… so men and women often wore tight braids, plaits, and cornrows (made by sectioning the hair and braiding it flat to the scalp). The braid patterns were commonly based on African tradition and styles. Other styles Blacks wore proved to be an amalgam of traditional African styles, European trends, and even Native American practices (Byrd and Tharps 2001 pp.13-14).”

After the civil war, many African Americans began to straighten their hair. Madame C.J. Walker invented a system for straightening hair without the damage caused by other methods.

She became the first black millionaire and donated thousands of dollars to the NAACP and similar groups. But while adults’ hair was often straightened, children’s hair continued to be a place where the cornrow tradition could be carried on: “Little girls received their first simple pigtails or cornrows at Mother’s or Grandmother’s knee. Brushing, oiling and braiding the hair encouraged it to grow.

Even with the advent of the straightening comb in the early 1900s, school girls had their hair braided and adorned with bangs, barrettes, ribbons, or clothespins.

Only on Sundays or special occasions did younger girls wear their hair loose and curled with hot irons this hair style requires daily maintenance unsuited to the activities and schedules of either children or their hard-working mothers (Peters 1990).”

Skip a bit past the fro era of the 1970’s cornrows were on the rise again.

In yet another trend-setting television appearance in 1972, Cicely Tyson wore intricate Nigerian braids. Jackson reports that during this time several professional stylists conducted research on Africa braiding techniques through museums, and Malikia, best know as Stevie Wonder’s stylist, made a trip to Africa for that purpose.

West African immigrants also brought braiding style techniques to the U.S. in the 1970s. As hip-hop emerged as a predominant Black cultural movement in the 1980s, the philly cut became its best-known hairstyle expression among men, while in women’s 1980s styles weaves were receiving the most attention.

Now in 2016, cornrows are back with a vengeance, we have returned to our traditional looks and have mixed in weaves and new ways of doing things maintaining the foundation.

I do find it interesting though that our little girls seem to have always carried the tradition on even when things change for the adults. We know deep down that braiding will always be the number one thing that keeps our African hair the healthiest so the practice remains alive and well in every black household.

Click here to see first-hand the source of the History of Cornrows then share this with someone who needs to learn the history of cornrows and African hair braiding.

The History of Braids

Hairstyles have varied and changed throughout history but braiding hair is an ancient beauty technique. It’s history is vast and varies from countries, cultures and centuries. Braids have been worn by men and women and indicate everything from social status, glamour, ethnicity, martial status and even religious affiliation.

Cornrows in Africa: The ancient African cornrow dates back to 3500 B.C. The style of cornrow worn varied and often showed a person’s kinship, age, ethnicity and religion. A French ethnologist discovered a painting in the 1950s in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara with woman feeding her children wearing cornrows. The cornrow look became popularized in the 1970s here in America.

Ancient Egyptian Braids: It should serve as no surprise that ancient Egyptians adorned their braids with intricately woven strands with beads, jewels and at times, extensions. This look was most common among wealthy Egyptians. Although ancient Egyptians had a strong distaste for body hair, head hair and beards were the exception. The “common” people wore simpler braids for more practical purposes (keep their hair out of their face while working, keeping cool in the blazing desert heat). Like with the African braids, braids in Egypt also indicated the nature of a person as well as their class and status.

Photo credit:

Greek Goddess Braids: During the Flavian period, Julia, the daughter of the Roman Emperor Titus, created lavish up-dos consisting of wire frames, twisted braids and curls. These hairstyles became popular among wealthy Roman women and became more dramatic in later Roman periods.

Photo credit:

Native American Braids: Native Americans had hairstyles that varied from tribe to tribe in style and cultural significance. Culturally significant plaits reigned supreme among the more than 500 tribes whose female and male members wore their hair in braids that both told a story and made a statement. The men in certain tribes would wear braids that helped them prepare physically and spiritually for war. In other tribes, unwed women would wear their hair in braids and married women wore their hair loose. While the Mayans created large headdresses with braided elements, the Plains Indians wore simple, long braids parted down the center.

Photo credit:

Medieval European Braids: While braided buns and crowns were commonly worn in Medieval Europe, social life at that time was characterized by modesty and it was socially intolerable for a woman to wear her hair loose in public. Since it was uncommon for people to stray away from the societal norms of the time, women wore thick, beautiful braids, which were mostly to keep a headpiece in place to cover them up.

Photo credit:

Mongolian Braids: During the 13th century Mongol Empire, Mongolian braids were worn but were hidden and incorporated into elaborate headpieces with a “wing” on each side of the head. These two “wings” were said to evoke mythical beasts. Similar hidden braided “wings” are created by Mongolian women even today.

Photo credit: Mongolian woman/

The Modern Cornrow: During the 1960s and 1970s, a Black is Beautiful movement began, and empowering African Americans and encouraging them to embrace their natural beauty and cultural roots. Instead of wearing relaxers, it was much more popular during this time to wear afros and cornrows like those in Africa many centuries before. Zig-zag braids, classic cornrows and micro braids became popular hairstyles and continue to be to this day.

Photo credit: Model/

Hair Braiding & The Internet: With the rise of YouTube in 2005, braiding became an internet sensation. There are currently over one million braiding videos on YouTube, which inspire endless creativity for this hairstyle. Many of the braids worn by women in these modern times, take inspiration from styles that originated centuries ago and continue to inspire.

Here's the Beautiful History of Beaded, Black Hair

This African tradition has been preserved for centuries.

"Look TT, I look so pretty," my three-year-old niece gloated as she twirled in front of the mirror, admiring the pink beads accentuating her fresh plaits. 

"You look so pretty baby girl," I complimented in chorus.

As she spun, jumped, and skipped around the house, the nostalgic clacking of her beads drifted me back into my adolescence of the &apos90s and early aughts. Back then, my mother had designated Saturdays as wash-day for me and my two sisters. One after the other, she would grease and glide her rat tail comb along our scalps to create neat square parts. Then, she would rhythmically weave strand over strand until our braids were taut from top to bottom. Each style was accessorized with trendy adornments of our choice. My oldest sister, like every pre-teen in the &apos90s, gravitated to sparkling butterfly clips while my twin sister and I adorned with monochrome beads. As each bead slid down the shaft of our braids, the subtle crackle marked the finish of our new hairstyles for the week. What I then considered a routine wash day has evolved into a sacred understanding of hair in relation to Black culture.

When my mother styled our hair with beads, she evoked a ritual that's connected our roots for centuries.

Beads are a symbolic adornment that predates the transatlantic slave trade. Archaeological records have traced the use of beads back to the last Ice Age, says Porsha Dossie, M.A., a public historian and creator of Hot Girl History Book Club.

"In burial spots, you see those glass beads, but the beads we're most familiar with comes out of the transatlantic slave trade. I think what's most interesting is that there was already an existing trade in beads on the continent, particularly in West Africa. The beads most often found and associated with that era actually comes from Europeans."

Arab traders were the first to introduce cowrie beads as early as the 8th century, but by the time Portuguese, French, Dutch, and British traders arrived in Africa by the 15th century, those beads had evolved into currency and cultural markers, notes writer Mia Sogoba in her essay, "The Cowrie Shell: Monetary and Symbolic Value."

In pre-colonial Africa, beads were emblems of regalia, wealth, spiritual rituals, and even fertility. In what is present-day Nigeria and Benin, Yoruba and Dahomean kings would adorn cone-shaped crowns with beaded veils to represent gods. Beaded attire not only symbolized the king&aposs royalty, but his connection to ancestors and the spiritual realm.

A custom unbound by gender, "those beads symbolized you were of political importance in your community," says Dossie. "In Benin, in the 17th and 18th centuries, cowrie shells were imported there more than anywhere else in the continent."

When the transatlantic slave trade disrupted ethnic groups and tribal territories throughout the 16th to 19th centuries, generations of African Americans were thwarted from inheriting indigenous hair customs. Slaveholders would often shave the heads of captured Africans to dehumanize and erase their unique origins, according to the book, Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America by Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps. In Louisiana, lawmakers went as far as passing the Tignon Law, an order that deemed Creole women a threat to white women and banned them from donning their hair in public.   

Determined to maintain their cultural autonomy, earlier slaves reimagined ways they could clasp on to their native heritage. The prominence of blue beads in artifacts uncovered from Southern plantation sites exemplifies how West African tradition arrived with slaves in America, despite white supremacist attempts at vilifying their customs. Some archeologists posit blue beads represented more than just physical adornments. They were vestiges of West African tradition, according to the academic article, "Blue Beads As African American Cultural Symbols."  

"The enslaved were just as interested in keeping up with new styles as we are today. This was evident in posters of runaway slaves and how they would describe their hair. They were able to maintain that culture through elaborate hairstyles."

By the 19th century, those beaded hairstyles weren't as prevalent, as African American slaves opted for styles more conducive to working harsh, long hours in the fields. Sundays were the only day men, women, and children could groom and style their hair, but the resurgence of beads didn't happen until the 20th century.

After the nadir era and clashing with the tail end of the Civil Rights movement, the Black Power movement was challenging respectability politics upheld by prominent Black leaders. It was the late &apos60s and &apos70s, and a more radicalized liberation approach was being ushered in. In major cities all over the country, the children of the Civil Rights movement were tapping into their African roots, electrified by the parallel rise of disco, soul, and funk𠅊nd beads were back.  

"&aposBlack is Beautiful&apos is popularized by the African Jazz-Art Society in Harlem. At that point, it&aposs only really in the urban North, but that aesthetic starts to permeate society once the Black Panther Party comes on to the scene," says Dossie.

A decade aesthetically defined by afros, braids, and beaded cornrows, Black women in pop culture like Cicely Tyson, Floella Benjamin, Patrice Rushen, Miriam Makeba, and Bern Nadette Stanis (aka Thelma from the hit sitcom Good Times) were influencing hair trends across the diaspora. Cowrie beads dangling from intricate cornrow patterns harkened back to our African origins, a vision rendered into an imagined Utopia for Black Americans still dealing with violent and racist oppression.  

For the first time, Black people were permitted to unapologetically embrace their roots. A contagious expression of beauty and pride, it wasn&apost long before a trend once shunned was being gobbled and popularized via cultural appropriation.

"A cultural touchstone for a lot of people who work with this history is the film '10.' In the film, Bo Derek, this blue-eyed, blonde-haired woman, had these box braids with beads in them. At that point, it was very accessible. It was 'this is stylish. This isn't just some subculture or Black subversion.' I think one thing that's been a through-line in American culture, even during chattel slavery, is we're cool."

Moving toward the &apos90s and early 2000s, beads were once again slid into the forefront with tennis sister duo Serena and Venus Williams and then budding singer Alicia Keys. Those women reified the symbolism and style of beads, inspiring younger girls like my sisters and me to sport side cornrows characterized by small white beads. In 2016, when Solange dropped her acclaimed album "A Seat at the Table," visuals of her shaking her beaded braids in the "Don&apost Touch My Hair Video" seemed to speak for generations of Black women who had to resist the policing of their hair.

Today, beads are indelible relics, constantly shaping fashion and Black self-expression.

Specifically, it&aposs strung mothers and daughters together for the past few decades. As Black mothers carefully part and plait and pepper beads, they&aposre empowering their daughters to revel in their culture while defying the centuries-long attempt at severing our tradition from the roots. 

Florida-based hairstylist Victoria Lashae, who specializes in natural protective styles like faux locks, box braids, and knotless braids, says she&aposs noticed more of her clients opting to embellish their hairstyles with her custom jewels and beads. "It&aposs nostalgic, fun, and youthful," she says. "We put beads in our hair because we want to look fancy and add a special flair."

Harkening back to an epochal Africa, before colonialism and the slave trade had yet to whither tribalism across the diaspora, Black women are re-harnessing the power in enshrining our hair with beads.

"Looking at hair beads as a tradition, I think it's become associated with Black girlhood and it's relatively recent. It's really the '80s, '90s, and the 2000s. I think it will endure because our generation will keep it going. It's so connected to our childhood."

As I pranced around the room with my niece, I bore witness to the intergenerational bond between her, my sister, and our mother. With the whipping of braids and clacking of beads reverberating in the room, I lifted her up, looked her in her brown eyes, and edified her aplomb: "You are beautiful."

Braid vs. Plait

The main difference between Braid and Plait is that the A braid is a complex structure or pattern formed by interlacing three or more strands of flexible material such as textile yarns, wire, or hair and Plait is a is the usual word in BE, although the younger generation may know it as "braid".

A braid (also referred to as a plait) is a complex structure or pattern formed by interlacing three or more strands of flexible material such as textile yarns, wire, or hair. Compared with the process of weaving, which usually involves two separate, perpendicular groups of strands (warp and weft), a braid is usually long and narrow, with each component strand functionally equivalent in zigzagging forward through the overlapping mass of the others. The most simple and common hair braid is a flat, solid, three-stranded structure. More complex braids can be constructed from an arbitrary number of strands to create a wider range of structures. Braids have been made for thousands of years in many different cultures, and for a variety of uses. Vikings and Celts were commonly using braids several centuries ago. Traditionally, the materials used in braids have depended on the indigenous plants and animals available in the local area.

When the Industrial Revolution arrived, mechanized braiding equipment was invented to increase production. The braiding technique was used to make ropes with both natural and synthetic fibers, and coaxial cables for radios using copper wire. In more recent times it has been used to create a covering for fuel pipes in jet aircraft and ships, first using glass fibre, then stainless steel and Kevlar. Pipes for domestic plumbing are often covered with stainless steel braid.


The history of braids can be traced back to 5000 years ago in the African culture to 3500 BC. Braids where used for signs of societal status, ethnicity, religion, and more just by using classic cornrows, three strand braids, Dutch braids, and other styles. [1]

Time periods:

  • 3500 BC – Africa with Cornrows
  • 3100 BC – Egypt with Afro Box Braids
  • First Century – Native Americans Pocahontas “Pigtail” Braids
  • 1066 to 1485 – Europe with the Crown Braid
  • 1644 to 1912 – China with the Staircase Braid
  • 1970s – Caribbean with Modern Cornrows [1]

Braids in Slavery:

Understanding the history of braids is hard to understand without knowing the impact put on African American women during slavery. Before boarding the slave ships, the traffickers shaved the women’s heads to take away the women’s link to their homeland. By shaving the women’s head was brutal and caused psychological trauma, because they were stripped from their humanity and culture.

Due to the lack of time, resources, or products, African- American women wore their hair in easy- to- manage styles like single plaits. In slavery braids served as a system to communicate with slaves. They used their braids to send secret messages with one another that their masters would never understand. For example, the number of plaits worn would indicate how many roads people needed to walk to meet someone to escape bondage. Their braids where used as a “map to freedom.” [2]

Braids Today:

In today’s culture braids are adorn and worn many in different ways. The expressions and styles have changed, but the braiding patterns have remained the same. Men and women have embraced braids. Braids are seen styled more messier and freer and are accepted the braids to look more less perfect, chic, and more relaxed.

For the African American braids are not just a style but a form of art. Men and women dare getting their hair braided on a day-to-day basis and the art of braiding has evolved beyond the original cultural ideas. [1] In pop culture, braids have been a trend seen on celebrities in music videos and movies in the 1990’s and early 2000’s. [2]

For more information or interesting reads:

LaShawna Gunn is currently a Junior that is majoring in Health Services Administration with a minor in Women’s Studies at Old Dominion University. She’s a small town girl with big expectations. She enjoys learning about the different topics in Women’s Studies. She is excited to learn more about the understanding of Bodylore and all it’s fundamentals.

Watch the video: How To Dutch Braid Your Own Hair Step By Step For Complete Beginners - FULL TALK THROUGH