Braids are also referred to as plaits. They are an intricate hairstyle created by interweaving at least three strands of hair. Braids have used to ornament and style human and animal hair for centuries in many different cultures in the world, particularly in Indian and African cultures.
In some way, the process of braiding hair is comparable to the process of weaving textile or fabric, a process that involves interlocking two separate vertical groups of strands.
A brief history
It is said that hair braiding began in Africa. While the actual tribe that began hair braiding is unknown, most researchers believe that it began with the Himba people of Namibia.
Africans have been braiding their hair for centuries, and hairstyles and patterns were the ways to indicate a person’s tribe, religion, power, wealth, marital status, and age. Braiding has always been and will remain a social art, and because it is often an art that takes a huge amount of time, it has always been and remains a time and activity of socialisation for many.
Centuries ago, the older generation would braid the younger generation’s hair, and this was the way that children learned so that they could braid their own children’s hair in the future. Before they had children though, they would practice on other children in their age group until they learned the traditional styles.
This tradition of bonding during braiding times continued for generations and made its way across the world quickly, becoming globally popular around the 1900s.
Braids are usually woven a little bit tighter in black culture than in other cultures, and are especially popular during summer months. In the black culture, braids are also considered as part of the natural hair movement, as long as the braids are done with a person’s own hair.
The evolution of braids
While braiding patterns have remained the same through the ages, the styles and expressions of braids have changed, and keep on changing. In today’s culture, braids are worn, adorned, and celebrated in various ways. There are those that favour clean lines, and there are those that favour organic and messy braids.
The cultural context of braids
It is important to understand that braids are much more than just a hairstyle, but also (and perhaps more importantly) a form of art. Whether it is for a special elegant event or you just want your hair off of your face, the craft of braiding hair has gone beyond the original cultural ideas.
Today, braids are the style of choice for women of colour with natural textures. Braids are also often used as a form of protective styling to protect kinky hair from humidity and heat damage.
Types of braids
Below is a description of some popular types of braids. Please note that it is not by any means an exhaustive list.
This is a traditional African hairstyle where the hair is braided closely to the scalp through the production of a continuous, raised row that is formed by using an underhand, upward motion. While the most common form of cornrows is created in simple, straight lines, the reality is that they can also be created in complex curvilinear or geometric designs. This hairstyle is a hit with many because it is easy to maintain, and can be left for weeks at a time if the hair is regularly washed and the scalp is regularly oiled.
Box braids are separate plaits of hair that are usually divided by small squared off parts or boxes. According to the preference of the wearer, box braids may be of any length or width, and many women typically add natural or synthetic hair to lengthen it or to add fullness or thickness. Because they are not attached to the scalp, it is easy to manipulate box braids into several different styles. Keeping the scalp oiled helps to avoid breakage and allows the box braids to be worn for as long as three months.
Knotless box braids:
Knotless box braids are a variation of box braids, but are rather created using a feed in technique. The stylist typically secures extensions to the natural hair and gradually feeds the extensions in, plaiting them together with the real locks for a seamless blend. This means that the braids don't include the small knot that sits at the root of the scalp (as with box braids). This results in braids that isn’t so heavy on the scalp and that lies flat on the scalp. This means that it is a great alternative for someone who wants a head full of box braids but doesn’t want any tension of the scalp and hair edges. Knotless box braids flow like real hair and gives extra length with a natural finish.
The butterfly braid is an underhanded, thick and slightly fluffy braid that looks natural. Because it’s oversized, the butterfly braid usually requires hair extensions to be put in, and this may need to be sewn in place. Most stylists will pull and stretch sections of the braid to make it even fluffier and thicker, and will probably keep the remaining part of the hair smooth or in stich braids and smaller cornrows.
Senegalese twist braids:
These are also known as rope twists because of the rope-like, thick, braids that are created when this protective technique is used to braid the hair. Also, the twists can be worn for as many as four months. For the best results, it is better to wash the hair from time to time, and to dry it thoroughly with a dryer before oiling the scalp.
Ghana braids are an intricate and versatile style of braids that typically begins with micro cornrows that slowly taper back, becoming wider and fuller with the addition of more hair. The common way to wear Ghana braids is to braid the hair backwards from the front, but it can be worn in any style.
Goddess braids are oversized cornrows where extensions are braided on the natural hair very near to the scalp. Goddess braids can be done up in a Mohawk braid, a crown braid up do or in any other way. Goddess braids are often braided in a spiral-like pattern, and because of this, are commonly confused with Ghana braids. The difference between them however lies in the size of the braids, and the variation of the sizes. Goddess braids are usually in mixed sizes. While there will be a couple of oversized cornrows, there also will be smaller ones intermixed, to give the individual the overall appearance of a goddess.
Micro braids are individual braids that are very tiny and that are typically created with kanekalon or human hair. While it requires little daily maintenance once it is done, the process for getting this hair braided is a long one as it takes several hours. Removing the micro braids can also take several hours, so wearers must be prepared to wear this hairstyle for long.
It is important to note that micro braids can be very damaging to hair and sometimes causes extensive breakage if it is not put in or removed correctly. It is advised that women with dry, brittle hair be especially wary of this kind of style, as it can potentially lead to hair loss.
This is one of the easiest and simplest ways to get extra-long braids. This hairstyle involves first braiding the hair into loose cornrows as a foundation for the crochet braids. Similar to a weave, hair extensions are then threaded through and secured to the patterned cornrows with the use of a crochet hook. Next, the extensions are plaited into a style of choice. In some cases, readymade braids are secured to the cornrows, and this dramatically cut the time it takes to put in the braids.
Advantages of wearing braided hair
Braiding prevents hair breakage: Leaving natural hair exposed to the elements all the time tends to make them break easily. Braiding hair therefore helps to prevent hair breakage, as the hair is enclosed in hair extensions, tucked away and secured from weather conditions, and this results in less breakage and better length retention.
It is a great option for frizzy hair: For women with frizzy hair, braids helps to cut the time and stress that is required to care for tangled (and oftentimes unmanageable) frizzy hair.
It allows you to lock moisture: More often than not, women with curly hair often suffer from hair dryness because their hair strands are unable to hold moisture. Braiding wavy and curly hair thus helps to lock in moisture.
Braids last for a long time: Braids typically last up to one or two months, and may even extend to four months in some cases. This allows you to take a break from constant hair styling and spending long periods at the salon.
Disadvantages of wearing braids
It causes breakage around the edges: This happens if the braids are too tightly installed. Hair breakage may also occur if the hair is already weakened. The kinds of braids that do the most damage in terms of edge breakage or hair breakage are those that are really small or those that are too large.
Costs a micro-fortune: Braids can be expensive to put in. The longer or smaller the braids, the higher the price.
Takes up a lot of time: Installing and removing braids take a long time. Some braid styles can actually take as much as eight hours to put in.
Hair loss: Braids can cause hair loss (also known as traction alopecia) if the braids are incorrectly put in.
Braids are striking hair styles that usually bring out the best in people, whatever their personal styles are. They help you look sharp and well put together, whatever braids style you choose to rock.
It is, however, important to understand that you will need to continue to care for your hair even when you have braids in. While braids lower the amount of maintenance required, it does not completely eliminate it.
Remember to take care of your scalp and your natural hair underneath the braids. Also remember to continue to spritz a moisturizer and seal with a natural oil.