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.