African Hair-Braiding Styles

by Mary Freeman

Braids are an age-old tradition in African culture. They have been used to signify social, economic and marital status throughout history. In modern times, they have taken on a new life, serving as a way for African-Americans to connect to their heritage or as an efficient, practical way to keep hair.

Popular Braids

The two most popular braid styles for African-Americans are the Country Plait and its variation, cornrows. Both of these styles are attained by sectioning the hair and braiding it very close to the scalp in rows. The Plait weaves in hair from above the braid, whereas cornrows weave hair in from below. This creates a more three-dimensional look for cornrows and flatter braids with the Plait. Both braiding techniques can be used to create rather unique and complex designs with the hair. Micro Braids have recently become popular and can allow for many different hairstyles to be worn day to day. These braids are extremely small and appear like thick strands of hair.

Braiding Into Other Hairstyles

Apart from being a stylish choice within themselves, braids can be used to achieve other hairstyles. A natural way to do dreadlocks is through braiding. Once braids are set, the process of simply twisting or using a latch hook on the braids, combined with moderate washing of the hair will eventually, sometimes after a year or more, lead to braids. Many people espouse this method, arguing that locks take the best shape using braids. Another use of braids is for extensions. Synthetic or real hair is braided into your natural hair. Setting extensions this way is far more permanent than clip-on extensions and, many argue, more durable.

Preparation for and Management of Braids

Before braiding your hair, there are many things to consider. First, hair must be in tip-top shape before braiding, as after the process it is difficult to care for your hair. Have a hot oil or deep conditioning treatment done to lock moisture into your hair, easing the braiding process. Get a haircut, shedding all split ends. If you are braiding extensions into your hair, use the highest quality products; lower quality products tend to break and damage hair. Choose a hairstylist who is experienced with the type of braiding you need. Each style of braiding requires a specific technique and, when done wrong, can cause discomfort, hair damage or a sloppy look. Ensure hair is as clean as possible and dry before braiding. After braiding, use dandruff or braiding shampoo. Braids have a special effect on the scalp, so massage oil onto the scalp frequently. Stay away from heat styling and ponytails as much as possible as both can weaken braids and pull hair out from the roots. Finally, when the time comes, do not attempt to remove the braids yourself; the process of unbraiding can be as involved as the process of braiding itself.

About the Author

Mary Freeman is a freelance writer. She has held several editorial positions at the print publication, "The Otter Realm." She traveled throughout Europe, which ultimately resulted in an impromptu move to London, where she stayed for eight months. This life experience inspired her to pursue travel writing. Freeman received a degree in human communication from California State University.