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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.