A Brief History and the Meaning Behind Braids
Your hair says a lot about you. Whether it’s a form of self-expression, a security blanket, or a representation of your identity, hair means a lot more to us than just hair. Just like a bad hair day can ruin your morning, or a great hair day can give you newfound confidence, our hair brings powerful emotions with it. And with braided hair, it goes even deeper.
Beyond the trendy styles and adorable braided looks men and women have sported throughout history, braids have always carried a meaning, and were even a form of communication.
Where did braids originate and what is their significance?
Braids have existed for thousands of years, dating back to ancient cultures in Africa, where it could communicate several things. The style of braid could indicate several aspects about the wearers’ identity, such as kinship, ethnicity, wealth, marital status, age, class and so much more.
From Africa, braids spread to other ancient civilizations like Greece, Italy, China, and the Americas, where they all developed different meanings for different peoples. But what each culture had in common is that your braids said something about who you were.
What else did braids communicate to others?
The act of braiding also holds much significance, as it was a time for ancient people to connect and socialize for sometimes several hours, and was even regarded as an important or spiritual ritual in some cultures. Braiding was usually left to those who were close and trusted, like family members.
Even today, many women spend hours getting their hair braided by professionals or family members – that’s a lot of commitment and that in itself holds significance.
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in the United States, braids even served as a means of communication among slaves, who would use their braids to send secret messages to others about escape routes – basically serving as a map to freedom for many during this time. During this time in history, braids were a message of hope, communicating a way to freedom.
How is this history translated to braided styles today?
What do braids say today? Of course, it is extremely personal to each individual, but for many, braids still carry all the messages and meanings of their ancestral roots. The meaning has evolved and grown even deeper throughout time, as many people have explored different methods and styles of braiding.
For someone wearing braided styles, it represents their culture and history, as well as their personal style and self-expression. It still serves as a way to connect with others socially, as many family members still braid each others’ hair, as well as a way to protect and strengthen one’s natural hair.
So many men and women wear their braids like a crown – with the pride and respect that comes from something that is so deeply rooted in ancient culture. I have never worn braids, nor could I speak to the connection that African Americans and others whose cultures have societal roots in braids, so I asked a few of my friends at United Beauty Supply to share what braids mean to them and here is what these lovely ladies had to say:
Real Women Share How Braids Make Them Feel:
“When I wear my braids, I feel like I am making a statement because I’m connecting with my culture”. Na’Jah says even though wigs make her feel extra glamorous, wearing braids is when she really feels like herself.
Favorite Braid Style: Box Braids
“Braids are rooted in history. They represented your kin, marital status, and more.” For Tia, braids mean honoring and representing her heritage and culture.
Favorite Braid Style: Box Braids
“Braids are used as a protective style for me….I braid my hair because it’s easy to manage, it gives my hair rest, and it’s less breakage.” Nia loves how braids help her hair to grow, and says braids are her go-to style in the summer!
Favorite Braid Style: Long Box Braids
Obviously, braids mean a lot more than just a new hairstyle to these ladies and to so many other African Americans as well as other cultures. It was clear they, and so many more, have a deep, emotional connection to braided styles, which is a truly beautiful meaning behind the gorgeous styles that we all love!
Popular Protective Braid Styles:
Click through to see some of the most popular braided styles and what they mean!
What does braiding hair mean to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below!