French braids, boxer braids, dutch braids, fishtail, fulani braids, or dreadlocks…
These are just several of the many braid styles women are rocking from ancient times to the modern day.
However, all of these names are nowadays used to describe the type of braids that can be either cornrows, dutch braids, or some other kind of braiding style.
The Problem Lies In The Detail
Unfortunately, within the usage of these phrases, there is lots of cultural appropriation going on.
Mislabeling the types of braids is only the beginning; many are purposely wearing Black hairstyles without recognizing it’s actually cultural appropriation.
Most of the time, this happens due to a lack of knowledge and education.
Before Braiding Your Hair, Do the Research
However, we live in an era where you can find information about anything on the planet with a few mouse clicks.
Therefore, there is really no excuse when it comes to the cultural appropriation of braids in this day and age.
And since braids are flooding all over our Instagram and TikTok feeds, it’s high time we deal with the confusion about the popular hairstyling technique.
Do all braids count as cultural appropriation?
Before we get deep into the subject, it’s critical to define cultural appropriation first.
Cultural appropriation is acquiring style, cultural characteristics and practices, and other objects or concepts that belong to a specific culture.
It’s considered disrespectful to wear a particular type of clothing, and therefore, hairstyles too.
When it comes to popular braiding techniques, various kinds of braids are deemed disrespectful.
You Can Easily Offend Someone With Your Hairstyle
Black hairstyles have become increasingly trendy, which can be quite offensive for the Black community.
That said, most people copying Black braids are simply unaware and do it unintentionally.
The truth is, not all braids represent cultural appropriation.
However, you can easily make a mistake with no bad intentions.
Borrowing other people’s cultural hairstyles can be viewed as ignorance, if not deeply offensive for some.
Also, if you do just a little bit of research, you will learn the differences between braid styles and which ones are okay to wear if you’re not Black.
Finally, go beyond scrolling through Instagram feeds researching the latest trends; fashion magazines aren’t always the go-to for these things.
Some Cultures Aren’t To Be Copied
Instead, research the braid style you like and discover its history and origin.
Alongside learning a bit about black hairstyles and their uniqueness, you will also find out the significance of the culture and why it might not be respectful to copy it.
To help you out, we made a comprehensive guide on the different braid styles.
Additionally, we made a list of braids that are cultural appropriation, as well as a list of braids that aren’t cultural appropriation.
But before we get into that, we will go over the history of braids in different traditions and cultures.
History of Braids: Different Cultures
Did you know that braids are actually ancient hairstyling techniques?
In fact, braids go way back five thousand years ago to many different tribes of Africa.
Several braid styles originated from the Old Continent and were present in the African culture from ancient times.
Braids signified one’s status, age, marital status, wealth, religion or spiritual belief, and even power.
Some of the types were especially popular with African tribes for centuries.
Moreover, some of these are still trendy, and many Black women are wearing them today.
And since you’re reading the article about the culturally appropriate braid styles, many non-Black females are copying them, too.
The Origin of Braids
A few of the most popular braids go back centuries ago.
In fact, even the stone paintings from ancient times show North African women wearing cornrows.
Fulani braids, cornrows, and Bantu knots date to the ancient Namibian tribe of Himba.
In fact, even the stone paintings from ancient times show North African women wearing cornrows. Their purpose in braiding their hair like this was two-fold.
First, the style was fashionable then. And second, it showed the group or clan one belonged to, their age, and status.
These braid styles were passed down through generations.
Many African tribes styled their own braid types and patterns.
The elders were typically braiding the youngsters, which carried the tradition all the way to the present.
But there is another crucial aspect to look at when it comes to braids.
To truly understand braid styles and their history, it’s critical to note the influence of slavery on the hairstyle.
Among the many horrific experiences Black people experienced during the hundreds of years of slavery was the humiliating act of shaving their heads.
The colonizers did it as they boarded the ships, making the act even more brutal as they shaved not only their braids.
In fact, they also stripped them of their culture and humanity.
It’s as though these human traffickers knew about the cultural significance of braids for the African people, so they shrimped them of these important strands.
Furthermore, there was another incredibly significant purpose of braids for Black people.
In the times of slavery, braids served as a secret language and messaging symbolism.
That means the enslaved people used braids to secretly communicate about their attempts to acquire freedom.
For example, the meticulously braided plaits served as a message about the specific number of roads to travel to escape or meet someone who can help with that mission.
After the Great Migration, Black women slowly changed their cornrows and braid plates for different styles to symbolize their newfound freedom.
Many other braid styling techniques became the norm as a way for African women to show sophistication.
Later the unique hairstyle became a symbol of self-acceptance, self-confidence, and self-love.
The white women also boarded that train, which is where cultural appropriation started.
Braids in Medieval Europe
Braids were present in Medieval Europe, where women used to wear lush, thick braids to keep their hair in one place.
Also, such braids were a symbol of women’s beauty, grace, and femininity.
Like in Africa, the mothers passed on the knowledge to their daughters, both in wealthy and low-income families.
The Chinese Also Wore Braids
Around the 1911 revolution in China, Chinese men wore long braided pigtails, symbolizing solidarity with the people under the Manchu oppression.
However, this braid style became the symbol of imperial rule and was discarded after the revolution ended.
It was around the 1900s that braids became increasingly popular.
Soon enough, women across the globe braided their hair in various braid patterns.
Types Of Braids: Which Braids Are Cultural Appropriation and Which Are Okay?
Before showing you the list of culturally appropriate and braids that are culturally not appropriate, we will quickly go over the types of braids that you have probably seen already.
Some you have seen on the street, some in movies or shows, and some you may wear already.
Originating from Africa, these braids go back thousands of years to tribes that wore them to signify their age, religion, marital status, or class.
Sometimes these were decorated, but cornrows are always braided close to the scalp.
Also, the hair sections are crossed under.
Boxer braids are three-strand plates made of even smaller parts (boxes).
However, these belong to the cornrows category, so you should be aware of that.
This is the traditional braid of The Fula or the Fulani tribe located in west Africa and the Sahel region.
For the Fulani tribe, these braids symbolize a woman’s beauty and heritage.
The significant difference from cornrows is seen in the braiding technique, where extensions are used and intertwined with the natural hair.
Therefore, these braids look more extensive than the typical cornrows. These are also known as fishbone braids.
As the name itself says, these braids were significant for the Ghanaian culture.
Dreadlocks and Faux Locs
Although their origin is African, dreadlocks were significant for several different traditions.
In fact, the mummies, various drawings, and ancient artifacts show that even Egyptian pharaohs wore locks.
However, most people know about the Rastafarians and Jamaicans wearing dreadlocks.
It’s also important to mention that the Hindu god Shiva is depicted with hair in Jata (locks).
This type of braid is similar to cornrows.
However, some amount of the hair stays free and loose, and the braids are knotted.
This is a style of braids that are knotted in a spiral pattern as close to the scalp as possible.
These are often confused for Ghana braids.
The difference between the two styles is in size: with goddess braids, you can have large or very tiny braids.
Feed-in braids are similar to goddess braids, only with a cornrow knotted between the large braids.
But, again, it’s purely to make the braids even more aesthetically pleasing or interesting.
These are the tiny, miniature braids that take forever to knot but look incredible.
However, these can last for months and offer a myriad of styles to explore.
Havana Twist Braids
This braid style is one of the most popular in the Black community, which adores natural hairstyles.
However, these large braids usually contain gentle, high-quality soft extensions to make them look realistic.
Marley Twist Braids
These are similar to Havana Twists but are less costly.
Also, the sections are typically made more voluminous.
Now, let’s quickly go over the most popular braid styles from other parts of the world.
Three Strand Braid
These are undoubtedly the simplest to make and represent the basic type of braids.
Three Strand Braids are done by dividing the hair into three even sections and crossing the left and right areas over the middle one until there is no hair left to knot.
Once you get a grip on the three-strand braid, you can try the french type.
This braid requires using the sections of hair from each side of the head, accumulating the pieces, and working them into the brad as you move down.
This is a popular but very easy braid style to make.
Also, this type of braid is often a part of an elaborate hair-do.
Instead of using three sections, you take two strands and cross them over to the middle of the left part of the head.
Once you do that, you repeat the process on the other side of your head.
Some might say this is similar to cornrows, but that is not true. As always, the devil is in the detail.
And in this case, the difference between the braid styles lies in the weaving technique.
When it comes to the dutch type, the braids are made by crossing the strands under while the hair is held up to create volume and height.
On the other hand, with cornrows, the braid is knotted more tightly and very close to the scalp.
These braid styles you get by using two or three braids formed in a circle around the head.
This has become an increasingly popular wedding hairstyle, giving you a fairy, ethereal look.
Which Braid Styles Are Cultural Appropriation?
Finally, it’s time to reach the verdict.
Below are the braid styles that are deemed offensive if worn by non-Black people.
But also, there is a list of braids that are not cultural appropriation, so you can rest assured you’re not offending anyone.
These types of braids are not cultural appropriation:
- Elsa Braid
- French Braid
- Crown Braid
- Chinese Ladder Braid
- Three strand braid
- Staircase Braid
- Fishtail Braid
- Halo Braid
- Pigtail Braid
- Dutch Braid
However, these types of braids are cultural appropriation:
- Jumbo Braids
- Laid/Gelled Edges
- Senegalese Twists
- Marley Twists
- Bantu Knots
- Ghana Braids
- Micro Braids
- Fulani Braids
- Side Braids
- Faux Locs
- Yarn Braids
- Crochet Braids
- Box Braids
Now that you know which braids are culturally appropriate and which braid styles present cultural appropriation, you can plan your next braided hairstyle.
The braid style that would best suit your character and hair type depends on several things.
Cultural aspects are an essential thing to look at.
Still, there are other significant things to remember before planning to go to the braid professional.
The Bottom Line
The critically important thing to remember is it’s not okay to wear culturally inappropriate braids.
Cornrows (or boxer braids), ghana braids, fulani, bantu braids, and even dreadlocks are a big no-no.
Even those trendy micro braid plates are deemed culturally offensive, so make sure you research before you decide on the braid style you want.
If you like to rock braided hairstyles but wonder which are appropriate to wear, now you know everything there is to know.
But besides cultural appropriation, you should also educate yourself on braiding in general.
After all, even culturally appropriate braids might not be suitable for your specific hair type.
For example, having straight, silky-smooth hair could present a problem for some braid styles.
If you want to try out some unique and intricate braid styles, it’s best to let a hairdressing professional handle them.
Braiding is a process that takes effort, and experience plays a critical part in making intricate braided hairstyles.
However, as long as you respect the culture and listen to professionals, you will enjoy luscious, eye-magnet braids.
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