From history books to the catwalks of Milan and Paris, Swide is fascinated by the gender defying, globalized and symbolic meaning of the braid. Here’s a brief history of this well loved and experimental hair do. Braided beard styles.
Cornrow, which in recent times is associated with hip hopping stars has a very noble and ancient origin. In the 1950s, a French ethnologist and his team found a Stone Age rock painting in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara dating back to 3500 BCE, it showed a woman with cornrows feeding her child. Depending on the region and group from which it came, the style of the cornrow, from simple linear cornrows to complex geometric ones, helped to express the identity of its wearer: kinship, status, age, religion, and ethnicity. That’,s a lot to weave into one hairstyle.
Ancient Egyptians, although disdainful of body hair, loved the hair on their heads and styled their hair with wigs, jewels, beads, and even extensions. Men and women would separate their hair into tiny braided strands that had beads woven in. Sometimes, braids made of human hair were added as extensions to make hair look thicker or longer. Queen Meryet-Amun, like many wealthy women, was even buried with extra braids by her side. Braids even found their way to beards. Although the ancient Egyptians generally frowned upon facial hair, beards were seen as symbols of divinity- Tutankhamun’,s gold mask has a beard painted on it: long, narrow and braided.
Julia, daughter of Roman Emperor Titus (79 -81 CE) constructed her hair into elaborate updos involving crescent-shaped wire frames cascading with curls in the front, and divided, braided sections in the back, becoming the fashion. Greek women would also construct ornate hair dos based on extravagant braiding for important public functions, reflecting their status and rank in society. The Caryatid braids from the Acropolis in Athens are achievable today thanks to many a tutorial video on YouTube.
In the popular imagination, braids are synonymous with traditional Native American hairstyles. But the fact is, as there are more than 500 Native American tribes in North America, and each one had a different relationship to braids and their meanings.
Braided beard styles
Mythologies grew around the Celts: tall, fair-skinned folk known for their striking clothes and hair. Much of their allure rested in their hair with Celtic men and women wearing it long, and the nobles experimented with elaborate braids that were often decorated.
During the high and late Middle Ages, modesty was paramount, and flowing locks for married women were considered an impious affront to morality. Popular Medieval braid styles like the double braid, the braided crown, the double braided bun, or the fishtail braid became commonplace amongst the noble single woman.
As the Mongol Empire grew in the 13th century, noblewomen wore elaborate hairstyles and headpieces. Centuries later, the advent of photography granted the rest of the world a view of the 19th-century summer outfits and hairstyles of the wealthy women of the Mongolian Halh ethnic group. Their elaborate winged hairdos, (the inspiration for Queen Amidala from the Star Wars franchise) were supposed to evoke a mythical beast. In modern times, some married Mongolian women may wear two long braids similarly hidden by embroidered black cloth bags.
The “queue” braid was worn exclusively by male Manchus of Manchuria during China’s last imperial dynasty, the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1912). Men shaved off all of the hair above their temples and tied the rest into a long pigtail that went down their back, often topped with a hat. It was considered treason not to wear the queue, and men who disobeyed even faced execution. The fall of the empire relieved the queue constraint yet some men stil chose to wear it. The last emperor of China, Puyi, cut off his queue in 1922, thus officially declaring the do out of fashion.
African-Americans have long worn braids, but in the 1970s, the Black Is Beautiful movement encouraged people to embrace their roots and natural hair texture by wearing Afros and cornrows in lieu of straight hair. Popular styles included the Senegalese twist or Guinea braid. The cornrows have since been adopted by Caucasians, including Bo Derek in the 1979 film 10, Madonna, K-Fed and Justin Timberlake to name a few.
Brading has not lost its appeal in the 21
century. YouTube hits more than a million braiding tutorials and there are thousands of pinned, instagrammed or simply shared braids all over the Internet. For Spring Summer, and beyond, the braid was all over the catwalks and red carpet too.