Although you may have seen box braids worn by many women of color over the years, did you know that it’s actually a style rich with culture and history, dating back to about 3,500 B.C.?
Let’s kick Black History Month off right by celebrating this intricate, versatile braid and the stunning women who rock it. Scroll through below for everything you didn’t know about the history of the box braid.
1. Braids can be traced back thousands of years in African culture.
“African women have a rich history in terms of the ways they adorn their hair,” Zinga A. Fraser, Ph.D., told Essence Magazine. So rich in fact, that ancient paintings show women in North Africa wearing styles like cornrows and braids, literally, thousands of years ago. These styles were worn for numerous purposes, a few of them included societal customs, but mainly because they were just so dang fashionable. Further proof that women of color, and their hair, have been killing it for as long as humans have been around, TBH.
2. Braid patterns were an indicator of important aspects of a woman’s identity.
Many of us consider our hair a large part of our identity, but a woman’s hair in African culture could say so many quintessential things about her marital status, age, religion and more. “Braiding was and is a social art,” Alysa Pace of Bomane Salon told Byrdie. “Almost all women, children, and most men, in some way, had their hair braided.” Hairstyles were also passed down through the women of the family and many went the extra mile to embellish their braids with tricked-out accessories like discs, shells, jewels and beads.
3. Braids were used as a complex language system and could act as a message carrier.
Box braids also acted as a form of communication during the time of slavery. It was a way for slaves to relay to one another certain paths that could be taken to escape to freedom (i.e. the number of braids worn could indicate how many roads to take). If that’s not completely genius, we don’t know what is.
4. Women weaved their braids using an array of materials.
Braids have always been an intricate and expansive style. They were also quite expensive when it came to time and materials. “Women weaved their braids using materials like wool, felt and even human hair,” Emon Fowler (a Chicago-based cosmetologist who specializes in curls, braids. etc.) told Ebony Magazine. The more jewels and accessories one’s braids held the higher his or her status.
5. The first natural hair movement coincided with the Black Power Movement.
As the Black Power Movement took off in the 60s and 70s, so did the first natural hair movement in the U.S. People of color began rejecting European standards of beauty and embracing their roots. Styles like cornrows and afros became all the rage. Best of all, braids were starting to make a serious come up.
6. Janet Jackson gave the style a trend-push in the 90s with her debut film Poetic Justice.
Do a quick Pinterest search and you’ll find so many chic photos of Janet Jackson in her iconic debut film, Poetic Justice. When it was released in the 90s, box braids garnered a major trend-push. Many women were inspired by how effortlessly cool her braids and simple black cap were.