By: Diarrha Ndiaye
For centuries now, weaving and braiding have become an artist styling craft that possess the magical power to transform a woman’s beauty almost instantaneously. In a matter of hours and sometimes minutes, women are able to convert a short introverted bob into a dramatic twenty-inch weave.
To many, the art of weaving and braiding hair still remains a mystery that would require experts to unravel. From the source of hair extensions to the method of its installation, weaves and hair braiding can be quite complex in nature.
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Just recently actor and father of two daughters, Chris Rock, attempted to unravel the many mysteries associated with this in vogue styling method. In his documentary, he attempts to dispel common myths that would expel the hysteria often associated with extensions. In light of Rock’s approach, we too, shall attempt to make sense of this popularized practice of art. Having a mother that has been a talented hair braider in the United States for the past twenty one years, this area of expertise has involuntarily become quite second nature to me and the Senegalese women in my family.
In order to comprehend the essence of weaving and braiding, we must first revisit its historical significance. The art of braiding originated in the deep heart of Africa where mothers created a thread–like pattern that laid flat on the scalp of daughters. Braiding required a skill that would tightly knit hair to withstand environmental conditions (such as rain, and humidity) and to sustain day–to–day activity.
In the last few centuries, braiding has become more artistic in nature and less about its practicality. Its unique patterned designs and innovative techniques would work to complement and amplify any woman’s appearance. As we all know, beauty is and still remains a timeless essence. Braiding grew into a method of decoration and adornment-sometimes even translating one’s socioeconomic status as illustrated by popular historic East African icon Cleopatra.
Egyptian queen Cleopatra was infamous for her precise jet-black bob cut that was lavishly adorned in golden jewels. Her legacy is uninterrupted and many contemporary hair manufactures such as prominent weaving company Milky Way have named products in her honor. Have you heard of the Milky Way Cleopatra Master wig? Yes, thank this historic exemplar for this timeless piece. She, amongst many other iconic African women, demonstrated the beauty and versatility of the art of weaves and braids.
Fast–forward to our contemporary culture, weaves, braids and wigs have become more of a mainstream practice—not exclusive to one race. Popular artists such as Britney Spears, Victorian Beckham, and weave specialist Jessica Simpson have not been shy of the practice; appearing every and anywhere proud of their sensational hair extensions.
Weaving, unlike no other beauty method, is able to grant women across ethnic spectrums one wish: “drastic beauty transformation in a prompt fashion”. Who can complain? Industrialists and business entrepreneurs have taken heed to the trend and took action on this multifaceted art of beauty. The hair weaving industry is now a multimillion-dollar business that continues to explore its method of application, its source of hair manufacturing and continually bombards the markets with new brands of hair every season.
From witnessing my mother’s practice over the years, no matter how deep the recession or economic depression, women will always budget for their next hair appointment!
Understanding weaving history, we must also delve into the complexity of styling methods. There is a difference between a weave, braiding, and a wig. In its simplest explanation a weave is a band of extensions that is bounded by a sewn weft, also known as a track. The method of application for weave varies from artist to artist; many sew each individual track on to a braided cornrow hair pattern. The stylist is able to make any style desired with a weave; a short coupe, a bob, the infamous Beyonce tress look, soft beach waves and so much more. Braided hairstyles, though unique in fashion, aren’t as versatile. Braiding requires a tight-knit structure that threads the hair in an overlapping pattern.
Some people style their hair in cornrows–a braiding method that originated in West Africa. The stylist would use strands of hair and uniformly configure unique designs close to the scalp. Other clients get extended braids from the scalp like the infamous Janet Jackson in popular film “Poetic Justice”; these are called Box Braids. The weave supply for braiding extensions would come in a bulk fashion without a binding weft. Lastly, the wig is simplest in nature. A wig is a pre-made hairpiece that would cover the entire head. It is usually cut into a particular coupe ranging in its texture, material, length and color.
The wig is the quickest way to transform beauty. A recent innovation introduced the risky lacefront to the industry. This wig would require an adhesion procedure that would safely glue the hairpiece at the base of one’s hairline. Its application compared to the tradition wig is quite risky and for natural results would require professional application. To date, it seems like Beyonce is the only female icon that has mastered the craft of the lacefront. But with its speedy application a new beauty is allowed to surface in a swift, Voila madame!
Without a doubt the methods of braiding and weaving will continue to evolve into greater innovations, just as every aspect of fashion and beauty. Women across the world will continue to indulge in the luxuries of weaves, and braiding. With so many “how-to” Youtube videos, blog sites, and beauty websites devoted to the craft of this beauty technique, why not explore?
When you are feeling sassy or in need of a drastic change, run out to your local beauty shop and let them guide you through weave galore! Whether a wig, braids, or a Tyra Banks–inspired weave we must all remember that no matter what aesthetics we choose to indulge in, we remain beautiful African Queens; just with fabulous beauty options!