It’s one thing for a hairstyle to be one of the most popular choices for African diaspora, African-American and African women. It’s another thing for famous movie, music and on-air personalities like Janet Jackson, Sanaa Lathan, Eve and Alicia Keys to have championed the use of an iconic style over the course of the past few decades.
Box Braids are a perfect blend of culture and style that make it an irresistible option for those exposed to it. Easily recognized by their segmented squared-off parts, with ‘boxy’ the word mostly used for describing it nowadays. Most times, synthetic hair extensions are essential to pulling off the hair style you might prefer and to make the hair seem fuller, thicker and longer – so many attempts result in attention-drawing waist-length hairstyles. Box braids are also not attached to the scalp like other styles of its nature. This makes it easier to form different designs and is one of the many advantages of box braids – the different approaches you can take in styling your hair.
As if it wasn’t enough, box braids are ridiculously easy to maintain, can be used as a form of protective styling, and though they might take a while to get completely installed, the hairstyle is always something to behold and can last for months on end. In short, black women have used box braids to stay true to tradition while ensuring they have no crazy-hair days and looking as stylish as possible while they are at it.
History of Box Braids
Box braids have their roots traceable to the African culture. In fact, centuries before the term ‘box braiding’ got popularized after the hairstyle was patronized by Janet Jackson in the 90s, box braids have used by African women.
Hair, from the African cultural perspective is a lot more than a covering. It symbolizes wealth and fertility and a woman with thick hair is believed to show the promise of riches, farms and healthy babies. On the other hand, having less hair is associated with gloomy topics like death, untidiness and filth. This particular belief is shared by the Hindu witnesses and is only loose during occasions of mourning.
The African tradition place an equivalence between proper grooming and the character, health and status of a person. To seem properly groomed, braiding your hair is the best favor you can do yourself as the customs demand. In fact, well-styled braids are used in charming significant others during social gatherings. This is not only because of the stylishness of the braids, but also because the compactness of braids helps the person with the braid to keep the hair away from fire during dances. This allows the person the freedom to display and gather attention.
Across the various tribes of Africa, braiding hair is a philanthropic social service done before important events like marriages, important rites and even war preparations. The oldest member of the family is the one charged always with braiding hair while the younger members are to watch, learn and later practice whenever they get an opportunity.
Box braids could have hailed from the Eembuvi braids of Namibia or the chin-level length bob braids exploited by the women of the Nile valley from 3000 years ago. This fact exposes how braids were once used to differentiate the different tribes of the African continent, among other things. It was also a spectacular form of communication. For example, an interesting story staged in the Caribbean islands tell the tale of how slaves made their escape by using elaborate designs on their braids to map their ways out of bondage.
In the past, braiders had to make do with argan oil, palm oil or shea butter to guard the hair from extreme heat, and it could take many days to braid hair. They would also use extremely durable materials like wool, felt and human hair to create a cap made of fiber that is attached to the prepared hair, like the wigs we have today. In addition, many tribes would use finely-extracted tree barks to ensure that the hair style was held upright. For the finishing touch, cowries, beads and other adornments were used to complement the braids.
Due to slave trade, the braiding culture had dwindled somewhat. At least until modern immigrants picked up the almost lost art of braiding. Nowadays, online booking centers for braiding appointments have been set-up by African immigrants from Mali, Cameroon, Benin and Togo utilizing the latest hair products and synthetic hairs for getting the best styles on braids.
Evolution of Contemporary Box Braids
Of course, it didn’t happen overnight that box braids became so trendy. It is a culmination of moments that the braiding culture has been exposed to the limelight. Women of great influence in the 60s and 70s, like Cicely Tyson, made the braid a memory in the hearts of people through styles like the beehive cornrow. Later in the 70s, Patrice Rushen also introduced the beaded braids, which is still one of the most iconic hairstyles there is. In the next decade, Donna Summer, the famous songstress used braids and her twist of adding adornments to show that more could be done with braids.
These all set up the stage for 1993, when Janet Jackson introduced the ‘Poetic Justice Braids’ during the 35th Grammy Awards. Her iconic box braids attracted all the attention and the more people found out about the style, the larger the fan base of the hair design. Janet Jackson then spent the next few years in improving the appeal of box braids, by experimenting with the freedom of style that box braids allow. For the next few years, black women all over the world would try to fascinate with their own personal designs for box braids.
Brandy was passed the touch, and she shed even more light on the hairdo, experimenting even more with different thicknesses, lengths, styles and even colors. Unfortunately, the style lost some of its verve for a period, at least until 2001, when Alicia Keys reconnected pop culture and the black culture with her R&B platform. Later, Beyoncé and Solange would try it out too and that gave way to the more modern flagbearers of the braided hairstyle like Zendaya, Janelle Monae, Zoe Kravitz, Tia Mowry, Gabrielle Union or Yara Shahidi.
It is unknown what the earliest name of the hairstyle is, given the length of time it has been around, it is understandable. However, the box braids are now known by nothing less than seven different names. From calling it the ‘Casamas’ braids to calling it the Poetic Justice braids or even ‘dookie’ braid. The same way, there are so many different approaches to doing the box braids: fishtails, top-knots, blade-edges or all-back, the list is endless since the do depends on your creativity.
Box Braids and Protective Styling
Box braids have the best results on Afro-textured hair. The hair of African-American women are thick, dense can have a special ability to be manipulated to any style. This has the drawback of requiring a great deal of tenderness and care in maintaining these qualities. Certainly, the natural curls of afro-textured hair are a blessing with a responsibility attached.
Enter protective hairstyles. Stylish hairstyles like wigs, braids and twists, with the additional benefit of keeping cover of the hair from the elements on many levels with the complexity and volume of their designs. In addition to the stylishness and the protection gained from the elements, protective styles prevent the hair from succumbing to loss of moisture by maintaining the moisture lost. Also, the extra covering is taken advantage of by most stylist to ensure the length is retained.
With box braids, you get the confidence from your hair being protected, have a stylish look and get some super-awesome length as an added bonus. For all its undeniable charm, some people use box braids as a stop-gap until their natural hair gets more length. The protection it offers, coupled with the light weight it places on the hair and the different styles you can use to express yourself makes it a no brainer for those trying to choose hairstyles for their growing natural hair in transition.
What to Do Before Braiding Your Hair
To get the best out of your box braid installation, there is an order of steps. The first step of which, predictably, is picking a style. The freedom of choice when using box braids can prove very confusing, especially when you consider that the Poetic Justice braid is a long-lasting hairstyle by nature. You have to be comfortable with the design you choose. Of course, if you have nothing in mind, you can just ask the stylist to choose for you or give you a list of options that fit your head shape.
- a) Pre-treatment
A few days before getting the box braids installed, you can prepare your curls and scalp for the project by giving your hair a thorough wash. Spare no efforts in washing the hair. You can use wash with your clarifying shampoo as deeply as possible and supplement the efforts with the use of protein treatment, deep conditioner, or hot oil treatment. You can also use your heated cap for 15mins to an hour to enable your hair absorb more moisture. When you style, make sure you use more leave-in products or water based sprays to help the styling to prevent oily product build-up.
- b) Apple Cider Vinegar Rinses
One of the considerations is to cater for any irritations that might occur if you have a sensitive skin. The chemicals used to preserve the hair extensions during in-transit and storage periods might not go down well with your body system’s make-up. This might result in itchy skin or other symptoms of irritation on your scalp.
You can sterilize the hair by cleansing the hair you bought from the store in apple cider vinegar rinses, just like you would do to your own hair and dry before installing the braids. this should negate the effects of the preservatives.
- c) Post-install
After installing your braids, make sure to keep your hair moisturized. Ideally moisturizing once every 2-3 days. When taking out your braids, make sure you spray your hair with a 50/50 mix of apple cider vinegar and water. This will help to loosen any dirt and product buildup in your braids. Don't leave your braids in too long that it's severely tangled and matted. Don't forget to love on your hair by deeply moisturizing and trimming (if necessary) after taking down the braids.
Dab some witch hazel on your edges after install, and don't forget to wash and moisturize your entire hair.
Next, considerations concerning the color, thickness and length of the box braids have to be made. If you haven’t guessed it yet, this is war! If the procedures and order isn’t followed properly, not only do you stand the chance of losing the protection of your hair, you could expose your hair to hair damage. You can consider any of the following sizes for use:
Jumbo (Chunky) Box Braids
Hard to miss in a party and fashionable. This bold braiding style is extremely popular, especially with the modifications made using rubber bands and other markers. Unfortunately, the consensus is that it is heavy on the head after installment, a feeling that never really goes away and might even get worse as time goes on. Also, it’s incredibly harder to keep clean compared to the other box braid sizes.
When installing this box braid size, pay extra attention to how tight the braids are woven and the chunkiness of the sections used.
Micro Braids (Thin) Box Braids
These are neater and easier to maintain than jumbo braids, as less is used to hold the braids. This unfortunately adds more tension on the hair follicles thus presenting more danger to the natural hair. By monitoring the size of hair attached to the braids and ensuring that the tightness is minimal you can soften the blow thin braids have on your hair overall. This style is cleaner because it leaves small spaces in between the hair boxes that provide access to the scalp for the occasional wash and cleanse.
Pencil-sized (Average) Box Braids
This is simply the size right in between the thin braids and the jumbo box braids. it is not too big to be considered heavy, but isn’t too small to cause stress on the hair follicles used as support. Playing it safe might not have the best appeal, but it is usually recommended for those who are trying braids out for the first time.
The braids also have their lengths classified into three:
These braids shine in the darkness, figuratively of course. They attract all the attention you want. However, most people start to regret it when it gets in their way too much, even during sleep. Of course, doing a longer hairstyle means you can try your hands, or hair, at a few secondary styles like the topknot among others.
This classic do, mostly preferred – ironically – by people with long hair and a passion for long hair. It is simply a bob-themed braid that is flexible enough to be used in different scenarios perfectly, whether at the office or the new year’s, you’re always chic.
Just as the name says.
For the colors bit, you can use any color you want to. It all depends on your mood. Just know that most employers don’t appreciate pink hairstyles for interviews. Just saying.
After this, is the material to use. This should depend frankly on your budget to style ratio. Synthetic hair extensions are cheaper but lack the glamour that human hair extensions can bring to your crown as they bring a more natural look to your braid.
Box Braid Hairstyles
When installing box braids, the most important thing to be cautious of is to ensure that the braids are not on too tight. Doing so will not only make maintenance a big deal, it is also likely to cause damage to your hair. You can opt to wear them loose, tie them into a top-knot, bun or a ponytail. There are even some variations that join different elements together like some styles that use long braids with up do buns. Some other people prefer to have shaved sides and others prefer to add accessories.
Box Braids for Kids
Using protective hairstyles make the most sense for kids. Tending to their natural curls as it grows is one of the proud duties of her parents. Box braids offer just the cutest style to pretty her up while giving you peace of mind regarding the state of her hair. If done right, they are comfortable for the children and retain the moisture of the hair, to prevent the hair from drying up. Also, the best way to start when it comes to the size of the braids to be used on kids are the pencil-shaped braids. as mentioned earlier, they are not as weighty as jumbo-sized braids and don’t place too much stress on the individual hair follicle and the scalp like thin braids do.
The box braid styles you can confer on your baby girl or boy is too numerous for you to try out. Remember you must always leave the hair to settle on the scalp before thinking about uninstalling the hair. Hence, so far you keep the hair of the kids properly moisturized and closely monitor the cleansing ritual of the hair, you can keep the hair for as long as 3 months since they are so easy to style and flexible. You can also rely on different hair accessories to make sure your child looks as adorable as she or he is. Feel free to experiment the different styles that accentuates her beauty and don’t forget to take as many pictures as you can to keep these memories alive.
Here are a few braids style suggestions
Small box braids
The boxy patterns providing the roots to a bob of braids that is adorned by colorful beads to add the verve and playfulness that typifies the theme of kids’ hairstyle. Keep it fun!
This one takes the cake when you want to showcase a super delightful hairstyle on your angel while keeping it practical with the ease with which it is always ready to be washed and maintained. It is common to add a bun to the top of the ponytail to give it a direct feel.
Mohawks, twisted and untwisted
This style is equally practical as it keeps the child away from the fuss of hair after you pull the hair towards the back. This charming style can be used when you’re sure your angel can really play. You can make it look even better by shaping some designs on it like adding a zig-zag pattern on it or making cornrows with the braids.
The advantage of this do is that it can hold the hair naturally without any pins. This is all well and good, but it requires a ton of skill to pull off a style as intricate as this. When it does come off, even a little bit, it is a style to behold.
If maintaining the hair is what you are most worried about, then this should be your first choice. This doesn’t also mean that triangle braids cannot hold its own against other braids when it comes to the beauty of the braids. instead, the convincing power of the style is in the ease with which the braids can be maintained. If you want to get this style done right, get the stylist’s opinion on what is the perfect length and size of the braids based on the density of the natural curls.
Mostly effective on medium length braids than any other, you can decide to splash on an assortment of colors for the hair. Be careful to put only highlights of other colors in the hair. You can finish it further by mixing it up with a half-up and half-down style.
A low-maintenance style too, it is usually chosen for long-term events like summer vacations and family holidays. The amount of oil or many other additional products after installing the braids is very minimal. It works best on coarse hair with extreme thicknesses.
Protecting Your Hair While Wearing Box Braids
With the natural curl power, comes responsibility. Naturally, the price you pay for freedom from redefining and restyling your hair while looking great always, is the effort you put into maintaining it. The great part about maintaining box braids, and mostly all braids, twists, knots and braid outs is that you don’t need too much effort to keep looking fresh. Here are a few important tips you should incorporate into or keep out of your daily routine to keep your hair as new for as long as possible:
1. Yes: Moisturize
One of the most beneficial habits you can pick up while taking care of your hair is to be able to use moisturizers on your hair every other day, at least. This might go against your assumption that since the hair is concealed by the braid – especially, as it is a long-term protective style – there would be no need to moisturize it. However, since your curls will still be liable to be dry after some time, you can counter the dryness by using water-based leave-in conditioners or detangling moisturizers. Preferably, you can get these moisturizers in a spray bottle to help you easily access the roots of your hair and in between the braids.
I suggest you use the LCO or LOC method in applying the moisturizer. It can extend the life of the style for a straight week and they last a lot longer this way.
2. No: Neglecting the Edges
Be sensitive about the edges of the braids, there’s no harm in reaching out to the hair stylist to leave the edges out if you ever feel a burning sensation or any sort of discomfort while installing your braids. it might look great, but when you consider that it is the leading cause of hair thinning and hair loss and damage in women using braids, you can easily grasp the reason for preferring the loose way. A way to curb the effects of troublesome edges is to acquire edge tamers.
3. Yes: Commit to the Braid
It is important to know that braids are usually long term commitments. It is advisable for you to leave the braids in after getting it installed, maybe just about a few days more or less than a month. This will allow your scalp and hair follicles to get used to the tension or pressure from carrying the braids. uninstalling the braids before then will weaken the hair’s stress resistance which will cause the hair loss and damage that goes against the purpose of protective styling. Leave the hair alone for the time being and enjoy the benefits of having long-lasting hair while taking good care of it, this attitude is key for long-term hairdos like twists and braids.
4. No: Sleep Without Protection
While it is heralded as along lasting hair style, you should also take steps to ensure that it doesn’t lose its charm. Using scarfs to protect the edges when you’re about to sleep is a pretty basic move for keeping your hair fresh for as long as possible. Except you want frizzies bursting out of the braids or the style unraveling way before the due date, do the little things.
5. Yes: Enjoy your Box Braids
It is very important that you do not get bored with your box braids. To this effect, feel free to indulge in showing off the hair as possible. Try out different styles possible with your braids and then show off some more. Most people need some time off protective braids to recover mentally from the inevitable monotony, if, they don’t explore the possibilities of box braids as much as they can. Those that do, end up using only protective styles, enjoying the nice break from the hustle of curls for as long as they can.
Box braids will definitely attract attention. Along with it some statements borne out of ignorance. Give those opinions no mind and embrace the positives of the hairstyle. The response to these negative comments and vibes must always be unbridled confidence if not in your style, but in the fact that millions of women across the world are invested in the hairstyle, the exact multiple of whoever makes that silly comment you don’t like. You might just find yourself to be a trendsetter at your place of work after explaining the joys of the hairstyle to them.
6. No: Permit Product Build-Up or Unwashed
While you should keep your moisturizing game as strong as it can be for the duration of the style, make sure to avoid those nasty white or thick films that are usually formed from using conditioners and stylers. They look like dandruff and can bite your style when people think you cannot maintain the hair because of the length of time you have it on for. Instead of using heavy gelatinous supplements on the hair, introduce water-based or liquid leave-ins using sprays to avoid the volume you will resort to while using the gels.
Also, do not make the mistake of allowing the hair go for too long without washing. Out of sight should never mean out of mind when it comes to your hair. You can easily deal with how much moisture encounters the hair by using a spray bottle.
Uninstalling your braids:
When the time comes to remove the braids, be careful to not destroy what you’ve worked hard to protect because of rashness. Uninstalling the braids should be done when the hair is dry. Removing it when it is dry will make it have less definition than it should have with more than a few frizzes popping out the braids. on the other hand, when the hair is adequately dries, the braid makes the hair conform to the texture of the braids after the hair has soaked up the leftover products.
Be sure to cut a few inches below where your natural hair is expected to be when getting the hair extensions loose. It is obviously a better option to loose some parts of your used extension than the natural hair you’ve fought so hard to protect. Also, using oil when detangling the braids will save you so much time and energy. Separate the hair and the braids in turn until the uninstallation is complete, after which you can get rid of hair that has been shed.