The history of dreadlocks
When many folks think of dreadlocks, the drama that unfolded between Zendaya and Giuliana Rancic probably comes to mind. For those who need a quick refresher, Zendaya chose to rock faux locs on the red carpet at the Oscars last year. The Cover Girl adorned her locs with beads and wore a sophisticated Vivienne Westwood gown. Rancic suggested the following day on “Fashion Police” that the then 18-year-old’s hair probably smelled of “patchouli” and “weed.” Rancic later apologized on air for her seemingly racist remarks.
On Sept. 15, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it’s nondiscriminatory to ban locs in the workplace. That same day, Marc Jacobs was accused of cultural appropriation when his mostly white models walked the runway wearing pastel-colored locs during New York Fashion Week. The message was clear: Dreadlocks are not welcome unless the person wearing them is white.
The late Bob Marley introduced the hairstyle into mainstream culture in the ‘70s with Whoopi Goldberg further popularizing the look in the ‘80s. Lauryn Hill and Lenny Kravitz proudly rocked theirs in the ‘90s. Toni Morrison and Alice Walker have worn them for as long as we can remember.
The natural hair movement helped set off a resurgence in locs in recent years with Ava Duvernay, Ledisi, Willow and Jaden Smith, Chloe x Halle, and The Weeknd all making locs part of their signature look.
Over the decades, locs have become associated with all things Jamaica to the point where most people think Jamaicans invented locs, but written evidence suggests otherwise.
Dating as far back as 2500 B.C., The Vedas, Hinduism’s oldest scriptures, depict the Hindu God Shiva wearing locs or “jaTaa” in the Sanskrit language, according to Dr. Bert Ashe’s book, Twisted: My Dreadlocks Chronicles.
Ancient Egyptian pharaohs also wore locs, which appeared on tomb carvings, drawings and other artifacts. Thousands of years later, mummified bodies have been recovered with their locs still intact.
“Dreadlocks can be traced to just about every civilization in history,” says Chimere Faulk, an Atlanta-based natural hair stylist and owner of Dr. Locs. “No matter the race, you will find a connection to having dreadlocks for spiritual reasons.”
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The Old Testament even tells the story of Samson, who lost his strength once his locs were shaved off. In Kenya, Maasai warriors are known to spend hours perfecting their famous red locs.
So, how did locs become synonymous with Jamaica?
Jamaican political leader, journalist and trailblazer Marcus Garvey is often credited as the founder of the Rastafari Movement, an Africa-centered religion and lifestyle, that started in the ‘30s. Garvey preached Black empowerment and advocated for Blacks to return to Africa.
“The Rastafari Movement based its philosophies on Garvey’s teachings, as well as the Abrahamic covenant in the Bible,” says Stephanie Freeman, professor and director of the Arts and Humanities program at North Carolina Central University. “Garvey said, ‘Look to Africa where a Black king shall be crowned, he shall be the Redeemer.’”
“Although Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I did not seem to consider himself a God, many Rastafarians believed he was a biblically sanctioned God and was even the second coming of Jesus Christ,” Freeman continues. “In the Bible, Jesus will return as the Lion of Judah, so Rastafarians wore dreadlocks to symbolize a lion’s mane and the return of a powerful leader.”
Today the preferred name for dreadlocks is locs due to dread’s negative connotation. They can be created several ways; however, the comb twist method is among the most popular. “Starting with the roots, you twist the hair with a comb in a spiraling motion until it forms a coil,” Faulk explains.
On average, the locking process takes three to six months with comb twisting. After about two years, locs become “mature.” This term is used to describe the hair when it’s completely locked with a rope-like appearance.
Different textures, Faulk says, play a role in how long the hair will take to lock with curly and course hair locking quicker than straight hair. Dread perming accelerates the locking process for straight hair by giving it “texture,” but the process can be damaging if not done properly. Salt water also makes the hair lock faster, but it should not be sprayed directly onto the scalp to avoid itching. Wax is acceptable if used sparingly on dry locs, but tightening gel is a better alternative since it’s easier to rinse out.
How you rock your ras (another term for locs) is up to you, but newbies should know there are different types of locs that produce different results.
Created by Dr. JoAnne Cornwell in 1993, sisterlocks resemble micro braids and are typically worn by women. Brotherlocks, on the other hand, are slightly thicker than sisterlocks and usually seen on men.
Much thicker than sisterlocks and brotherlocks, traditional locs feel heavier, but they also require less upkeep. Freeform locs are created by simply washing and not combing one’s hair. Over time, the hair becomes matted, creating an untamed look similar to Bob Marley’s locs.
“Locs can be braided, twisted, curled, pinned up into rolls and buns, cut and colored,” says Simone Hylton, a Florida-based loctician and owner of Natural Trendsetters Salon. The only thing you can’t do? Comb ‘em except during the removal process.
“The number of styling options for locs is only limited by the person wearing them,” Faulk adds.
Best created on clean, unrelaxed hair, locs should be shampooed and conditioned regularly contrary to popular belief. Although locs are low maintenance, they still require proper care and attention. Re-twisting is essential for keeping your locs looking “neat,” but doing so too often can lead to thinning and breakage. Faulk suggests re-twisting locs every six to eight weeks using your fingers or palms.
Wrapping your locs every night in a silk or satin scarf keeps them looking fresh and prevents them from attracting lint and other debris. The easiest way to remove locs is to cut them off. They can be combed out, but the process can span over several hours or days. Not to mention, a significant amount of hair loss may occur.
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“The most important tip is patience because, like every journey, it takes time to reach the destination and locs are no exception,” says Keisha Felix, a natural hair vlogger, who’s been rocking locs for the past six years. “The first few months of my loc journey were the toughest.”
Dreads have always been worn to make a statement. For many, they’re spiritual and they symbolize the letting go of material possessions. For others, they’re political and a way to rebel against conformity and the status quo. Some just like the way they look. And that’s OK, too.
What’s not OK? The way mainstream media perceives dreads when they appear on white versus Black folks. It’s upsetting how Giuliana Rancic equated Zendaya’s locs with smelling like weed and oil, but deemed Kylie Jenner’s locs as “edgy.”
Spoiler alert: Every person with dreads is not a smoker who listens to Reggae music, contrary to popular (and foolish) belief. Similarly, you don’t have to be Rasta to wear locs and not wearing locs certainly doesn’t make someone less Rasta. Locs are not dirty, and they’re not something that should be feared. They’re beautiful, bold and regal. The epitome of freedom. Locs are divine.
They are anything but dreadful.