How To Do Cornrows

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Am I too grown up to wear cornrows?

Cornrows have a special place in every black girl’s heart. Some of our mothers or grandmothers would call us on a Sunday afternoon to ‘bring the comb and the Dax (or blue magic)’ all the way from the living room and we immediately knew what time it was.

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Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

The rest of us would be taken to the local salon on a Saturday afternoon, where the braiding lady knew us by name (and would have us sit on a chair propped up with cushions) to then begin the prepping parting process on our tender heads, making swirls, curves or whatever simple or complex style that our mother’s or family members requested.

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Photo by Dc Lovensky on Unsplash

The former was always better than the latter because we knew that we’d be compensated with a treat from McDonalds or KFC during this visit, because we were (begrudgingly) there for most of the day.

Cornrows are for kids 

Are cornrows really just for kids? #Cornrows #Hairstyle #Blackhair #Naturalhair Click To Tweet

As a young child, I grew up knowing the ins and outs of my grandmother’s hair salon in the Caribbean. The scents of fruity shampoos, hot combs and the humming of dryers were an orchestra of familiar sounds that float up to the top of stairs and tickle my ears. I also learned that straight hair was for adults and plaits, cornrows and braids were for children –  with the exception of drop curls being a special hairstyle only done for a special occasion like a birthday or a wedding. 

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Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

When I got to high school age, cornrows became somewhat of a practicality and a lifeline, rather than a style though. Whilst everyone else was gelling down their perfectly swirled baby hairs (with a toothbrush of course), accompanied by a sweeping fringe and bun combo, my hair couldn’t do that and I was DIYing 6-8 ‘Set It Off’ Queen Latifah cornrows because it was a) easy to do and b) it meant that I didn’t have to touch my hair for at least another week.

Photo by Isi Akahome on Unsplash

Ok, so can I wear cornrows too? 

Who is responsible for bringing cornrows back #Alicia or #Beyonce ? // Is there an age when a woman should stop wearing cornrows? Click To Tweet

Even though cornrows have been a staple in the African community for centuries (one of the earliest African sculptures donning a cornrow style dating back to 500 bc), it took people like Alicia Keys, Beyonce’, hip hop rapper Lola Munroe and actress Regina King (along with a growing number of celebrities), to showcase to the world time and time again that cornrows are beautiful on all women of colour no matter how old they are.

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Photo by Michael Henein on Unsplash

When Alicia Keys came out with her first single ‘Fallin’ in 2001, where she wore cornrows and beads and Beyonce’ rocked her ‘Lemonade’ braids in 2016 in her iconic yellow dress, these women were making a statement. This statement unapologetically communicated to the western world that what was seen as ‘different’, ‘too black’, ‘untidy’ or ‘unprofessional’ was instead beautiful, traditional, creative and cultural, for us as black women. They were holding the door open, for other black women across the world to walk through and confidently wear their hair in whatever style they wanted by not letting stereotypes and opinions stop them- and it showed the rest of us, including me, that cornrows weren’t just for kids too.

Double standards?

True or false: “The 90s and mid noughties seemed to be the acceptable era where a man could wear cornrows and no one would bat an eyelid” #cornrows #naturalhair #menandcornrows #hairstyles #haveyoursay Click To Tweet

I’m not going to lie, there’s a weird double standard when it comes to adult men and women wearing cornrows. Women tend to get away with it, whilst unfortunately, men don’t.

The 90s and mid noughties seemed to be the acceptable era where a man could wear cornrows and no one would bat an eyelid as groups like Kris Kross and B2K, and rappers like 50 Cent and Ludacris were a big part of that trend.

Cornrows are usually seen as ‘cute’ on boys between the ages of 0 and 17. However society and the general black community responds to a man very differently when he is (still) wearing them post 25 (well unless he’s a footballer or Trey Songz).

For some very strange reason, it’s perceived as unattractive and childish. Rapper Chad Moss aka Bow Wow is the perfect example of this. In his early rapping days when he was a boy, he wore his signature cornrows. It showed his innocence and was a big part of his image; being the youngest rapper of SoSo Def. However, when he matured, his name and his image changed from wearing his signature cornrows to a clean shaven fade. The same goes for Mario and Lil Romeo too. Maybe on a man, cornrows are seen as an indication of immaturity rather than just a plain hairstyle?

Cornrows are here to stay

I think it’s safe to say cornrows are here to stay #Cornrows #Hairstyle #Blackhair #Naturalhair Click To Tweet

As soon as summer waved us goodbye and autumn took it’s reign, I knew that my hair required a protective style which tucked my ends nicely away, for the new season. In previous years my go-to hairstyle for the colder seasons would be my usual single twists or plaits, but this year, I got bored of the norm and wanted to try something different.

Since I BCed four years ago, I quickly learned that my hair and scalp didn’t agree too well to synthetic hair. Being someone who has never worn a weave or a wig (I know, I know), my scalp would react really badly to extensions and I’d end up taking it out within two weeks or doing the black girl pat (for the whole time) to ease the itch. It was like my hair just wanted me to leave it alone, I did exactly that, until I saw the absolutely gorgeous East African (namely Ethiopian) inspired cornrow hairstyles that were popping up on my instagram feed recently.

I was caught between two thoughts, the first being the ‘cornrows are for children and they make my hair itch’, (because in some way I felt like I outgrew them) and the second being ‘but I just want to try something new’. However, after seeing my favourite YouTubers choosing the braid life and the stunning hairstyles that Lola Munroe was rocking on her reality TV show The Platinum Life, I was sold.

Cornrows aren’t just for winter, they’re for life

Cornrows aren’t just for winter, they’re for life #Cornrows #Hairstyle #Blackhair #Naturalhair Click To Tweet

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Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

Apart from being a protective style, cornrows are also widely associated with being ‘holiday hair’ because it requires little effort and allows you to just get up and go. However, since it’s made such a strong come back so far, much like box braids, I reckon it’s here to stay.

Whether you’re looking for a protective, low maintenance cornrow braid style that would suit your corporate or creative work environment (and a hairstyle that you can depend on throughout the seasons), there are so many cornrow hairstyles to choose from online. By googling ‘Cornrow styles’ ‘Cornrow braids’ or even ‘lemonade braids’, within seconds your computer screen will be flooded with pages upon pages of various cornrow styles to choose from .

It’s as easy as 1,2,3 right? How to do Cornrows

I would describe doing cornrows like jumping into a double dutch rope: it may seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy #Cornrows #Hairstyle #Blackhair #Naturalhair #123 #easy #tutorial #howto #DIY Click To Tweet

I would describe doing cornrows like jumping into a double dutch rope: it may seem complicated at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy. I learned to cornrow at age 10 by my friend Natalie (who always wore really neat and pretty cornrows), because I wanted to be able to cornrow my own hair one day, plus it was a skill (which I learned later on) that every black girl should learn and master for her future kids (lol).

If you’re someone like me who knows how to braid your own hair or do cornrow braids, but you’re not quite skilled enough to pull off some of the styles you see online, you can always do what I did and screenshot an image of the style and take it to a recommended hairstylist who specialises in installing cornrows or cornrow braids.

If you’re a novice, but you’d like to learn how to do basic cornrows (without the extensions). Here are a few simple steps to get you started:

  1. Part the section you wish to cornrow with a rat tailed comb.
  2. At the top of the sectioned hair, depending on the size of the cornrow, divide  approx 1. cm width of hair (from the top) into three equal parts.
  3. Holding the first part in your fourth and fifth finger (with your left hand).
  4. The middle part with your thumb and index finger and the third part, with your thumb and index finger of your right hand.

Watch Whitney aka Naptural85 show you how to start braiding in her video: How To Cornrow Braid For Beginners | Clear Easy Steps

Don’t matter if it’s long or short

If you’re working with long hair, medium hair or short hair, braids can work for you. #Cornrows #Hairstyle #Blackhair #Naturalhair #Longhairdontcare Click To Tweet

Like Willow Smith rightly said in her debut single Whip My Hair (whilst wearing her hair in cornrow braids):

“Don’t matter if it’s long, short, do it, do it whip your hair!”. If you’re working with long hair, medium hair or short hair, braids can work for you.

If you’re looking to extend your hair, just add extensions to your cornrows (skilled hairstylists will be able to add them in so neatly that people will be asking you, “Is that all you?”). If you’re wanting to give your tresses a break and leave out the extensions, you can do that too – you can spice them up by adding some beads or gold clips, it’s as simple as that.

However intricate or complicated you want your style to be, it’s a Burger King situation, you can have it your way.

Tell us how you feel about cornrows in the comment section below.


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