Cornrows: History, Controversy & Freedom Of Expression


Cornrows are a style of hair grooming that consists of tight braids that are very close to the scalp. These type of braids can be used to form patterns. Cornrows are sometimes used just to form straight lines, but also can be used to form more complex designs consisting of geometric figures or curves.

Sometimes, the braids are also combined with beads, or shells for decoration. In addition, the hairstyle is worn worldwide by both men and women, although in some regions of the world it is much more common one gender or the other.

Braiding Cornrows

The process for braiding cornrows is simple:

  • Dampen the hair lightly with an oil spray before braiding. Braid the hair damp, which tightens as it dries.
  • Cornrows are created by first parting hair to isolate a row of the width desired for one row.
  • Once this portion of hair is isolated, braiding begins.
  • Cornrows can be braided in either direction along the scalp.
  • After choosing a direction for the braids to travel, the hair at the starting end is separated into three strands.
  • The three strands are braided continuously until the end of the row is reached, after which they must be secured so the braids do not come undone.

Beaded Cornrows

Generally each braid is terminated with either beads, knots, or elastics. With care, a set of braids can remain in place for multiple weeks, though they must be washed and maintained carefully. Wrap hair in a silk scarf at night to avoid frizz.

Traditional Significance

Cornrows are a cultural tradition in a number of different parts of the world, particularly in parts of Africa.

The hairstyle has a long history.

Cornrows are widespread in Africa as well as ancient. There are clay sculptures that feature cornrows from the ancient Nok civilization, which is located in Nigeria. The sculptures may be as old as 500 B.C. Hieroglyphs and sculptures date back thousands of years and they beautifully illustrate how Africans have given great attention to their hairstyles. As a matter of fact, braids were designed into the back of the head of the sphinx.

Stone Age artwork from as long ago as 3000 BCE has been found in the Sahara showing women wearing cornrows. In the present, cornrows remain popular among women in Africa; they are still worn as they were traditionally in northern and western Africa. Due to globalization, the hairstyle has spread and is now seen worn all over the world.

Controversy and Freedom of Expression

In some countries, attempts to ban cornrows from educational institutions and workplaces have been met with controversy, as these bans have been seen as an infringement upon students’ and workers’ ability to express their culture.

Cornrow Controversy

Some of these controversies have resulted in litigation. In most of these cases, the wearers’ right to retain their hairstyle has been upheld. Controversy aside, below are some beautiful cornrow braids you can rock year round.

Cornrow Hairstyles

Cornrows 2017

cornrow braids

cornrow braids for 2017

Works Cited

History of Cornrow Braiding.” Culturally Situated Design Tools. The National Science Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 May 2016.

Page, Willie F. Encyclopedia of African History and Culture. New York: Facts on File, 2001. Print.

Renteln, Alison Dundes. The Cultural Defense. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2004. Print.

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