The term “cornrows” refers to a specific style of hair braiding in African American traditions.
In mainstream western pop culture, we tend to call many different hairstyles cornrows, when in fact they may be braids, locs, ghana braids… the list goes on.
The Cornrows hairstyle, also called skin-braids or braids, is a traditional African hairstyle in which the locks of hair are intertwined with each other and braided close to the scalp to form various lines.
Cornrows may be worn by women or men. When talking about cornrows as a hairstyle, the term describes a particular type of braid. Cornrows are tight to the scalp braids that lay neatly across the head, but are slightly raised.
Some styles are thicker and raised higher than others, depending on the intended effect. You may see someone with a few thick cornrows, many tiny cornrows, and everything in between.
When braiding a cornrow, also called canerows in the Carribean, the braider will use an underhand motion and guide the braid along the scalp in a pattern.
Some cornrows create a geometric pattern, and others may lay in neat rows, cascading down the scalp.
Because not every stylist is able to work effectively with African American Hair, those that are may enter Black hair competitions, where styles like cornrows are celebrated.
In these competitions, you will see some truly outrageous takes on traditional styles, a joyful celebration of the history of Black hair.
Cornrows hairstyle, dated as far back as 3000 BC, originated in Sub-Saharan Africa and over the years became one of the most popular hairstyles worn by African Americans.
A great and widespread revival of the cornrows hairstyle marked the '60s and '70s among the Afro-American culture and the NBA basketball player Allen Iverson is credited with repopularizing the cornrows during the '90s.
If a white person or someone belonging to a race other than African American chooses to get cornrows, nobody can stop them. But it is very important to understand that cornrows are not just for fun and fashion.
For starters, cornrows are a low maintenance way for people with thick, afro-textured hair to keep their look neat and tidy without having to wrestle with a brush every morning. The majority of white people do not have this problem.
While cornrows fall in and out of favor with mainstream pop culture, a Black person wearing cornrows is always making a political statement.
This is because they are refusing to assimilate by using dangerous chemicals to straighten their hair and make it more Caucasian looking, and because there are still a lot of African American people who are discriminated against for being visibly Black.
In some workplaces, styles like braids and afros are written up as inappropriate according to the dress code.
Conversely in celebrity culture, when a White person gets cornrows, they are applauded for their edgy and fashionable style choice.
In some cases, the person with cornrows is completely oblivious to where the style came from- take, for example, when Kim Kardashian wore her hair in braids and said she was channeling Bo Derek.
Bo is a White, blonde woman who wore braids in the 1970s for a movie role.
Cornrows had been around for centuries before Ms. Derek wore them, yet she is credited with the style.
As far as historians can tell, cornrows originated in African tribes. Ancient stone paintings that depict people with cornrows date back thousands of years.
In African tribes, both ancient and modern, your choice of hairstyle can say a lot about you. Seeing your hairstyle, someone who lives in the same area as you would be able to tell what tribe you belong to, and even your age and marital status.
The hair can be a means of communication.
Even in slave trading, it is theorized that African people used their cornrows to map escape routes. Because they were often forbidden from reading, writing, or sometimes even speaking their native language, slaves had to find more cunning ways to communicate their plans.
They were expected to keep their hair neat and tidy, so cornrows became a natural solution.
Historians have speculated that the intricate patterns woven into cornrows could have allowed slaves to share escape routes, while remaining completely undetected from abusive landowners.
You may have heard the term “protective style” before, especially if you have afro-texture hair. All hair requires special care to look its best, but the thicker and more textured your hair is, the more it requires some hair love.
Styles like cornrows, braids, and twists are said to be great for hair health because they lock in moisture and protect your hair from the elements.
Because these styles are lower maintenance than trying to tame frizz every day, you are putting less stress on your hair by keeping them in one of these styles.
This can help preserve length if you’ve worked hard to grow out your crowning glory.
There are those hair care experts who reject the claim that cornrows are protective, saying they can be harsh on hair follicles and actually cause hair loss from breakage.
To prevent this issue, go to someone who has experience with braiding, so they can keep your style tight without putting too much stress on your scalp.
Talk to your stylist about keeping your cornrows moisturized with proper products for your hair type.
Think you’re a candidate for some cornrows?
Check out the style gallery we’ve created below for some inspiration.
Let us know what is your favourite cornrow hairstyle!