Open main menu
African-American shotputter wearing box braids
Box braids in Ethiopia

Box braids are a type of hair-braiding style that is predominately popular throughout African, African-American, and African Diaspora culture. This type of hair style is best described as “boxy” or squared-shaped hair divisions that can be created by adding synthetic hair for thickness as well as length. Box braids can be as thick or as thin as an individual's wants. Because they are not attached to the scalp ike cornrows are, box braids can me styled as one wishes. The installation process of box-braids can be lengthy, but the end result of them are beautiful. Box braids can last for months and can create a unique, yet elegant hairstyle that is easy to maintain. Box braids can also be worn in any way. They can be worn all the way up, down, half-up, in a bun, or whatever way a person desires.[1][2]



Hair-braiding styles were used to help differentiate tribes, locations, and also possibly a symbol of wealth and power because of the amount of effort that went into styling braids[3]. Box braids were not given this specific name until the 1990’s because of Janet Jackson, but is something that was used for centuries. This style of braiding comes from the Eembuvi braids of Namibia or the chin-length bob braids of the women of the Nile Valley from over 3,000 years ago[3]. The elders in the tribes would teach the young children how to braid each others hair, and this became a social activity for the tribes[4]. In Africa, braid styles and patterns are a way of distinguishing the different tribes, marital status, age, wealth, religion and social ranking. In some parts of Africa, the braids were a form of communication. In some Caribbean islands, braids were used as a way to escape slavery by forming intricate braid patterns that signified a map. To achieve the braids, the tribes would typically use thick layers of finely chopped tree bark and oils to base and uphold the hairstyle. Human hair was at one point wefted into fiber skull caps made of durable materials like wool and felt for reuse in traditional clothing as well as various rituals[3]. Cowrie shells, jewels, beads and other meaningful items adorned box braids of earlier women eluding to their readiness to mate, emulation of wealth, high priesthood and various other classifications[3].

Cultural Association and ValueEdit

Hair was a very important and symbolic part of African and ancient communities. Ancient communities believed that hair could help with divine communication as it was the elevated part of one’s body. It’s also why hair was entrusted to close relatives for styling as it was believed that if a strand fell into the hands of an enemy, harm could come to the hair’s owner[5]. Members of royalty would often wear elaborate hairstyles as a symbol of their stature, and someone in mourning, usually women, would pay little attention to their hair during the period of grieving. Hair was seen as a symbol of fertility as thick, long tresses and neat, clean hair symbolised one’s ability to bear healthy children[5]. Elaborate patterns were done for special occasions like weddings, social ceremonies or war preparations. People belonging to a tribe can easily be identified by another tribe member with the help of a braid pattern or style[6].

How To Achieve and Maintain Box BraidsEdit

When box braids are done by a professional, it can cost over $100 with extensions[7]. Because of this price, many will learn to do this style at home for much less. It can be difficult to do box braids by yourself because it takes a great deal of patience and creativity, which is why many will pay to get their braids done. Below is a very simplified why on how you can achieve braids at home[4]. There are many YouTube videos and hair stylist that can do this and show you how to add different elements to the style.

To begin, the supplies you need to do this are mirror, edge control, tooth comb, clips, scissors, and tub of hot water. These are some basic tools that would help aid in the process, but every one has slight variations on how the do box braids. The first step would be to clean and moisturize your hair, trim off the split ends, and dip the ends of your hair in oil to help prevent split ends. Next, you would part your hair into four sections. This step makes the process of braiding easier to brush and braid hair. Once the hair is in four sections, brush each section, one at a time. Once the hair is brushed and parted, you would then begin to section off small squares and braid that piece of hair. At this point you can add hair to make the braids bigger, to add color, or add your specific style element.

To Maintain this hair style[4]:


-cover braids with silk or satin scarf before bed

-Wash hair once or twice a week

-Use conditioner


-Keep braids longer than two months; recommended 6-8 weeks

-Braid baby hairs

-If it hurts its causing stress to your hairline so loosen the braids

Cultural Appropriation versus Appreciation with Box Braids[8]

  • Appropriation
    • Non-black individuals have worn these styles for years and face controversy for this style, but when a white individual wears these styles it is seen as trendy
    • Other cultures are respected and acknowledged for their traditions, but others aren't it speaks to a deeper issue that needs to be spoken about
    • Must begin with those considered the dominant culture to take accountability be aware of your actions and not ignore the voice of black community
    • Issue when the exchange is unfair and one’s history and customs are ignored
    • At one point were known as “Bo Braids” after appearing in Bo Derek’s 10-minute role in the movie 10 (1979), a style many salons would capitalize on and rename after the white actress
    • Not so much about race but about intention, acknowledgement, and language used to discuss the style
    • Avoid appropriation is to take the time to educate yourself on the styles of other cultures; culture is not a trend
    • Example: give credit to original names of the styles
    • By product of cultural diffusion where ideas are exchanged between cultures

  • Appreciation
    • Not so much about race but about intention, acknowledgement, and language used to discuss the style
    • Avoid appropriation is to take the time to educate yourself on the styles of other cultures; culture is not a trend
    • Example: give credit to original names of the styles
    • By product of cultural diffusion where ideas are exchanged between cultures   

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Cosmetologist, Terryn Kelly Licensed. "What Are Box Braids?". LoveToKnow. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  2. ^ "20 Badass Box Braids Hairstyles That You Can Wear Year-Round". HuffPost. 2015-08-31. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  3. ^ a b c d "6 POPULAR BRAIDING STYLES & THEIR TRUE ORIGIN". ONCHEK. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  4. ^ a b c Nxumalo, Lethabo (2018-01-14). "Your all-you-need-guide on How to do Box Braids". Black Hair Spot. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  5. ^ a b Matshego, Lebo (2017-05-30). "A History Of African Women's Hairstyles". Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  6. ^ Venkitesh, Deepa (2011-07-09). "African Tribes and the Cultural Significance of Braiding Hair". Bright Hub Education. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  7. ^ Nast, Condé. "Why Doing My Own Braids Is the BEST Form of Self Care". Teen Vogue. Retrieved 2019-05-14.
  8. ^ "7 Reasons Why White People Should Not Wear Black Hairstyles". Everyday Feminism. 2015-07-28. Retrieved 2019-05-14.