What Are Dreadlocks?

I’m constantly amazed at the lack of knowledge surrounding dreadlocks, as well as the assumptions that are often attached to them. Given the fact that I’ve had my lovely locs for 18 years now (wow, I feel old), often I have to remind myself that not everyone is as familiar with the hairstyle as I am.

That’s why I wanted to tackle exactly what dreadlocks are today.

Dreadlocks, sometimes referred to as dreads, dreadlocks, or locs, are basically matted ropes of hair that can be formed in various ways. They can be formed by neglect, yes, but also on purpose through various methods that allow you to control their shape. There are several methods that can be used to achieve this.

Dreadlock Misconceptions

There are plenty of misconceptions out there about this beautiful hairstyle. One of the most common questions I get is, “How do you wash them?” or, even better, “Can you wash them?” (I usually have to take a deep breath before I answer and try not to roll my eyes). There is the common rumor that having dreads means no longer being obligated to wash your hair, and that this dirty hair is what causes dreadlocks. While it is true that neglect is one way to form dreadlocks, and it may also be true that neglecting dirty hair can also cause dreads to form,  it’s a well known fact among the dreadlock community that clean hair coupled with a proper locking technique causes dreads to form faster

Another misconception I encounter is a certain set of beliefs attached to dreads. Sure dreads were popularized by the Rastafarian movement, but today people choose this hairstyle for all types of reasons. If you see someone with dreads, don’t assume we’re Rastafarian (and if you are, that’s totally cool. I’m just saying not everyone is). For me, dreads were primarily an economic decision in college because I could not afford to go to the hairdresser on a regular basis to keep getting the pricey, chemical-laden perm I’d grown up with. So I chose to start dreads myself in order to save money and empower myself to take control of my hairstyle.

By the way, one of the main things I love about dreads is that they can be worn by anybody, no matter your race, location, budget, type of hair, or religion. I don’t care what color you are, dreads are great for everyone. And for the record, no, I don’t view dreads are cultural appropriation, daggnabit. So for those readers who occasionally write me asking if they’re allowed to have dreads even though they’re white, I want you to understand they’re for EVERYONE. Yes, I’m a Black woman that feels that way.

***end rant***

Not Even Google Got It Right

For kicks, I Googled the phrase “what are dreadlocks?” just to see what would come up. Check out this screenshot of the definition that popped up before the normal search results. As of January 2020, it sits smack dab at the top of the page.

Google's Definition

This madness has to stop.

I’ve got several bones to pick with that definition. I guess it’s a good thing they mentioned dreads can be washed, but the rest is just plain inaccurate. Braids? Really? Braids are an entirely different animal. And ringlets? What the heck is that?

***pauses, takes a deep breath***

The fact that it’s 2020 and this inaccurate definition is still floating around just plain amazes me, but it also explains the fact why people also call my dreadlocks “braids” on a weekly basis. I kid you not.

Depending on the method you decide to go with, creating dreads can take a couple days using the most efficient method, or it can take a couple years using other methods. It really varies. It can involve the use of a crochet hook, or it can involve the use of a comb (or several combs when you start snapping them like tooth picks) if you choose to use the popular technique called “back combing.” Furthermore, a mature dreadlock is much more complex than a “tight braid” or “twisted ringlet,” and many of the techniques used to form dreads are not necessarily done while the hair is wet. This definition gives no indication of the essential matting that needs to take place or their rope-like nature.

A Dreadlock Is Not a Braid

Dreadlocks are more awesome than braids, my friend. I’ve had Black people come up to me and ask me how long it took to “put my braids in” and if it’s “all mine.” Really? Because I’m Black, I assume all lovely Black people know the difference between braids and dreadlocks. No weave necessary.  After I pick my jaw up from the floor, I politely inform them that my hair is not braided, but dreadlocked, and that it is indeed all mine. Braids can be used as a stepping stone to getting your hair to dreadlock (albeit inefficient), but a braid is not a dreadlock.

Dreadlocks Are Simply Awesome

After having a perm for years, I went through the struggle of starting neat, clean dreadlocks myself. While the process was more drawn out in my case than it should have been (years) because I refused to pay anyone to help me, I’m completely satisfied with my hair now. In fact, I love it. It is one of the healthiest, more versatile options out there for anybody, not just Black people.

Yay for dreads!

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