Where did box braids originate?

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Box braids are currently a trendy protective hairstyle for Black women. If you’ve tried out this hairstyle before and wondered, ‘Where did box braids originate?’ then you’re in the right place because we have all the answers. 

The origin of braids

Braids have been a signature look for Black women for the longest time as an expression of both style and personality. Though braiding styles have changed slightly over the years, the basic techniques have remained the same.

Braids as a hairstyle can be traced back to 3,500 BCE in West African civilization. Initially, braid styles and designs were associated with a person’s age, tribe, religion, and position, among other factors.

Braiding was also a way of forming social bonds. Braids have long been a part of African and African-American culture. There are photographs dating back to 1884 of a Senegalese woman wearing braided hair similar to how it is worn today. 

Box Braids thegrio.com
Box Braids (Photo by Gustavo Spindula on Unsplash)

Where did box braids originate 

Box braids specifically have their origin in South Africa, dating back to 3500 B.C. The box braid hairstyle as we know it today may be dated back to ancient Egypt at least 3,000 years ago. The tight, braided style was allegedly a method for Egyptian ladies to use extensions to hide greying hair while also making their hair look longer.

During that time, hair was sometimes wefted into fiber skull caps composed of materials like human hair, felt, or even wool so that it could be reused as traditional attire for ceremonies. Their box braids were decorated with jewels, beads, cowrie shells, and other valuable objects. 

Braid designs or patterns revealed key aspects of a woman’s identity. The kind of box braids a woman was wearing alluded to their willingness to procreate, as a show of riches, high priesthood, as well as other designations.

In regard to material, time, and installation, box braids were costly. A lady who could afford to sit for hours getting box braids installed was believed to be a rich woman. The process of doing box braids would take anywhere from four to eight hours. 

Braids (Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash)
Braids (Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash)

Box braids in Black culture

In Black culture, braids aren’t generally worn all year round. They are often alternated with other hairstyles, including protective hairstyles, hair twists, wigs and weaves, and more. They are very fashionable during the summer. Braids can be considered part of the natural hair movement as long as they are done using a person’s hair.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the first natural hair movement in the United States grew in popularity with the Black Power Movement. Black women began to shun European aesthetic ideals in favor of embracing their identity and roots. Afros and cornrows were popular hairstyles, and the resurgence of braids also began.

With the premiere of the film Poetic Justice in 1993, box braids gained a lot of appeal and became a go-to style for Black women. Janet Jackson, who plays the lead role in the film, wore her hair in lengthy box braids in advertising photos and promotional images for the film. 

Almost every Black girl in the United States wanted to wear box braids the moment the credits rolled. They realized how flexible this hairstyle was because they could dress them up with a turban, wear them in a high ponytail, or have them under a hat, just like Jackson in the film. It was during this period that the phrase “box braids” became popular as well.

Box Braids thegrio.com
Box Braids (Photo by Awaji-Tono Etex from Pexels)

Brandy Norwood continued the box braid trend by giving a traditional look a modern twist and owning it. She made box braids attractive to Black girls everywhere because she would often try new things and experiment with thickness, length, styles like pigtails, and even color.

The best part about box braids becoming a mainstream hairstyle for Black women is that they could stick to having their natural hair in a fitting style rather than conforming to Eurocentric beauty standards.

In 2012, numerous notable Black female celebrities, including Beyoncé and Solange, were photographed wearing box braids. This had a significant influence on rekindling interest in the style. Since then, box braids have grown in popularity, and it is even considered fashionable to wear box braids. 

Many Black celebs, like Tia MowryGabrielle Union, Zoe Kravitz, have worn this famous ’90s hairstyle ever since its comeback. Even Janet and Brandy refreshed their classic styles and reminded Black women all over America why box braids rock. 

Box braids are by far one of the most versatile braided styles for Black women. Braids are still in fashion right now, and everyone wants to wear them. Now that you know the answer to ‘where did box braids originate,’ you can try out this look yourself. You can get creative with your box braids because you’re not limited to just one look. They are not only attractive, but they also add an edge to your look.

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