DREADLOCKS 101: What, Why, and How?

I think it’s safe to say that the questions I am asked most often usually pertain to my dreadlocks. “What exactly are dreadlocks though? Braids? Twists? Matted hair?”, “Why did you decide to do it?”, and “How did you get them? You just stopped washing your hair?” (*spoiler alert: I DO wash my hair). I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if I am out in public, I am guaranteed to be asked one of these questions. Don’t misread my tone though, this is not a negative thing by any means! In fact, I’ve learned to truly appreciate the conversations I’m able to have with strangers every day- ones that I wouldn’t have otherwise! Essentially, dreadlocks are the ultimate conversation starter, and overall, I’ve learned a lot through having them!

2016

2016

Alright, so WHAT exactly are dreadlocks? A very literal definition is “rope-like strands of hair formed by matting or braiding”. Now, in my experience, when most people hear the term “dreadlocks", they think of Bob Marley (or Rastafarians in general), and most likely also marajuana. Or they assume dreadlocks are associated with hippies, surfers, skaters, and the like. Please, let me dreaducate you (sorry, it was too easy). But we’re going to have to go WAY back.

The earliest depictions of dreadlocks are thousands of years old. In the ancient Vedic scriptures of India, locks are worn by the holy men and women. In ancient Greece, at least 3600 years ago, frescoes were painted to portray various individuals with dreadlocks. Then there are ancient Egyptians, Mediterraneans, Africans, Babylonians- the list goes on and on! My point is, dreadlocks were depicted in just about every culture in history. It doesn’t belong to a certain culture or race, whether it is for religious or aesthetic purposes. For me personally, it’s just a hairstyle.

WHY did I get dreadlocks? What made me decide to do so? This one is pretty simple. The short version of the story is: I liked them and I wanted them, so now I have them. Just like if someone with long hair has the desire to cut it short, they go to the salon and have it cut! I had always thought that dreadlocks were neat and intriguing, but hadn’t seen many people in person that had them.

The slightly longer version is: one day, my cousin came to a family lunch with three dreadlocks underneath her hair. She had beads on them that she had made with clay, and I thought it was the coolest thing ever. I told her I loved them and wanted some too, and she told me her roommate from Colombia did them for her. A week later her Colombian roommate was in my parent’s kitchen giving me three dreadlocks. A few months later, I was in a Whole Foods in Charleston. I saw a lovely woman with long, blonde, wavy hair. Upon closer inspection, I realized that her entire head was in dreadlocks. I approached her (aka my mom approached her, because 14 year old Grace was still a full-blown introvert), told her I was in love with her hair, and asked how she did them. Her dreadlocks looked much different than the others I had seen, even compared to the three underneath my hair. They followed the natural waves of her hair, and the ends of them weren’t dreaded at all. She explained to me that she did them naturally, which I had never heard before, and brings me to the next question!

2017

2017

HOW do you get/make dreadlocks? Well, there are several ways to do so, but I decided to do mine naturally- like the lady in Whole Foods. Some people will section their hair off and backcomb the individual strands, twist them, and sometimes even use wax or a crochet hook to keep them nice and uniform. This is what causes the classic straight, cylindrical locks that you often see. With this method, you will most likely have to get regular maintenance done to keep them looking nice and tidy (the Colombian roommate did my first three this way, and I had to go back a second time to get them tightened).

However, you can also do them naturally. With this method, the dreadlocks look more unique- each one will look a little different than the others. Maintenance isn’t necessary, because the hair is basically dreading itself! To start dreads this way, you first stop brushing your hair. Keep your hair clean, though, as the oil that your scalp naturally produces will act as a conditioner, keeping your hair from dreading. It is recommended to use a natural soap/shampoo (although I suggest everyone use natural soap/shampoo, dreadlocks or not! I’ll get into more detail in another post). After a few days of not brushing, your hair will naturally begin to section itself off. I know it sounds crazy, but think beachy waves- they’re kind of in chunks/strands. As these sections take form, you need to help them stay sectioned by going through and pulling them apart from each other every now and then, this prevents the baby dreads from tangling all together. As the months go by, you’ll see your dreadlocks gradually taking their form! This is one reason why I love and recommend this method- it’s much more fun to watch the process! If you’re worried about the awkward phase, where the distinction between tangly hair and dreadlocks is a little blurry, I’d suggest wearing it in an up-do or a beanie! The timeline is different for everyone, but I’d say the switch from “… Do you have dreadlocks?” to “Nice dreadlocks!” came in at about 4 or 5 months. This method is sometimes referred to as the “Patience Method,” and appropriately so.

2018

2018

Honestly, dreadlocks are so worth it. The whole process is actually quite fun, and you really will have so many lovely conversations with people that you wouldn’t have otherwise! The first few years were great, and I truly think I could have them forever. It has now been over 5 years with dreadlocks, and I can’t really imagine myself without them, but my time with them is most likely coming to and end soon (I’ll explain in a future post!). It sounds silly, but I have genuinely learned so much through having them.

*I hope I answered most of your questions, but if there was something that I missed, leave a comment below and I’d be happy to answer!

Grace Rash