Box braids have been a popular hairstyle among women for over three decades. With its limitless styling options, many women opt for this hairstyle for just its flexibility. Box braids also have other benefits and serve as a protective hairstyle for natural, transitioning, and relaxed hair. Box braids are also an excellent long-term option for women with schedules that don’t typically allow them to spend hours on their hair on a daily basis. Recently, many celebrities have also been spotted with box braids, wearing them in various styles, colors, and length. How did this style rise to popularity? Are there different ways to install/wear box braids? This article will give you the 411 on everything you need to know about box braids, the installation process, the maintenance, benefits, and even the drawbacks of wearing box braids.
Origin of Box Braids
Where did box braids originate? Box braids and other braided hairstyles date back as far as 3500 BC in Africa. In art and records from history, different braiding styles can be seen. Eembuvi Braids were worn by the women of the Mbalantu tribes from Namibia, a country in Southwest Africa. This braiding style is very reminiscent of the box braids that have become very popular today. The ritual that was used to install these braids is also very similar to the methods women use when installing their box braids today. For example, the Mbalantu women would “prep” their hair with thick layers of finely ground tree bark and oils before braiding their hair. Similarly today, women use box braids as a protective style for their hair. A protective style is a hairstyle that is meant to give one’s natural hair rest from the daily wear and tear that can be inflicted from daily styling.
Braided hairstyles can also be seen with the wigs that Ancient Egyptian men and women wore. They would attach chin-length braids to durable fiber caps made from wool, felt, and even human hair. These wigs would then be adorned with various beads, jewels, and other decorations. The adornment of braids with different shells, beads, jewels, and other items also had cultural meaning. Within these various ancient cultures, what braids were adorned with could indicate things like social status, wealth, religious hierarchy, and could even indicate whether someone was ready and available to mate. Even though such decorations may not have the same significant meaning as it did in ancient times, women still choose to adorn their braids with various beads and decorations today.
Rise in Popularity
In recent decades, box braids have increased in popularity, especially within the African American community. During the eighties and nineties, box braids have appeared in various magazines, movies, and many celebrities wore them out in public and on the red carpet. Actress and Grammy award winning R&B artist Brandy was notorious for her long box braids and helped make them popular as she often donned them on her album covers, on the red carpet, on TV, and in films.
Actress and pop superstar Janet Jackson also wore box braids during her film debut in the movie Poetic Justice (1993). Often seen wearing a newsboy cap with her waist length box braids, this became an iconic style in the nineties largely due to the film’s success. Beyoncé Knowles-Carter, a former member of superstar girl group Destiny’s Child, was also often seen wearing box braids on the red carpet, in music videos, and during other public appearances. During this time, box braids began to become extremely popular with women all over the world trying to resemble their favorite stars, and try new styles.
Different Types of Box Braids
Since box braids have become so popular in the recent years, many stylists have come up with different ways to install box braids and different styles that the braids can be worn in. There is the most common way box braids are worn, often referred to as the “Poetic Justice” braids. However, another style of wearing braids was made famous by singer Beyoncé. Micro braids, like their name, are very tiny, almost microscopic box braids, which if styled correctly, can almost look like natural hair. While these braids have risen in popularity and are another cute alternative to regular box braids, the installation process, which can take upwards of ten or more hours, may hinder some people from getting them.
Box braids can dress up any outfit, and because they can easily be styled, there are many different hairdos that you can do to achieve the look you want.
There are many ways to make traditional box braids unique, including adding a splash of color.
Another type of box braids that have become popular is the chunkier box braid style. Not only is the installation quick and easy, but these are a great variation of the classic box braid. Box braids can also be worn in various length, and recently we have seen a rise in the popularity of cute bob length box braids and long, dramatic butt length braids. Other alternatives to the traditional three-strand box braid style can include two strand twists, or even faux locs which have become widely popular recently.
Box Braid Installation
As previously mentioned, there are many types of box braids. Each different style has a unique installation process, some taking longer than others. Each of the following methods can be used as a protective style, but the length of time you’re able to wear the braids varies on the size of the braid and the installation process.
There are a few common factors between the installations of all box braids styles.
- Hair must be washed and dry at the time of installation
- Hair is usually moisturized with oil or leave in conditioner to protect the hair during wear
- Synthetic or human hair is added as an extension during the installation process.
- Hair is parted into small box sections before braiding; hence the name of the name of the style
- At the end of the installation, ends of the braids are either burned or placed in hot water to keep braids from unraveling.
Traditional Box Braids
The installation time for traditional box braids, as pictured above can vary. Factors that can affect the time include the thickness of the braids, the length, as well as how many people are working on your hair. Whenever I get my hair braided, I typically favor the long dramatic braids that Solange wears. With two people working, it can take anywhere from 10-12 hours to finish my entire head. As stated above, after hair has been washed, blow-dried, and moisturized, hair is sectioned off into boxes, synthetic hair is added, and a three-strand braid is created.
When the entire head is complete, the box braids can be kept from unraveling by either burning the ends with a lighter or placing them in boiling water. I favor the hot water method as it doesn’t create a blunt end the same way the burning method does.
Depending on your hair texture and whether you want the braids to be straight or curly, the type of hair used is very important. For African American hair, synthetic Kanekelon braiding hair is usually the best choice. Not only is the hair inexpensive (one pack can run from $2-$4), but it blends well with that texture of hair and is available in a wide array of colors.
Micro braids are another great box braid style that continues to be popular. Despite the long installation process, these braids are very well liked due to their natural look. Installation for micro braids can take anywhere between 10 and 14 hours, depending on how small you’re getting them, how much of the actual hair is being braided, and how many people are braiding your hair at the same time. For this style, it’s heavily suggested that you go to a shop where more than one person would be working on your hair so that you don’t spend all day and some of the night sitting in a chair.
The installation process for micro braids is very similar to the process for traditional braids. However, there are a few key differences. First, when sectioning the hair for the micro-braids, the box is usually a lot smaller than what would be sectioned off for traditional box braids. Second, typically when someone is having micro braids done, the stylist will not normally braid the entire strand. Rather, they will stop at a certain point and leave most of the hair out. Last, instead of the burning or boiling water to seal the ends, a slip knot is usually tied to keep the braid from unraveling. Hot water may still be used, but this could be to either curl the hair or set it into a certain style when the braids are finished.
Because these braids are meant to be natural looking, human hair or a human hair blend can be used. This hair tends to be a little more expensive because it’s softer and easier to manage than the typical braiding hair but for someone who doesn’t want the entire strand to be braided; this style is the best option. Due to the braids being so small, it takes longer for them to look worn and/or frayed, so micro braids can be left in for up to three months with the proper care.
Box braids can be worn in various styles, and that’s why it’s such a go-to option for women. The braids can be worn in ponytails or even braided into a fishtail style. Many box braid wearers love doing the easy giant top-knot, which can be a quick style to leave the house or a sexy style for a night on the town.
Crochet braids are a newer method that has been gaining widespread popularity. Not only are they super easy to install and can take less than three hours, but removing them, which is usually a pain for typical box braid wearers is a breeze.
What are crochet braids? As the name entails, crochet braids are literally crocheted into your own hair, which is first plaited into cornrows. The extensions are attached to the cornrowed hair with a special latch hook tool. Hair again is washed, blow-dried, and moisturized, and then placed into several cornrows. Hair may be left out at the front and in the back so the stylist can later do a few traditional box braids to create a more natural look. After the hair is cornrowed, pre-packaged braids are attached to the cornrow with the latch hook tool. It’s that easy! Since the hair isn’t actually being braided out, this particular style can be completed in well under three hours.
To complete an entire head of crochet box braids, it can take about eight packs of pre-braided hair. The pre-braided hair can range anywhere from $6 to $8 a pack but is still a great option for those who don’t want to be confined to a chair for more than three hours. Crochet box braids can last 8 to 12 weeks depending on the quality of the hair you use, the braid pattern, and your regular maintenance routine. Again, crochet box braids are a great quick alternative to those who don’t have the patience to sit and have their hair individually braided and who don’t have the patience to take the braids out either.
Box braids can be worn in fun styles as the above two top-knots. The hair that is used for traditional box braids also comes in a variety of fun colors that suits everyone’s unique taste. Up-dos are also very common with box braid wearers. They are a great choice for those who work in a professional environment or who are looking for a more formal style.
Maintenance of Box Braids
One reason why box braids are so popular is because they are very easy to maintain and can last for a long time with the proper care. As previously mentioned, the wear time for box braids can vary on the type of hair used and the installation method. While traditional box braids and micro braids may last up to three months, crochet box braids may last only for a little over eight weeks.
Even though box braids are considered to be an easy low maintenance protective style, certain measures have to be taken to ensure that the braids always look their best and the natural hair that’s braided underneath is protected and kept in a healthy state. Box braids can be kept looking fresh if you wear a silk scarf or bonnet to bed as cotton pillowcases can dry out and frizz hair while you sleep. Another way to maintain your braids is to make sure to keep your hair and the extensions moisturized. Braid spray can be used to keep the braids shiny, as well as to soothe any itching or irritation that can occur after the box braids have been installed. If you don’t want to go out and buy braid spray, a mixture of olive oil and water in a spray bottle works just fine too.
There are many oils too that can keep your hair moisturized while you have box braids in. Coconut oil is a great light smelling choice and helps keep your hair nourished and braids shiny. My personal favorite is castor oil, as I tend to have a drier scalp. Castor oil is great for those with sensitive, dry scalps and a little bit goes a long way.
While you don’t need to wash your hair as often with box braids in, you should wash your hair if there is any grease, dirt, or scalp build-up. A non-greasy shampoo and a moisture rich conditioner will keep your braids smelling and looking fresh as well as keep your hair underneath clean and healthy.
While box braids do last for quite some time, they shouldn’t be kept in any longer than 12 weeks. Why? Dirt can build up at the root of the braid, your hair can begin to lock, or your hair can even begin to shed from lack of care. While it is possible to stretch the wear time of your braids, be mindful of how long you keep them in and keep in mind that wear time varies on how well you care for and maintain them as well as the different elements you expose them to.
Faux locs have recently become very popular. Even though it’s not your traditional three strand braid style, faux locs are a great choice for those who want this iconic style without the long term commitment.
Ways You Can Style Your Box Braids
There are so many ways that you can style your box braids. Since they can be styled in a very similar way that natural hair can, the options are limitless.
There’s the giant top-knot option. While it may seem a bit overwhelming wearing a huge bun on top of your head, this style is rather easy. Simply wrap all of the braids in a two strand twist, a wrap into a bun on top of your head. It takes practice, but once you have it down, it’s a quick and easy style that can be worn to work, to the gym, or on a night out on the town.
Leave Em’ Free
If you simply want to get up and go, the best way it to just let your braids fly flee! Spritz them with a bit of braid spray, brush down any stray hairs, and add some edge control if desired. If you want, pair your braids with a cute headband or scarf for a quick pick me up.
For a classy and cute style, have your braids styled into a bob! Not only does this style take significantly less time than traditional waist length box braids, but it’s great for work too!
Box braids can be styled similarly to real hair, so a French braid is an excellent choice for those who want to leave their hair down. Gather the braids all together and just plait the hair straight back. Simple.
Half Up – Half Down
The new live-action version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is about to be released in theaters and women everywhere are looking to channel their inner Belle. This classic style is my always go-to when I wear my box braids. Simply take the top half of the braids and either tie them into a ponytail or do a mini version of the top knot. That’s it!
Try Your Own Style!
As previously mentioned, the options are limitless when it comes to styling box braids, so be creative with it and have fun with it!
The Benefits of Wearing Box Braids
As a protective style, box braids have many benefits. As a generally low maintenance style, box braids are great for those who have hectic schedules. The suggested ways you can style your box braids all take under ten minutes to accomplish, and there’s no need to prepare your hair at night for the next day. For women who also don’t want to have to go to the hair salon every two weeks to get their hair done, box braids are a great option since with proper care they can last up to three months. I personally love box braids for this very reason since it gives me more time to focus on my make-up and other things.
Box braids can also help protect your hair from the elements, which can over time do more damage than good to your natural hair. They’re a great choice during the summer, especially for women who enjoy swimming either at the beach or in a pool. Sea salt and chlorine can do damage to hair, so with hair being protected by box braids, feel free to enjoy the water! Just be mindful, after swimming make sure to thoroughly wash, condition, and dry your box braids so they can continue to look and smell fresh.
Also, because your natural hair is protected by the box braids, your hair can grow and thrive since it’s not always being subjected to styling and damaging methods such as flat-ironing, blow-drying, and relaxers. Box braids are a great option for those who are looking to transition from relaxed hair to natural hair as it gives your natural hair the chance to grow without being manipulated. Since box braids can be attached to almost any length of hair, they’re also perfect for those bold women who have chosen to do the “big chop” in their journey to healthy and natural hair.
Box braids are also a fun option for those who enjoy trying new hairstyles. Because it’s such a flexible style that can be styled virtually any way, it’s ideal for those who have shorter hair but would like to experience a longer style.
Box braids can be fun and can also be professional. As long as they are kept clean and in a neat condition, box braids can be worn just about anywhere.
Box braids are great for anyone who wants to try something new without any long term commitments.
Stylish fishtail ponytails can be easily accomplished with box braids. Jewels and beads can be purchased at your local beauty store to adorn your box braids with. Box braids can be enjoyed by anybody, and is great for every personal style. Unique designs, colors, and braiding options are available for those who enjoy switching things up. Having a low maintenance style like box braids allows you to spend more time on your make-up and outfit. You can even have bangs with box braids. Simply have your stylist create a shorter braid and burn the end so that the braid doesn’t unravel.
Again, there are so many different ways you can have your braids installed and different ways you can style them. Faux locs look great with two tones. Box braids can be styled for just about any and every occasion including wedding, work, and just going out. Box braids can come in many different sizes, lengths, colors, and styles. All are great!
Tips for Taking out Your Box Braids
While box braids are a fun and easy style that can last for weeks, the time eventually comes for you to take them out. If no one is available to help you take them out, here are a few tips to make the process, fast, easy, and relatively painless.
- Cut the braid where your hair ends. Be careful and make sure that you’re not cutting any of your own hair!
- Spray the braid with a mixture of water and olive oil. It helps soften up the braid which can make it easier to come out.
- After you have removed the extension from your hair, comb any knots out right away, and then either spray with olive oil and water mixture or apply a leave in conditioner. This will make it easier for you to detangle your hair when you have to wash it.
- Don’t be alarm at any shed hair. Remember, your hair has been braided for weeks, and there’s bound to be some shedding.
- Either braid or tie up hair that you’ve already taken out. That way, you don’t get anything tangled.
- Be patient! It’s a long process, but in the end, you’ll see how healthy your hair is and be proud of how much it grew.
Box Braids are a great and low maintenance style for anyone. No matter what your personal style is, box braids can find a way to fit into it. Rising to popularity in the eighties and nineties with celebrities like Brandy, Janet Jackson, and Beyoncé, box braids have been a popular choice for women for nearly three decades. However, these celebrities were not the first to enjoy the art of hair braiding. Braids date back as far as 3500 BC and are seen to have been enjoyed by cultures all over the world including Ancient Egypt.
With the many different options for box braids to be worn like adorning them with jewelry, beads, or styling them any way you want, box braids are a great style for someone looking to expand their horizons and try something new. Not only are box braids incredibly stylish, but they also serve as a great protective style. Whether you’re transitioning from relaxed to natural, entirely natural or just looking to give your hair a break from daily styling, box braids cater to everyone’s personal hair needs.