Friday, 4 March 2011

How old is too old for braids?


Hello, I am 33 and I braid my hair. I don't usually worry about age when it comes to my personal style: for me, clothing and style choices arise more from personal comfort and happiness than anything else. I did think about hair-related ageism this morning when I was braiding my hair.

Hair braiding has been around for thousands of years in different cultures all over the world. It has had the function of keeping hair clean (Renaissance Europe) and socializing among women (Africa). Braided wigs were worn by royalty in ancient Egypt, and in the Native American Hopi tribe, only married women braided their hair. Braids are practical, and they have long served as different types of social markers.

These days we in the Western world tend to associate braid-wearing white women with little girls. Women in their early 20s can still get away with braids, but once women enter serious employment, braids become very difficult to pull off. It seems to me that African-American tradition of hair braiding carries with it the notion of empowerment and appreciation of culture, but as a white, 30-something woman, my braids mark innocence, softness and playfulness instead, as if those were the character traits that were reserved to (female) children. I know this not because I have been told that only little girls wear braids, but because it is an unpleasant gut-feeling, like the one that instinctively dismisses the idea of wearing a pink suit to a job interview. Infantilization of women is everywhere, from hair braids to grown-up women wearing pink.


Anya asked me to do a braiding tutorial, but since my own skills are so limited, do check out video tutorials for braiding your bangs here. To be honest, I don't really know what I do when I braid my hair; I use random techniques to get to a completely unplanned end-result. The one today is a basic French braid. I am actually wearing three braids in total: there is a half regular, half French one (meaning that one side is gathered, the other not) on the left side, and a third braid on the back of my head. So screw you, hair-ageism. Braiding is fun.

Sweater: men's All Saints
Denim shorts: Benetton sample sale
Tights: Sears
Boots: John Fluevog

15 comments:

Teenysparkles said...

Braids work very well for me because I...admittedly try not to wash my hair too much. So when it's gross, I braid it. Or even if it's really frizzy i can tame it somewhat in braids. Also, your shorts! I am after some knickerbocker/breeches. But I cannot find them anywhere!

Shey said...

Waves your hair looks so pretty braided, I don't remember seeing your hair braided before but you should try it more often it looks very nice. I also love your outfit, all the mixes with men's clothes are very nice. And I had never seen shorts like yours, very cute with the tights, at first I though they were riding pants. Great outfit.

Anonymous said...

You look really beautiful with braids, Waves dear!! It is a very fine, and refined look on you...you have a faraway look in your close-to-me eyes, when your hair is braided!! :) oxox, CR

Terri said...

I think braids are very striking on women of any age. when they are worn in an up-do, they can cause people to stare in wonder. I've tried some fancy braids and have never worried about girlishness.

Lady Cardigan said...

I think there's social pressure in the US for women not to have long hair unless they're very young (I've been lectured a lot because I have long hair), so anti-braid bias would go along with that. But I think braids pinned up can look elegant and adult.

poet said...

Oh wow, I have the complete opposite association. Braided up-dos at least signify grown-up maturity to me, like they did in the 19th century (wasn't it even some rite of passage when the girl moved from braids hanging down her back to up-dos?); long braids hanging down I associate with 1970s Californian hippies who were certainly not infantile, at least not in that devaluing way in which women can get infantilized today. Short braids are sports-girls (This just goes to show that I live behind the moon, obviously!) Whatever the cultural implications, I'd just say do your thing; you look great with braided hair. Stuff that signifies infantilization can, after all, be reclaimed if enough people do it while being otherwise not at all infantile.

Cheers,
poet

Anonymous said...

All I know is that braids go perfectly with Alpine boy outfits. vasiliisa (too lazy to log in)

The Waves said...

Thanks for your comments, everyone; you all made some great points, and I do feel comfortable in my braids, which is the most important thing! It is nice to get my hair off my face for a change.

It did occur to me that the former PM of the Ukraine, Yulia Tymoshenko, wears her hair braided all the time, and I don't think she is considered child-like. I can't really imagine Hillary Clinton wearing her hair braided, though. :)

RoseAG said...

You're right that they connotate different things in different races. Generally on an older woman it says I'm educated and want to look tidy without spending a lot of time getting that way.

I've had several African American doctors with braids. I consider it a practial way to deal with hair without a lot of chemical.


On a white woman I think you run the risk of being taken for a Quaker or someone of a conservative Christian relgion. If that's OK with you then go for it.

wardrobeexperience said...

i suppose this hairdo isn't just for young girls. i'm in the same age like you and i would love to braid my hair like you did!- but i'm tooo dumb and clumsy to do it.
; )

http://wardrobexperience.blogspot.com

Charlotte said...

The braids are very becoming on you, Waves--very elegant. I've seen quite elderly women in braids, also elegant wrapped. The only time they look silly on someone over 21 is when they're in pigtails.

eyeliah said...

I like braiding, I think it's just pigtails that look childish. I'd like to french braid my own hair, can't figure it out.

Hattie said...

Love the braid Waves! Not only does it look neat and elegant, but it has a touch of whimsy as well : ) Also I just have to add that I think pigtails can also be a totally fitting casual look for any age! (I mean come on, Willie Nelson wears them; how girlie can they be? lol!)

Michele said...

(Catching up on reading your blog!) That is such a good point and I'd never thought of it! I also like braids, especially because they help tame my wild, wild hair. The only problem is that I'm not very good at them (I'll check out the tutorial--thanks!). Your braids are very pretty and you don't look infantile at all. :).

Eline said...

Yay! Braiding is fun! I didn't know about the history of braiding though so thanking for touching that subject lightly. I think I'll do some more reading on it (re: wikipedia'ing). I have to mention though, a teacher of mine, I guess she's in her late forties, she wears braids all the time and not even braids like yours but braid that have been truly horribly equalled with little girl braids (two braids on the side, hanging to the side of her head, you know weirdly this is hard to describe?) but she totally rocks it.