Dreadlocks / Dreads
The afrocentric appreciation of the black hip-hop culture returned Rastafarian dreadlocks to the style scene of the 90’s, but the kinked-up hairstyle has a much richer history than that. Dreadlocks date back to the 1920’s, when the Afro-Caribbean religion of Rastafarianism outlawed the combing or cutting of hair for religious reasons. (Leviticus 21:5 - “They shall not make baldness upon their head”).
Dreadlocks are the result of the natural locking, or matting, of coarse African hair. The kinky curls of black hair are left to grow long and uncombed, and twisted into knotted strands of hair called dreadlocks, or dreads. When grown as part of spiritual practices, the hair is referred to as ‘locks’ instead of dreads or dreadlocks, as there is nothing dreadful about the natural state of hair.
Dreadlocks became universally acceptable when Rasta musician Bob Marley showed off his locks while singing his ode to the knotted hair, “Natty Dread,” in 1975. As the afrocentric 80’s began celebrating African-American culture, dreads became a common hairstyle for black youths. The 90’s fascination for dreads differed slightly from Marley’s Rasta style dreadlocks, as young entertainers and rappers popularized short styles of twists or clumpy dreads pulled together in large sections.
Like the afro, dreads were a celebration of black heritage, and just like whitey tried to copy the afro in the 60’s, dreads were copied by whites in the 90’s. Dreads for whites were adopted mostly by the neo-hippie new age subculture, and then experienced a hardcore revival when white street kids crossed over into black rap territory. Rap became multi-cultural in the 90’s, and several ethnicities intermingled to form the new urban underground. This new generation wasn’t afraid to color outside the lines, and the exotic look of dreads was a way to show respect for hip-hop’s roots.
Dreads were not a natural style for white hair, and white kids went through a lot of trouble to achieve a hairstyle that came easily to black hair. Some went to salons and dreaded their hair with products and a twisting tool. Others just didn’t wash the hair for months, letting the natural oils and dirt mat the hair together into clumps called ‘white boy dreads.’ Or there were extensions, false pieces of dreaded hair that could be woven into existing hair to give the look of dreadlocks. These extensions, worn by both whites and blacks, were referred to as African, or Nubian locks.
Special products were developed to enhance the dreadlock look. Dread Head sufficiently matted hair with a sticky product for a dread-like appearance. And for those who just couldn’t get away with a head full of matted hair, there was the Thread Dread, a colorful accessory of wrapped embroidery floss around a braid. Usually worn on the side of the head, or in the back under most of the other hair, the Thread Dread was a braid that could continue to grow and mat into the braided holster.
The hip-hop culture celebrated African heritage, and the popularity of Jamaica’s Rastafarian culture and music inspired several subcultures to adopt the afrocentric style. Even within the black culture, however, dreads are not widely accepted by professionals, and remain a mostly youth-driven style for all but the most adventurous of adults. And of course, aside from their use as a fashion statement, the true locks remain an essential part of Rastafarianism’s spiritual quest.