Cornrow hairstyles are a traditional style of braiding the hair close to the scalp. While usually done in straight rows, the cornrow can also be seen in complex geometric and curved patterns. Often found adorned with beads or shells, the cornrow hair style is favored for its easy maintenance. It can be left in for weeks at a time with careful washing and oiling of the hair and scalp.
Cornrows were a common way of styling hair in Sub Saharan Africa for centuries, and were continued in the United States and other countries by enslaved Africans. The cornrow hair style can be used to display social status, as well. Things like religion, age, kinship, status, and ethnicity can all be conveyed. In the 1960’s the styles became widely popular among African Americans as a way to highlight their natural hair texture.
Cornrow hairstyles can range from the strictly linear, in parallel rows beginning at the front of the scalp and ending at the neck to complex geometric patterns, swirls, and curves. Although it may be tempting to consider the more stylized geometric patterns as modern, ancient artifacts uncovered in Africa reveal geometric patterns in cornrow hair styles as well. The hairstyle survived the era of slavery, when it was common to shave the heads of enslaved people, because the slaves who worked in the houses were expected to keep a neat and tidy appearance at all times. These house slaves modeled their cornrow braid after more traditional designs, and kept the tradition alive.
After the civil war, many adults straightened their hair, but the cornrow tradition was once kept alive by braiding corn rows in the children's hair. Repopularized in the late 1960’and early 1970’s, and again with the hip hop movement of the 1980’s many of the cornrow styles and designs we see today are a conglomeration of the styles found in ancient Africa, some Native American touches, and a hint of modern flair.
One of the reasons for the popularity of cornrows is the relative ease of maintenance. The braids are often found decorated with beads or shells and can be left in for weeks or even a month at a time with careful protection. Cautious washing, along with regular oiling of the scalp and hair create a long lasting, simple and quick hairstyle sure to complement almost any person's lifestyle.