Braids serve as a cultural emblem deeply woven into the history of Black womens hair. They are a powerful expression of identity, heritage, and resilience. In African cultures, braids have always symbolized identity and communication. Intricate patterns often convey age, social status, and tribe. Additionally, braids are a central element of Black womens grooming practices, symbolizing deep social messages and familial bonds.
The History of Braids
The history of braids is interwoven with the African diaspora, as enslaved Black women used braiding for communication and cultural preservation. In the face of oppression, they utilized braids to transmit resistance, strength, and solidarity messages.
Furthermore, braids have served as a form of resistance against Eurocentric beauty standards imposed on Black women. Enslaved women often lacked autonomy over their bodies, but through the intricate art of braiding, they found a realm where they could assert control and express their cultural identity. Braids became a statement of resistance against the erasure of Black culture, a visual affirmation of pride in one’s heritage.
“Braids mean strength and confidence to me. Strength because it’s a bond of the hair. It’s an experience. And confidence because it’s freedom. Braids bring freedom to be yourself,” says Monteria “Tookie” Chisholm, a hairstylist and beauty entrepreneur.
“Also, the creativity! [Braids] are the one style you can be the most creative with,” she adds.
Tookie owns the Tookie Did It hair salon in Los Angeles, California. The stylist hails from Gainesville, Florida, and has been doing hair since she was a preteen. She grew up in the hair world, thanks to her mother, a well-known stylist in their city. Tookie spoke with 21Ninety about the artistry of braiding and the designs she creates, making her stand out as a stylist.
The Artistry of Braiding
For braiders, the art of braiding hair is a meticulous science that goes beyond mere hairstyling. It involves a keen understanding of hair textures, patterns, and the intricate details contributing to a flawless result. Neat parting is a fundamental aspect of this craft, requiring precision and expertise to create clean, well-defined sections that serve as the foundation for impeccable braids.
“Braiding is a science,” Tookie declares.
A science, she explains, that doesn’t need the use of a lot of hair products, just skill.
“Stylists use a lot of products when they’re trying to hide the imperfections…a not-so neat part or when they didn’t prep the hair properly, and there are too many fly-aways poking out,” the Florida native continues. “I use three products: Polish’T Braid Gel, Swoop’T Edge Control, and Finsh’T Hair Foam.
She notes that her mom “shaped her to be the best” at her skills and passions. Tookie spent years polishing her craft and mastered braiding.
“I can just close my eyes and just feel it. Like I don’t even have to look at what I need to do. It’s muscle memory, in a sense,” Tookie admits.
In addition to making her clients feel beautiful, Tookie focuses on making everyone in her shop feel like family, and she believes that’s one reason clients continue to return.
“In [Black] shops [back in the day], everyone was family. It was so much deeper than just doing hair. You were family,” she says.
The Hairstylist Who Braids In Cursive
Beyond the technical aspects, the artistry of braiding lies in the creative designs woven into each braid. Whether crafting intricate patterns or incorporating geometric shapes, braiders like Tookie infuse a unique and personal touch into their work. The art of braiding thus becomes a dynamic interplay of science and creativity, showcasing the braider’s skillful hands and artistic vision in every carefully crafted braid.
For instance, Tookie freestyled Halloween-themed braids this year for her clients.
“I was searching for braid designs for the holidays and couldn’t find anything. All I was thinking was, ‘Where are the designs?’ No one was being creative, and I wanted to play with [my sister’s hair],” says Tookie. “That’s how I came up with my Halloween braid designs.”
Tookie shares she enjoys braiding freestyle designs.
“I love going for it. Most of the designs are old school, but people really enjoy them,” she states. “And I love the moment my client sees the finished product and loves it.”
Whether she is doing boho braids, cornrows, or freestyling, each design tells a story.