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Cornrows

Cornrows (or canerows) are a traditional style of hair grooming where the hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhand, upward motion to produce a continuous, raised row. Cornrows are often formed, as the name implies, in simple, straight lines, but they can also be done in complicated geometric or curvilinear designs. Often favored for their easy maintenance, cornrows can be left in for weeks at a time simply by carefully washing the hair and then regularly oiling the scalp and hair. Cornrowed hairstyles are often adorned with beads or cowry shells, in the African tradition. Depending on the region of the world, cornrows are typically worn by either men or women.



History

A common way of styling hair among populations across the African continent, cornrows survived for centuries in the United States and other parts of the New World as a style of hair preparation among enslaved Africans and their progeny. In 1963, when most African American women were loath to be seen in public with unstraightened hair, actress Cicely Tyson drew immediate notice when she sported cornrows on the popular network television series East Side/West Side. The style gained wide popularity in the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s as part of the Black Nationalist Movement, when the trend was for Black Americans expressing natural afro-hair to reject straightening their hair in favor of hairstyles that highlight their "natural" hair texture. Afros, strands of hair twisted into tight coils or wound with twine, and the wearing of geles (in Yoruba, colorful, often elaborately wrapped head cloths) are among the commonplace African styles adopted by African American women.

In the wake of the Black Pride Movement, hundreds of beauty shops and salons sprang up across the United States delivering services exclusively, or as part of a range of options, to blacks who prefer natural (unstraightened) hairstyles. Many salons specialize in hair wrapping and braiding techniques, executing styles which can be exceedingly time-consuming and expensive. Cornrow styles can take hours to complete, sometimes necessitating two or more salon visits. The trade off in the cost in time and money expended is that a well-executed, braided style can last a month or more without restyling, if properly groomed and cared for—and if executed on the naturally coarse, tightly coiled hair typically possessed by people of sub-Saharan African descent.

Cornrows also enjoyed some popularity among Caucasians after blonde actress Bo Derek wore beaded cornrows in the popular Blake Edwards movie, and became widely popular once again with the spread of hip-hop culture in the 1990s. Cornrow hairstyles are now often offered to tourists in resort areas of the Caribbean.

People of African ancestry in many different regions of the world wear cornrows. However, some controversy over them has emerged in Nigeria, where hair braiding among men is alleged to be a sign of homosexuality. Some feel that times are changing and men wearing braids is part of the change. It is a hairstyle that stands out.

Over the years, cornrows have been the subject of several disputes in the American workplace. Some employers have deemed them unsuitable for the office and have banned them - especially at-will firings and/or termination. African American employees and civil rights groups have countered that such attitudes evidence racial and cultural bias. Some such disputes have resulted in litigation.

Braids pulled too tight or worn for considerable lengths of time can cause a type of hair loss known as traction alopecia.
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