You might already know that braids didn’t originate in Europe. Still, they have been a vital part of European culture for hundreds of years.
Many don’t know Europeans adopted braiding from their neighboring continent Africa. Greek people traded goods with Egypt and Egyptians introduced braids to them. The Greek traders also made braids popular in European culture.
Alongside ancient Greek, Romans, Vikings warriors, and some other European cultures wore braids. Keep reading more and discover the vibrant history of braids in Europe.
No culture can claim braids as their own as hair braiding has been found in many cultures worldwide in all eras. Native Americans, Ancient Romans, Middle Easterners, Asians, and African Tribes — braids have been found in almost all parts of the world.
However, some braiding styles originated from a particular culture and they bear a special meaning to these cultures. For example, Fulani braids, Cornrows, Box braids, etc.
When Greek traders started trading with Egyptians, they were first introduced to braiding styles. The Egyptians sold them box braids. Eventually, the Greek traders introduced braids in different parts of Europe.
So what is the most popular braiding style among European women? Box braids. However, box braids fell out of fashion, and Europeans started to develop and embrace new styles and patterns. As a result, dutch braids, french braids, and others came into existence.
The traces of box braids can be found 5000 years ago in the African continent. But do we know how braids became a part of European culture? How did European women wear braids in the century-old Europe? And what does braiding mean to them? Let’s find out!
1. Change of Hairdo with Braids in Europe
When the traders from Greece introduced braids, they became quite popular in Europe. The European people adopted the braid patterns and changed their way of hairdo soon. In today’s world, men and women style their hair with many braiding patterns. However, European women back then preferred the traditional box braids.
2. Braids in Several European Cultures
Centuries ago, Romans and Greeks started braiding in Europe. They didn’t invent it, but they adopted it from the Egyptians. Many men and women in ancient Rome and Greece preferred longer hair. They also liked to style their long hair into fine braids.
Ancient Rome had vestal virgins – young girls sworn to virginity and purity. They served as the empires’ spiritual leaders. Braids were a significant part of this millennium-old roman tradition. The vestal virgins wore sini crenes. This particular braided style was a symbol of their virtue.
Ancient Celtic tribes preferred long hair and braids were an ideal style for them. They used braids to create elaborate twists and decorated their hair with gold and silver accessories.
Do you know in medieval Europe, braiding meant something else for women? Women of that time were expected to remain modest outside the home. Loose and exposed hair was not socially acceptable. That’s why women in medieval Europe thick-braided their hair and pinned them on their head to look modest.
Old sculptures and drawings show us many different European braiding styles. 2500-year-old sculpture caryatids have carved fishtail braids on them. In the later greek–roman period, they wore many intricate styles. They would use beeswax to harden their braided hairs. Some people had colored braids using dyes made from natural sources.
3. Medieval European Braids
Braids and plaits were quite popular among the women of the medieval European period. They wore braided buns, crowns, and other hairstyles that would keep their hair tied up and look modest. Their hairdo back then was a symbol of their conservatism.
1. Roman Vestal Twists
Archeologist Elizabeth Barton says hair expressed personal identity in ancient Rome. The Vestal hairstyle, also known as sini crenes, consists of six braids. Rome’s vestal virgins – the priestesses of Goddess Vestra, wore this particular braided hairstyle. It symbolized their purity.
2. Greek Goddess Braids
Daughter of the Roman emperor Titus, Julia used to wear this hairstyle during the Flavian period. She styled her hair with twisted braids, wireframes and curls. This hairstyle also became popular among rich women in Europe. In the later Roman period, Greek Goddess Braids turned into many dramatic styles.
3. Celtic Knots
Ancient celts had distinctive hairstyles. Romans called them Gallia Comata, meaning long-haired Gaul. Long hair was a symbol of Celtic warriors’ status and spiritual connotation. Celts were fond of long hair and elaborate braided hairstyles.
4. French braids
The name has French in it, but french braids were not originated in France. The origin is still unclear. Greek and many upper-class European women wore this style. Patterns of french braids are the same as the regular three-strand braids but start from the crown instead of the nape.
5. Viking Braids
Although we see celebrities wearing braids and portraying Viking warriors, braids were not that common in Vikings. Women occasionally wore braids, but it wasn’t a popular hairstyle. Viking warriors kept their hair long and wore helmets during the war. They braided their long hair before battles to keep their hair out of their face.
From Vikings to Greeks to Romans, many European cultures have valued braids. Braids have been present in European cultures for hundreds of years. People of all classes wore braids in different eras of European history. Elaborated and time-consuming braid patterns were worn by high-status people. On the other hand, simple braids and plaits were most common among lower-class people.
Though braids originated in Africa, many believe braids came from Europe. We don’t blame them because braids have significance in Ancient Europe. Rome’s vestal virgins wore sini crenes. Braids like sini cranes were only meant for vestal virgins and used for a sacred cause.
On the other hand, braids like french braids and box braids also got popular among the different cultures of Europe. Many upper-class women had bought box braids from Greek traders who collected these from Egypt. In the early European age, Greeks and celts adopted French braids, which might have originated in Northern Africa.
Why Is Braiding White People’s Hair Cultural Appropriation When Many European Cultures Had Braids Historically?
Styling your hair with braids was never cultural appropriation for white people unless they wore a braiding style culturally meaningful to black and African culture. Such as cornrows and Fulani braids.
Box braids were orginated in 3500 BC among ancient African tribes. It is still important to them because it represents their culture and history. For centuries Black people faced discrimination for wearing their cultural hairstyle.
However, in recent times, many white women have worn box braids as a cool trend while ignoring the cultural context. Wearing box braids is not a problem, as it has existed in many cultures since ancient times. However, wearing box braids without crediting the original culture is culturally appropriating.
In African culture, braiding was like a social art. Braids symbolized their tribe, social status, marital status and many things. On the other hand, European braids were adopted from African and Egyptian cultures. They became quite popular in Europe. They used braids to create modest, elaborate, and battle-friendly hairstyles.
What do Viking braids symbolize?
Viking braids are mostly worn by warriors before a battle. It was typically worn under their helmet to keep the hair out of their way while fighting.
Who did braids first, Vikings or Africans?
Various African tribes started braiding long before Vikings, about 5000 years ago.
Can you braid European hair?
Anyone can braid European braids like dutch braids, french braids, or fishtail braids, as no particular culture claims those as their own.
Why did traditional Mexican hairstyles in the 1930s tend towards large braids or bun styles?
Traditional Mexican hairstyles in the 1930s were often characterized by large braids or bun styles. There are a few possible explanations for this trend.
One possibility is that these styles were popular all over Western culture at the time, and so Mexican women followed suit. Another possibility is that these styles were seen as more “traditional” and representative of Mexico, and so women chose to wear them as a way of asserting their cultural identity.
What is the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was the process by which millions of Africans were transported across the Atlantic Ocean to be sold as slaves in North and South America. Many slaves were able to pass on information about their families, their homelands, and the conditions on board the ships they were travelling on by using secret codes and symbols in their hair braids.
Just like Africa, Europe has a versatile history of braids. A wide variety of braided styles were adopted by European cultures. They have worn them for thousands of years and invented more braiding patterns.