What Are Cornrows

Cornrows are one of the most celebrated braids that originated in Africa. This braiding style is now an iconic hairstyle in showbiz worldwide.

It’s not only in showbiz, but even women across the globe wear cornrows. So what are cornrows?

It’s a braiding technique where small sections of hair are braided closely against the scalp. And the head is entirely covered with many thin braids. 

Cornrows also have a strong tie with slavery and freedom. It’s much more than just a hairstyle. And we intend to talk about it in this article. 

Let’s proceed.

Cornrows Consists of Raised Rows of Hair 

Cornrows Consists of Raised Rows of Hair

Cornrow is a braiding style to protect delicate hair. In cornrows, the hair looks like rows of hair are raised yet lay tightly against the scalp. 

The entire braid stays close to the scalp as more hair is tied together. 

Cornrows During Slavery: Used As A Way to Escape 

Cornrows During Slavery

When the white people began the black enslavement period, cornrows played a crucial role in their freedom. 

Enslaved Black people drew out their escape path on their heads with the help of cornrows. That way, without words, they communicated with fellow slaves to escape. 

Before escaping, they also braided cornrows with food inside for sustenance during their journey to freedom. 

In the early 1500s, Cornrows Used Braids For Communication

In the early 1500s, enslaved people had the terrible dehumanizing condition. They used their cornrows as a medium for communication with others. 

The absence of words left no space for masters to suspect and torture them. The cornrows also indicated which tribe and religion they belonged to.

What Are Cornrows

What Are Cornrows

Thin braids that keep the hair tightly tied to the scalp – that’s what cornrows are. The process of how afro hair gets braided into cornrows is quite enticing to watch. 

Moreover, cornrows are not just a hairstyle. It’s much more significant than non-black people know. 

1. Roots dating back to ancient Africa

Roots dating back to ancient Africa

Cornrows have their roots as deep as 5000 years ago. Ancient African women adorned themselves with this hairstyle. You will also find this braid engraved in stone age artworks. 

Cornrows were also a hairstyle for Ethiopian kings and warriors to set them apart from others. 

2. Unrecognized rich history 

African braids have their history deep within their roots. Cornrows especially carry more historical significance than any other tangible element.

Braids were a community practice, a symbol of identity for the African people. It created bonds among the people of the community. And they also indicated the honor of the individual.

3. Symbol of perseverance and tradition

Symbol of perseverance and tradition

Cornrows were popular among black people during the enslavement period. Because of how they used this style, it is now a symbol of perseverance. 

It reminds black people how they persevered through their darkest times. Cornrows were part of the tradition for black people throughout their childhood. 

They spent long hours getting their hair styled in cornrows. Those hours were also a time to bond with other enslaved people.

4. Popular among Black people during the 1960s and 1970s

Black people during the 1960s and 1970s

After the prohibition of enslavement, black women got used to European beauty standards. And they complied to fit in to have a respectable place in society. 

Over time, the discrimination never subsided. So from the 1960s, black women revolted against societal expectations and started wearing cornrows, natural hair, and other traditional hairstyles.

5. Often appropriated by non-Black people

Cornrows are a hairstyle that’s native to Africa. However, non-black people also started wearing them because of how good cornrows looked on almost every woman. 

But the appropriation began when they didn’t acknowledge them as cornrows or anything else. Such as Bo Derek-inspired braids.

6. White actress Bo Derek appeared in the movie 10 wearing this style 

White actress Bo Derek

Bo Derek appeared in her film wearing cornrows, and she didn’t acknowledge that it was an African braiding style. 

White people were influenced by her and later appropriated cornrows as ‘Bo Derek’ braids. The Kardashian family is particularly infamous for claiming black hairstyles often. 

7. Cornrows hairstyles still discriminated 

Cornrows gained popularity in recent decades and thanks to the emerging brave black artists. But the discrimination against black people wearing cornrows is still prevalent.  

8. Black people face problems with cornrows, but white people do not

Black hairstyles, including cornrows, are exempted from accepted professional hairstyles. 

In reality, black people don’t get many professional opportunities due to discrimination. Nevertheless, white people don’t face so, even wearing cornrows, a culturally appropriating black hairstyle.

Systematic biases like this are surprisingly common in developed societies.   

Why Cornrows On The Catwalks Are So Much More Than A “Trend”

Why Cornrows On The Catwalks

Many high-end fashion brands have recently introduced cornrows on the ramps. 

Popular brands like Moschino, Gucchi and Alexandar Wang styled their models in cornrows for catwalks. Cornrows certainly became popular, but it was a primarily cultural appropriation for their lack of sincerity.

Cornrows are much more than to be used as a trend. The black community shunned such irresponsible representation cornrows by high-end fashion brands. 

Different Designs For Cornrows

Cornrows have many variations depending on the technique. Take a look at some of the popular designs for cornrows below – 

1. Long Cornrow Feed in Braids

Long Cornrow Feed in Braids

The primary difference between traditional cornrows and feed-in cornrows is in the technique.

In the feed-in braids, the hairstylists gradually add an extension to your cornrow as they keep braiding. That way, the cornrow stays attached to the scalp.

Long Cornrow feed-in braids put less tension on your scalp. Using colorful, long extensions also gives you the satisfaction of having long hair.

2. Bohemian Cornrow Braids

Bohemian Cornrow Braids

Bohemian cornrows are otherwise known as goddess cornrow braids. It’s a gorgeous variation of the cornrow. This method feeds pre-stretched and deep twisted hair is fed into the braids. 

These pre-streched, deep twisted, and curly hair gives the cornrows a gorgeous bohemian look. Your hair looks thicker and more voluminous in bohemian braids on special occasions!

3. Stitch in Cornrow Braids

Stitch in Cornrow Braids

People parts hairs into horizontal sections in the stitch cornrow method. Then the parted hair is braided into cornrows. Gradually add more hair to the braid as the braid grows. 

4. Feed in Stitch Braids Cornrows

Feed in Stitch Braids Cornrows

This cornrow variation is a blend of the previous two styles mentioned above. The hair is parted into horizontal sections and braided just like any cornrow. After braiding about a quarter inch of hair, extensions are gradually fed in the cornrow. 

This technique thickens the width of your braids. 

5. Zig Zag Cornrows

In zig-zag cornrows, the hair is parted into multiple sections in a zigzag manner. So after braiding, the scalp is exposed in zig-zag lines. 

This style is popular among men as well. 

How do I braid cornrows? 

Follow the step-by-step process to braid your hair in cornrows – 

  • Take a section of your hair from the front part.
  • Divide the section into three parts.
  • Take the outer part and go under the middle part.
  • Grip the outer part from the other end and go under the middle.
  • As you grip the outer part and go under the middle, pick the hair that comes naturally between your finger. 
  • Make sure to keep the braid lay flat on the scalp.
  • As you continue, you will braid the section of hair in cornrows.

Now you know cornrows are fairly simple. But it’s time-consuming because you must braid cornrows covering the entire scalp area.

Tips On Styling Cornrows

These tips on styling cornrows will help you achieve a neat look of your cornrows – 

  • Shampoo, condition, and detangle your hair before braiding.
  • Remember to apply mousse before braiding to ensure moisture.
  • Start from your hairline. 
  • Divide your hair into sections. Smaller sections will create smaller cornrows. 
  • Don’t braid the cornrows too tight. It’ll result in hair breakage and traction alopecia.
  • Pull and add more hair as you braid to keep the cornrow close to the scalp. 
  • Avoid any greasy material to apply on the roots. Instead, use oils like shea butter and jojoba oil. 
  • You can use colorful extensions and beads to add to your cornrows for enhanced style. 

Maintenance is Fairly Simple 

Once you braid your hair in cornrows, taking care of them is pretty easy. Here are the steps to maintain your cornrows – 

  • Avoid getting your cornrows wet in the first few days.
  • Sleep with silk head covers over your cornrows to avoid friction.
  • Apply a mix of water and oil to hydrate the scalp and avoid buil-up.
  • Press the oil-water on your braids to avoid loosening up the cornrows.
  • Take a wet cloth to sweep the exposed scalp; it will clean the everyday build-up of dirt.
  • Try to avoid heavy products to keep your scalp from producing excess sebum.
  • Don’t go more than a week without washing your scalp. 

How Long Do Cornrows Last?

With no maintenance, cornrows last for 2-4 weeks. But with little to moderate maintenance, they last for up to 8 weeks. 


Why Are Cornrows Called Cornrows

In the 20th century, most of the Africans in America worked in africulture for livelihood. Notably, they were cornfields, and because the hairstyle reminds people of that, it’s called cornrows.

Are Cornrows Cultural Appropriation

Cornrows are not cultural appropriation. If someone wears cornrows, claims it’s something else, and denies its roots, it becomes cultural appropriation. Anyone can wear cornrows while respecting their origin. 

Do Cornrows Come From Africa?

Cornrows do come from Africa. You will find the first depiction of cornrows in stone age paintings in the Sahara. There were paintings of women wearing cornrows. Ethiopian kings used to wear cornrows in 15000 AD.

Are Cornrows Bad For Your Hair

Cornrows are good for you if you have coily, curly, and dry hair. It will protect your hair from losing moisture and breaking. But cornrows may be better for your hair health if your hair is oily and straight.

Why Do Cornrows Itch

Over days, the scalp collects dust, sebum, and dead skin cells.

Since it’s a hairstyle that’s difficult to wash, the dirt keeps building up. As a result, cornrows start to itch. Dry shampoo can provide temporary relief for cornrow’s itch. 

Do Cornrows Grow Your Hair?

Cornrows do not grow your hair. Cornrow is a braid that keeps you looking neat while protecting your hair from breakage. The tightly knit braids don’t accelerate the growth of your hair. 

Can I Do Cornrows On Short Hair?

You can do cornrows if you have a few inches of long hair, but it will be challenging. But if your hair is short, you can’t do cornrows with just your natural hair. You can do cornrows on short hair with the help of extension and extension cornrows.

Related Articles:

  • What Do Box Braids Look Like
  • What Are Goddess Braids
  • Are Weaves Bad For Your Hair


Cornrows are one of the most invaluable cultural elements of the African people. This article covered many angles of cornrows, from their techniques to their historical importance

We hope this article helped you learn about cornrows and their significance to black people. 

See you around!

By Cindy Mahlangu

Hey there! I'm Cindy Mahlangu, a pro hairstylist with a serious passion for natural hair care. My mission? To inspire and educate others on the beauty and benefits of protective hairstyles. Through my creative writing, aim to empower individuals to embrace their unique hair texture and confidently care for their locks. So, whether you're rocking locs, braids, or twists, join me on this hair journey and let's achieve healthy, fabulous tresses together!

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