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Tewodros II of House of Solomon wearing rows

Cornrows, also known as rows, braids, or canerows in the Caribbean, are a traditional African[1] 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 formed in complicated geometric or curvilinear designs.

Often favored for their easy maintenance, rows can be left in for weeks at a time if maintained through careful washing of the hair and regular oiling of the scalp.

Cornrowed hairstyles are sometimes adorned with beads or cowry shells. Depending on the region of the world, cornrows are typically worn by either men, women, or both.


A traditional way of styling hair throughout North Africa, East Africa, and West Asia, depictions of women with cornrows have been found in Stone Age paintings in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara that have been dated as far back as 3000 B.C.[2] This tradition of female styling in cornrows has remained popular throughout Africa, particularly in North, East, and West Africa. Historically, male styling with cornrows can be traced as far back as the early nineteenth century to Ethiopia, where warriors and kings such as Tewodros II and Yohannes IV were depicted wearing cornrows.

Outside of Africa and Asia, cornrows have also been worn and depicted in Europe, particularly in Greek and Roman art, and may have had a similar presence in Celtic culture.

Cornrows made a comeback in the 1960s and '70s, and again during the '90s.[3]


Over the years, cornrows, along with dreadlocks, have been the subject of several disputes in the American workplace. Some employers have deemed them unsuitable for the office and have banned them – sometimes even terminating employees who have worn them. Employees and civil rights groups have countered that such attitudes evidence cultural bias. Some such disputes have resulted in litigation.[4]

In 2011, the High Court of the United Kingdom, in a decision reported as a test case, ruled against a school’s decision to refuse entry to a student with cornrows. The school claimed this was part of its policy mandating ‘short back and sides’ haircuts, and disallowing styles that might be worn as indicators of gang membership. However, the court ruled that the student was expressing a tradition and that such policies, while possibly justifiable in certain cases (e.g. skinhead gangs), had to accommodate reasonable ethnic and cultural practises.[5]

Braids pulled too tight or worn for considerable lengths of time can cause a type of hair loss known as traction alopecia.[6] This is also the same case if the cornrows are pulled too tight through out the hair style.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of Cornrow Braiding". Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  2. ^ Willie F. Page, ed. (2001). Encyclopedia of African history and culture: Ancient Africa (prehistory to 500 CE), Volume 1. Facts on File. p. 36. ISBN 978-0816044726. 
  3. ^ Sherrow, Victoria (2006). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 97. 
  4. ^ Alison Dundes Renteln. The Cultural Defense. p. 143. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  5. ^ "School braids ban 'not justified'". The Independent. 2011-06-17. Retrieved 2011-06-17. 
  6. ^ "Braiding 'can lead to hair loss'". BBC News. 2007-08-24. Retrieved 2010-04-30.