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An illustration of Emperor Tewodros II (reigned 1855-1868) of Ethiopia wearing cornrows
Prince Turki I bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia adorned with cornrows
A Nuba woman wearing cornrows in a traditional styling

Cornrows, braids, or canerows in the Caribbean, are an ancient traditional African hairstyle of hair grooming where the hair is braided very close to the scalp, using an underhand, upward motion to produce a continuous, raised row.[1] Cornrows are often formed in simple, straight lines, as the name implies, 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 or women, or by both.

Braids pulled too tight or worn for considerable lengths of time can cause a type of hair loss known as traction alopecia.[2]


Cornrows are a traditional way of styling hair in various global areas.[3] Depictions of women with cornrows have been found in Stone Age paintings in the Tassili Plateau of the Sahara, and have been dated as far back as 3000 B.C.[4] There are also Native American paintings as far back as 1,000 years showing cornrows as a hairstyle.[5] This tradition of female styling in cornrows has remained popular throughout Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa 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.[citation needed]

Cornrow hairstyles in Africa also cover a wide social terrain: religion, kinship, status, age, ethnicity, and other attributes of identity can all be expressed in hairstyle. Just as important is the act of braiding, which transmits cultural values between generations, expresses bonds between friends, and establishes the role of professional practitioner.[6]

Cornrows made a comeback in the 1960s and '70s, and again during the '90s, when NBA basketball player Allen Iverson repopularized this hairstyle.[7]


Over the years, cornrows, along with dreadlocks, have been the subject of several disputes in the American workplace as well as universities. Some employers and educational institutions[8] 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.[9]

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.[10]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History of Cornrow Braiding". Retrieved 2015-06-20. 
  2. ^ "Braiding 'can lead to hair loss'". BBC News. 2007-08-24. Retrieved 2010-04-30. 
  3. ^ Black & Beautiful Fashion (June 22, 2016). "Do Cornrows Come from Africa?". Retrieved 2016-08-12. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ VALERIYA SAFRONOVA (2015). "White People Need to Leave Cornrows Alone': Readers Debate a Controversial Hairstyle". Retrieved 2016-08-12. 
  6. ^ "History of Cornrow Braiding: African Origins 1.b". Retrieved 2015-06-20. 
  7. ^ Sherrow, Victoria (2006). Encyclopedia of Hair: A Cultural History. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 97. 
  8. ^ Harris, Sherry. "Cornrows: History, Controversy & Freedom of Expression". Sherry's Life. Retrieved 28 August 2016. 
  9. ^ Alison Dundes Renteln. The Cultural Defense. p. 143. Retrieved 10 August 2011. 
  10. ^ "School braids ban 'not justified'". The Independent. 2011-06-17. Retrieved 2011-06-17.