There are a lot of instagram accounts devoted to braiding, and otherwise styling, hair; an awful lot of them. I follow a lot of them, though not all as I want some balance in my feed, though I could easily find several more to follow if I so chose. Many are Scandanavian, which seems to have become the spiritual home of braiding. We’re not talking your bog standard left over centre, right over centre and repeat here, nor the French braid which seemed to take the planet by storm in the 80s. No we’re talking Dutch Braids, Waterfall Braids, Fishtail Braids, Lace Braids, braids with any odd number of strands (I’ve seen a youtube video with 11 strand braiding), and indeed with four strands. We’re talking combination braids, braids with updos, combinations of the above…
And you know what, it’s art. It goes way above finding a way to keep your hair out of the way for school or sports. It’s creative, imaginative technically skilled and visually stunning. It’s everything that painting or sculpture or architecture has, but done by young women at home and it looks different every day.
And maybe that’s why we don’t call it art. I’m not riding a gender hobby horse over this, much as I think the Riot Girls had point, and possibly still do, I don’t think that the reason braiding on this level isn’t thought of as art is because women do it, or even that women so young do it so brilliantly. I think we don’t think of it as art because doing your hair is fundamentally a domestic act done for fun. It’s the same way that nobody would deny that high fashion design is art, but when somebody brings a pattern and some fabric home from the shop, alters it to suit their idea we call it ‘dressmaking’.
So next time you’re behind somebody in the shop, with braided hair, just remember, either her, or one of her friends and family, is an artist.