What are Cornrows?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Cornrows are a style of wearing the hair in very tight braids, which often have beads interwoven through them. The style originated in North Africa, and was noted among Europeans when the slave trade in that area began. Slaves in the US retained the tradition of wearing cornrows, which were fairly easy to care for once the hair was braided.

Cornrows can feature complicated patterns and may need two days at a salon to complete.
Cornrows can feature complicated patterns and may need two days at a salon to complete.

In the 1920s through 1950s, African American women often preferred straightening their hair to wearing it in cornrows. However, actress Cicely Tyson, began wearing them for the television show, “East Side/West Side” in 1963. African Americans embraced style as a sign of black pride, and they once again became popular. They were also a sign of affinity with one’s origins in Africa, since they were considered a traditional hairstyle.

This popularity led to a rise in the number of salons that could perform the complex braiding process. In 1979, white women also became entranced by the style of cornrows after the film 10 featured Bo Derek wearing her hair this way. Cornrows became associated with being a perfect “10” or an ideal beauty at that time.

Ironically, at about the time 10 was released, there was a decline in the popularity of the style among African Americans. However, it returned again in 1990s, along with the increased popularity of hip-hop and rap. The style of cornrows has never been completely “out” and many women, and men, find wearing them quite convenient.

The braiding process results in a hairstyle that often lasts without the need for repairs for about a month. Care does need to be taken when washing the hair. The style can range from simple to complex; some patterns of cornrows incorporate elaborate designs and may require two days at a salon to achieve.

Since cornrows pull the hair so tightly into the braids, the style has been associated with a few problems. Notably, people with dry skin may experience dandruff. Cornrows can also be associated with hair loss, called traction alopecia, among some people. Using a special type of oil or gels made for this style can help keep the skin moisturized.

In certain parts of Africa, cornrows remain a traditional style of wearing the hair and may be worn by either women or men, although they are considered to be exclusively for women in some places. This is the case in Nigeria, where men who wear cornrows are considered effeminate. Throughout the western world, however, they are more unisex.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


@aLFredo - I’ve read that cornrows can take an average of one and a half hours to three hours! This is, of course, depending on the length, volume, and other aspects of the client’s hair (or if they want things like a cross in their hair!).

I cannot as concisely report of the average cost, because I think that really depends what area you live in and how loyal a costumer you are, among other differing factors. I have seen that in the smaller towns and cities it is usually cheaper, and bigger towns and cities it is usually more expensive.

For instance, I have heard in Los Angeles,California you can pay over $200 and in a suburb a little bit outside of the Washington, DC area a client paid $45. You would hope for the $200 price-tag, the quality went up a lot, but it could be just the location and the certain hair stylist.

Hope this helps. I personally love that this is a unisex trend in some countries, it seems to be especially unisex here.


@Saraq90 - I have and I love how artistic cornrows can be! Each cornrow seems so intricate, even if it is done in the standard straight version. I also love how certain expert hair stylists can make different art forms out of their braids, like a peace sign for instance.

I think cornrows can be more than a trend or fashion statement. It can show off someone's heritage or their hair stylist's proficiency. It also can be a testimony as to what a person values in their life. For me, I think I would like find a hairstylist who can incorporate a cross into my cornrows, because that is important to me.

Does anyone know what the average time span is that current professional hair stylists take to do cornrows? Also, how much is the average cost for professionally done cornrows?


I have always wanted to have someone put cornrows in my hair, I just haven't saved the money or got up the guts to do it yet.

I just lack of skills when it comes to different hairstyles. I usually simply brush it, sometimes blow-dry it, and on special occasions flat iron it, and that is literally it!

I think it is important to remember that this hairstyle came from Africa, and I love that over time it has been incorporated into most ethnicity's hairstyles. As the cornrows have been around, I have noticed flair to some cornrow shapes. For example, there might be someone who is wearing zigzag cornrows. Has anyone else noticed this trend?


I do a version of cornrows on my own head at home. Mine are much larger than the ones typically done in salons, though. I don’t have hours to spend. I make my cornrows with braids.

I make two french braids on top of my head and two on each side. Then, I braid whatever is left over in the back.

I braid them with small strands of hair at a time, and I pull them very tightly so that they will stay put. I only keep them in for a couple of days, because it’s too hard to wash my hair with the cornrows present.


I had my stylist put cornrows in my hair a few years ago. It was always getting in my face. I work in a cookie factory, and as a safety precaution, I have to keep my hair tied back. Little wisps always seem to make their way out of ponytails and braids, so I thought cornrows could help me out.

It took eight hours for the stylist to finish, and I paid a lot for the service. That’s why I was so determined to keep them, even after they started to become uncomfortable.

I have oily hair, and I’m used to washing it every day thoroughly. Suddenly, I could no longer get to my scalp to lather it with shampoo in the areas where the hair was gathered.

My scalp began to itch fiercely. I carried toothpicks around with me so I could scratch it. After three weeks, the itching got so bad that I had to take my cornrows down.

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