What are Hair Chopsticks?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Hair chopsticks are a form of hair stick which are modeled on the chopstick, and in some cases, hair chopsticks may be genuine chopsticks. In strict point of fact, actual chopsticks should never be used for styling hair, although this practice is quite common in the West, and it has resulted in some confusion between true hair sticks and chopsticks. Chopsticks make appealing and convenient hair sticks because they are usually around the right length, and they can be highly decorative in addition to being easy to use, but people who wish to be culturally sensitive should avoid using chopsticks for hair styling.

Hair chopsticks are modeled after chopsticks used as eating utensils.
Hair chopsticks are modeled after chopsticks used as eating utensils.

The practice of using long sticks to hold hairstyles in place is quite ancient, with numerous documented instances from cultures all over the world. Hair sticks are usually woven into buns and similar hairstyles to pin the hair in place so that it does not slide. When used correctly, a hair stick or set of hair sticks can hold hair firmly in place all day. Some people may need to cheat with the addition of mousse, hairspray, or bobby pins.

When the practice of using hair sticks reached Japan, a whole family of hair stick styles known collectively as kanzashi started to arise. Some kanzashi look remarkably similar to chopsticks, which explains the trend to use chopsticks as hair sticks outside of Asia. Kanzashi can be also be designed in the forms of clips and combs, with especially elaborate styles being seen in the complex hairstyles of young geisha.

Some stores sell regular chopsticks as “hair chopsticks,” although this practice would be considered offensive in many Asian cultures, and consumers can also purchase chopsticks which are marketed as eating utensils for use in their hair. Many Asian markets and department stores sell a range of chopstick styles which are sometimes quite inexpensive, leading people who are unaware of the taboo against using chopsticks for hair styling to purchase chopsticks for use as hair sticks.

While the distinction between hair sticks and chopsticks may seem unimportant, because the two often look very similar, it is important to think about the way in which chopsticks are perceived in Asian culture. Just as a Westerner would be startled to see someone using a spoon as a hair ornament, many people in chopstick-using societies are confused by the use of chopsticks as hair styling tools. The tendency to use “hair chopsticks” to refer to any sort of hair stick has added further to the confusion.

People who would like to use culturally-appropriate items for hair styling can find kanzashi at Japanese markets and department stores, and they can also access a range of hair sticks in an Asian style made by artisans who sell their products at markets, hair salons, and online retailers. It is also possible to find hair sticks in a wide range of styles at many establishments, as hair sticks appear to be perennially popular for styling hair.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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