In the world of fashion, hair goes in and out of style just as much as clothes do. And while never really going out of style, braids have enjoyed a resurgence, popping up everywhere from the runways in New York to the red carpets of Hollywood to the sidewalks of King Street.
"Braids are definitely having a moment," says Leah Nichols, admissions leader and Design Team leader at Paul Mitchell The School Charleston. "They've been around for a long time, but in the past few years they have become a style."
From simple to elaborate, braids have long been popular among African-American women, but the style has spread to women of all races, ethnic backgrounds and hair types.
"Braids never get old. They can be incorporated in several different styles: boho, formal, high fashion, etc. I feel that braids add that attention to detail which can transform a boring look into something much more interesting and creative. Who doesn't want that?" asks Bailey Bial, a stylist at Allure Salon on King Street and a member of the Charleston Fashion Week hair and makeup team.
"I get simple requests from my everyday clients, like a new mom who wants to keep her hair out of her face but also look pretty. But primarily, braids are for special events such as weddings or parties," Bial adds. "Ladies like braids for special events because they're different and add immediate visual interest."
The options seem endless: fishtail-braided buns, bohemian updos incorporated with small braids, waterfall braids and more.
So what's coming in 2014?
Nichols says braids are turning more relaxed, more unstructured, even on the bridal scene. And watch for a big braid presence during the upcoming prom season.
Paul Mitchell clients coming in for wedding and other event styling are bringing more photos of updos that blend looser braids into more formal styles, Nichols says. "They want braids incorporated into their updos."
And from weddings to the beach, stylist Nicole Spencer, owner of Brush Beauty Lounge in Summerville, says she sees the trend sticking around.
"I think it will continue just because here it is something really easy to do when you've been out at the beach where a lot of people let their hair dry naturally but it's something to get it out of the way," Spencer says. "I don't see it going away completely because it's just so versatile."
For instance, one client celebrated a recent anniversary with a loose updo with a couple of braids twisted in.
And after a hair cut, another client asked Spencer to braid her hair so she could wear it out running around town afterward.
"She just wanted something extra in there," Spencer says.
For many women, braids add an extra element of interest and creativity to traditional hairstyles.
"Everybody wants to do this natural soft look for their events, and so a braid looks like something they could do themselves. It's something extra, but it looks like, 'Did they get their hair done?'" Spencer says.
The African-American community also is seeing the trend evolve, moving more toward locs, a natural braid alternative without the use of weaves or extensions.
According to Lisa Burks, a "Loc Restorer" and cosmetology instructor specializing in natural hair care, African-American men and women choose locs because they create versatility with style and length, keeping the hair naturally protected and chemical-free. It's also a way to stay in touch with their cultural roots, she adds.
"It preserves natural hair and creates length, and it allows the women and the men to reconnect with their ethnic heritage," Burks says. "... It's no longer a fad; it's a way of life."
In addition, Burks says, locs create a more professional image. She's noticed that they are more common since many jobs require a more polished look.
"No one wants to walk around looking like a Rasta, only because it's not accepted in the workplace," she says.
And as local stylists don't see the braiding trend waning, you're sure to see pop-up "braid bars" at more and more events, which likely will lead to seeing even more braids incorporated into event and everyday styles.
Ever since the Paul Mitchell The School Charleston took its Braid and Bun Bar to the recent SHE Charleston expo and to the Dirty Girl Mud Run, the staff has been fielding calls from other event organizers requesting the same.
Next up, the school will take its braid bar to Cinderella Day, a March 1 event that works to ensure all teen girls are outfitted and styled for their proms regardless of financial status.
Bial said she's even toyed with the idea of focusing on braids, offering a quick, 5-minute-or-less braided style at farmers markets, parties and other places.
"I just had a client this morning from New York who also spends time in L.A. talking to me about braid bars in the city and how much she loved them," Bial says.
She adds, "Braids will always be in the market and be requested as long as they can continue to be transformed in different ways. Braids are a beautiful addition to any style and that will never go away."
As for the folks who are looking to venture into the braiding trend themselves, Spencer encourages a little daring.
"The big thing is just playing with it. Don't be intimidated by it," she says. "The waterfall braid or fishtail braid can look very intimidating but it's just getting in there and playing with it. It just gives you a lot of options."
Sites including Pinterest and Youtube are full of ideas and tutorials that anyone can test out at home risk-free.
"You go on Pinterest and scroll through and you can see how-to's all day long," Spencer says.
Liz Foster of The Post and Courier contributed to this story.
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