Ever witnessed a hairstyle resurgence that takes you back to your childhood years? Our editor Keysha Davis walks down memory lane to a time in her life when she coveted braided beads.
I can only recall one occasion when my mum picked me up from school late. I was around 9, and was filled with so much fear and panic that just typing this has a visceral effect on me and takes me back to my playground in my south east London community school. She couldn’t have been more than 15, 20 minutes late, but within that time my mind had created all types of fear-induced scenarios: what if she had been kidnapped, run over by a bus…it was so unlike my mum to forget to pick up her only daughter, so I reasoned that this could’ve only occurred due to some unfortunate event. And then just when I’d given up hope, there she came, dashing into the school gates, panicked, hurried, and wait a minute, was that a half head of braided beads on her head I was seeing? “Mum, where were you?” I asked in that teeny whiny voice often delivered with such perfection by pre-teens around the world. “I’m sorry Keysh, the hairdresser took longer than I thought with my hair and we just lost track of time”, and with that she shook her head, the force of her half-beaded glory making a melodic swishing sound that is unique to light plastic particles crashing, and with that I was even more dismayed.
“Mum, I thought you said we were going to get beads together?”. You see, I had developed what was to become a life-long love of beaded braids. I can’t pinpoint exactly when my obsession began but I do recall US singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Patrice Rushen playing a huge part. The star had a huge hit with the soul/disco classic Forget Me Nots in the early ‘80s and it was my favourite song at the time. Patrice’s public appearances would always feature her wearing waist long- braids with beads at the ends in an assortment of colours and they were gorgeous, the epitome of glamour and grace. I begged and pleaded with my mum to let me replicate Patrice’s look, my enthusiasm was buoyed even further due to the fact that all my friends were rocking them too. But despite promising me that I could, it never happened.
For Millennials, it has to be pointed out that braided extensions were not as ubiquitous as they are now so I can only imagine my mum either had second thoughts and didn’t deem them age-appropriate or maybe even a cost factor was involved, who knows (I’ve made a mental note to ask her the next time I speak to her, I need closure). The beads trend didn’t last long in the 80s as less stylised looks like curly perms and jheri curls took over (matter of fact, my mum never allowed me to get those styles, either). They had a brief resurgence in the early noughties courtesy of a certain Ms Alicia Keys whose earthy music, stylings and penchant for beads and braids took the world by storm, and then once again they disappeared. But unlike other trends such as the aforementioned jheri curl, the Salt & Pepa asymmetric bleached blonde bob, finger waves, my desire for them hasn’t waned. I think that may be due in part to their timeless elegance, regal aesthetic and historical significance. Recently on ebony.com writer Princess Gabbara perfectly articulated why this hairstyle is often so revered across the Black Diaspora, stating, “The braids we saw in the ‘90s and even today aren’t that different from the Eebuvi braids of Namibia or even the chin-length braids of the women of the Nile Valley over 3,000 years ago. Cowrie shells, jewels, beads and other meaningful items charmed box braids eluding to their readiness to mate, emulation of wealth, high priesthood and various other classifications…There’s something about rocking a hairstyle that stems directly from our heritage that makes us feel empowered and like a queen.”
In recent years cornrowed beads seem to be enjoying a style resurgence on social media, and regaining cultural relevance case in point: when Solange Knowles made beads the focal visual point of her thought-provoking and timely, relevant and instant anthem You Can’t Touch My Hair. So there’s hope for me yet to rock this classic style and inject it with a modern twist. And if you’re lucky, I may just let you touch my beads.