The Braids & Twists Roundtable

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I made it two months interning at Glossier HQ before I hit my breaking point. Blame it on the humidity, blame it on late summer laziness, blame it on really anything at all...my hair was in neglected limbo, a dangerous place for a 4b girl with temperamental coils. Years of haircare (and a distressed phone call to my mom) told me that the next logical step was a protective style á la Senegalese twists. And sure enough, once they were in, my clock-in time and dehydrated scalp were happily back in impressive shape.

As the weeks passed, something beautiful happened: Ashley came to work wearing shoulder-length box braids, Manouska strolled in with short bob braids, and Priscilla came in wearing her hair in two-strand twists. Compliments were exchanged for sure—but also grumbles about salons, tips for edges, and questions about products. Seemed to me like it was time for a roundtable. So one night we assembled in a conference room, armed with a box of wine. I pressed record on my iPhone and dug in. Here's what happened:

Utibe Mbagwu, Editorial Intern: So, everyone here is natural?

Everyone: Mhm–yes.

Utibe: And do we all consider braids to be a natural hairstyle? 'Cause I usually do.

Priscilla Quaye, Executive Assistant:
I’m natural, and the last time I got braids was between the ages of 8 and 10, maybe once a year. But I wouldn’t say that getting box braids is only a natural hairstyle. I feel like girls with natural hair and relaxed hair are all getting braids. But if you have natural hair, it’s a nice break from dealing with your hair. The same could be said for someone with relaxed hair.

Manouska Jeantus, gTEAM Editor: I agree. I used to have a relaxer. I went natural a couple years ago, but all my life I've had braids.

Utibe: My go-to protective style is Senegalese twists, unless I’m wearing my hair out. I know some people consider weaves a protective style–there’s so many options for covering your hair.

Cherie Camacho, Team and Culture, Associate Manager: Right now, I have a really low afro because I used to have a buzz cut, but I’ve done many variations of cornrows, braids and twists.

Kim Johnson, Community Manager: Wait...wasn’t it last summer that you got box braids?

Cherie: No, the summer before I got hired here. When I came in for the interview, I was sitting there, talking to everyone with this huge top knot of faux dreads in my hair. Everyone was like, “Your hair is so long!” And I was like…

Ashley Gilbert Winfrey, Senior Logistics Manager: You thought to yourself, “Just wait two weeks!”

Manouska: That’s happened to me before! You go to a job interview and you’re thinking, “My hair will definitely change before you hire me!”

Cherie: And it’s that anxiety of coming into the office when you know you’ve taken out your hair…

Ashley: Anything! Your sew-in, your braids…

Cherie: Yea! Or you straighten your hair for the first time.

Ashley: I have to say though, living in New York in general has made me feel more comfortable wearing my hair as it is. I’m from Detroit, and this a huge generalization, but if your hair is out and natural—like if you have any sort of kink or curl in a professional setting—then you stand out. I was super conscious about it. I think that what helps me now is working in a place where people wear their hair differently, and living in where you see a little bit of everything.

Utibe: It takes a lot to have a bad hair day in New York—but braids help with that.

Ashley: Yes! You can just wake up, slick your edges, and go to work.

Manouska: I’m lazy. I get up with enough time to brush my teeth, kind of do my makeup, and get out the door. Because I’m natural, it’s such a coin toss of how my hair is going to act. I just can’t have that be a variable of my morning.

Utibe: That morning struggle of just deliberating—do I put it in two buns or one? Do I do a braid it up really fast and put on a hat and take it out later?

Kim: Sometimes I forget to put in my braids before I go to bed…and the next day is a bun day. Mondays are bun days!

Cherie: Braids are the go-to vacation hair. For Camp Glossier last year, I got cornrows.

Ashley: And it’s not even just the time you save with braids. When your hair is out, you need so many products. Like, am I going to get travel-sized for everything? [Room laughs]

Utibe: Why isn’t that a thing? Shea Moisture, I need the Castor Oil Leave-In in a 4 oz. Heck, I’ll even settle for an 8 oz.

Priscilla: I usually do twists myself with my own hair. I don’t get synthetic hair added because, for me, I get really bored of styles. And I don’t want to spend time and money to sit somewhere because I know a week later, I’m going to want to take it out.

Cherie: I don’t mind sitting all day to get braids. But if I’m going to sit there, they’re going to be long and they’re going to be fly.

Utibe: Has anyone had a bad experience with braids?

Jordan Verilli, gTEAM Supervisor: I grew up getting cornrows for athletic activities but later, I had a really bad micro-bead weave extensions experience that left me with a bald spot. So now I’m afraid of braids because I don’t want to have my hair pulled that tight again. I do wash-and-gos instead.

Kim: Yeah...I would like to get braids, but I haven’t because it’s so much time to sit there and get there. And two, I’m terrified that my edges are going to break off–that’s a big thing.

Utibe: That’s why I’m particular when I get my hair done. It’s never too tight, and I use the handheld mirror at the salon to check if my partitions are too big. I understand that in New York, they’re trying to get you through really fast, but I’m paying over $100 for this hairdo that’s supposed to last me two months!

Cherie: Let’s pause on edges…is that a topic?

Utibe: I need to get better at those. I really don’t know how to gel mine down.

Priscilla: Sometimes gel will flake or get weird, so I always put a little bit of leave-in conditioner or regular conditioner first so it’s barrier between your edges and flakes. I put on the gel and slick it down, either with my fingers, a toothbrush, or a bristle brush. And then I put a satin scarf on for five minutes and take it off. They’re smooth and they stay all day.

Cherie: But you should never really put gel on your hair if you have braids, right? Just do it on your edges?

Priscilla: Now that you’ve brought that up, I do know of a good gel-free edge control—Curls Passion Fruit Control Paste.

Ashley: Yes! I don’t know what the ingredients are but it doesn’t flake. It’s super soft and still gives you that slicked effect.

Cherie: So use edge control, not gel. But guys…has anyone ever left their braids in for too long? Like when you redo the front but all the ones in the back are three inches, four inches of undergrowth? That new growth looks so good after you take the braids out.

Manouska: I’m trying to be a little bit better about how long I keep them in. I push it to two and a half months, but now I’m trying to do a month and half and then give my hair a week or two to breathe. And then I’ll just get braids again.

Utibe: Zoe Kravitz finally made me embrace my new growth. Hers were styled so messy, but it looked so good!

Cherie: Yeah, I didn’t think she would ever wear braids.

Utibe: When I first saw her toting those braids, I was like, “Wow, things are still changing!” It was so cool.

Kim: That reminds me of when my mom used to do my braids every Saturday. I would sit there and watch Moesha or Rodger & Hammerstein’s Cinderella.

Utibe: Brandy had braids in that movie, while she was Cinderella–that changed my life.

Ashley: I don’t think anyone famous on the entertainment side necessarily made me feel like braids were acceptable. But if I were to see someone on MSNBC or CNN…

Utibe: Melissa Harris-Perry!

Ashley: She kept her edges fresh, and she would do blonde…she would just do whatever she wanted.

Jordan: I liked when Rachel Lindsay from the Bachelorette had braids when she was off-screen and off the show. I was like, “This is your style. Do not go back.”

Manouska: For me, things like social media and Instagram and blogs made me want to get braids more often. Now there’s hashtags and a community of women in whom you can find different styles–bob braids, long braids, Senegalese twists–there’s more of a platform today.

Kim: Zoe’s the one I want to get braids like. But they were tiny! And also, another thing about getting braids–you gotta take it out and comb it out. And I’d imagine it’s very tangled, and I don’t like combing my hair.

Manouska: I have to comb it out section by section because if leave it all until the end, it’s going to get matted. I’m lazy and I’m doing any of that protective spritzing or greasing of the scalp.

Utibe: You could just put it all in one bottle and shake it up and spritz. I like putting water, leave-in conditioner, avocado oil, and a little bit of aloe vera juice. That’s it.

Priscilla: Literally five minutes. Split your hair into four sections. But don’t spritz it too much because if it’s too damp, your real hair is going to get curly.

Manouska: Wow. I need treat my braids with more respect.

Ashley: You have to give it the same care and consideration you give your own hair!

Kim: Yup. Silk scarf, silk bonnet, silk pillowcase.

Jordan: I like scarves better than bonnets though, because you can tie them nice and tight.

Priscilla: I feel like a pillowcase is an essential though. What if your bonnet comes off at night? You have to save those edges.

Jordan: As a person who’s never gotten braids, I have a question. How to they seal the ends? I always thought it was fire.

Priscilla: I had someone who used a lighter flame to seal the ends, but like, back when I was 8.

Cherie: Yeah, back in the day they used to burn the ends.

Manouska: Well, I have bob braids now, so I have the ends burned.

Utibe: It depends on the length. If it’s going to be really long, they can braid or twist it to the end of the strand and dip it in hot water, and that seals it. But if you want a shorter style like a bob, you have to burn the ends or else it won’t be precise.

Which reminds me–what type of hair do you guys usually use?

Room in unison: Kanekalon.

Cherie: For Marley twists, they have special hair. I think it’s actually called Marley hair. When I was younger, I feel like the hair was so much cheaper. Now it’s like $5 to $10 a pack.

Utibe: When I would get my hair done in Harlem salons, they would give you the hair for free. In Brooklyn, packs are like $4. But when I was growing up in California, my mom would have my aunt literally bring a suitcase of full of hair packs from Nigeria. X-pressions hair.

Ashley: Oh! Is that the hair you use?

Utibe: Yeah! Now it’s in America—it’s everywhere now. I love it because when you dip it hot water it turns very soft. It’s not itchy at all.

Manouska: I like how your twists look! It has such a soft look. It looks super natural.

Utibe: Thank you! Senegalese twists are kind of unique. I make mine kind of wavy by braiding it once they’re finished and dipping it in hot water. And it’s easier to take out because you just unravel it.

Priscilla: And you can have a bomb twist out, if you decide to wear it out for a day.

Utibe: So true.

Priscilla: Braids and twists just have a truly regal look to them. I don’t really get them done, but it’s beautiful to see the talent and artistry that goes into them.

Ashley: And there’s nothing like the magic you feel the first few weeks of wearing your braids.

Utibe: Oh my gosh, the sweet spot! When it stops looking scalpy and feeling tight. I’d say that happens after like two weeks.

Manouska: But after that, you can do whatever you want.

Priscilla: I think that’s the best part about braids & twists. Getting them done brings a real sense of freedom.

Photo via ITG.

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