Beatrice’s daughter wants cornrows. Beatrice doesn’t know how to do cornrows, and at this stage in life, she isn’t up for learning. So, she came to me for info.

“I’m African; we don’t ‘learn’ braiding,” said Mimi at Braids Plus in La Mesa (619-589-0774). “We just look at our mom and our aunties doing it, and one day we wake up and we do it. I’m 55 now, and I’ve been braiding since I was a kid.”

Mimi says the most popular style today is microbraiding. “Many, many individual braids. They cost $150 to $180 and take about seven hours. We leave the ends out — so you should brush the ends before you go to bed — and tie the base so that it does not tangle.” Cornrows are also popular. “We can make them going straight back or we can put in a zigzag design. They usually take three and a half to four hours and cost $85. The only maintenance you need is to put oil on your scalp once a week.”

MC at Braids for Less in University Heights (619-704-5993) tells me, “People get braids because they want to keep their hair natural — without relaxers — and because they want ease of care. African-Americans, Caucasians, old and young — they all get braids. I’ve given braids to an 18-month-old. Children usually get cornrows, which takes about an hour and costs $60. If you want a design, like a zigzag, it takes longer and costs $75.”

MC also mentions box braids. “They’re bigger than microbraids. With microbraids you braid in human hair, but with box braids you use synthetic hair, for price reasons. Box braids take six to eight hours, and prices start at $160. We also do what are called invisible braids. They’re like microbraids, but as you’re braiding you take the extension out. Some people call them tree braids. You see the way a tree looks, with branches coming out of it? That’s how an invisible braid looks. From far away it looks like a weave, but when you’re up close you can see little strands of braid in the extension. It takes six to eight hours and costs $250.”

Amanda at Hair Extension Connection in Pacific Beach (858-483-4247; started out braiding 15 years ago. But, she says, “I don’t do the individual braids, like microbraids, anymore — it’s so strenuous on your hands. What I do now are weaves, and cornrow braiding is part of that service. I’ll use a small amount of synthetic hair to hold a cornrow braid flat to the head, and then I’ll sew human hair onto that braid to create an extension. I’ll do the cornrows in tracks; most people get three or four tracks, and the average track costs $50 and takes about 30 minutes.”

Amanda says that braiding and extensions both “attempt to add length and volume to the hair and get away from the rigorous routine of having to style your own hair. With braids, you don’t have to do much — no combing, no curling, just shampoo. Maintenance is the same for both human and synthetic hair, though you do have to be careful with human hair. When it gets wet, it tends to slip a bit.”

Amanda begins the braiding process by “separating the client’s hair out. Then you make a twist. At the same time, you separate out the extension hair so that you can twist it into the client’s hair. It’s all done at the same time, as if you’re braiding together two pieces of rope. And it gets twisted so tightly that the hair and the extension hold together. With synthetic hair, you can braid it all the way down and then dip the end into boiling water, and the braid will not come undone. With human hair, you can’t do that — you just braid it down and leave the ends. There’s nothing you can do to keep it from unraveling eventually unless you use some kind of adhesive.”

People usually get their braids redone, she says, when new growth starts to come in under the braid. “If you’re African American, your hair is curly. After a couple of months you start to have a small afro, only there are braids on top of it.”


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