Weaves 101: My Journey With Faux Hair

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shawna-embedPhotographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
As a '90s kid, I watched MTV in wonder while pop divas whipped their hair into geometric shapes and kaleidoscope colors with ease. From asymmetrical to blonde to kinky-curly, each songstress morphed into a seemingly better version of herself with each coiffure. Trade secrets, I imagined, of the rich and famous. I had long, wooly hair of the blackest-black hue, yet I dreamed of Manic-Panic pink, Angela-Chase-red, and DJ Tanner curls. At 10, however, only braids, beads, or a special-occasion French roll were age-appropriate.

However, at 14, I discovered weaves or, more colloquially, "tracks" — that is, those long (or short) wefts of hair that are cut, colored, and curled into submission, and sold in packages at your local beauty-supply store. The week before I started high school, my shopping included a TI-83, a messenger bag, flare jeans, and a track (or two) to add volume to my then-relaxed head of hair.

My mother (a.k.a. Superwoman), who is not only a brilliant math-mind, but also a sorcerer with a sewing needle and a flat iron sized up the reach of my head, set a single cornrow, and affixed the track with a needle and thread to my braid. The hair at my crown fell gently over the weft to conceal the track and, then, whoooosh! I waved my enhanced head of hair, now full with the volume of a Texas pageant queen, from side to side like an Olympic flag.
shawna-embed-2Photographed by Amelia Alpaugh.
My hair has always been thick, but the extra volume made me feel downright goddess-like. By 21, I was hooked. I would find occasions to change my hair during the year from blunt bangs to ringlets to beach waves. I would venture to my hometown in Connecticut every eight to 10 weeks with a new photo of some Tumblr-famous It girl and her new ‘do.

“Why?” My stylist would ask. “You have great hair!" I would explain directly that it was not about length, but versatility. Within reason, any style could be mine without commitment. No need to stare regretfully in the salon mirror or embrace baseball caps and head wraps for a season. I got the chance to play the ultimate game of dress-up.

Then, I discovered a hidden benefit (at least, new to me): “protective styling.” The term popped up on natural-hair blogs and boards; each YouTube blogger extolled the virtues of a weave as a way to protect your hair from wear and tear, heat, and the elements. I hadn’t noticed at first, but my hair did grow about two inches a month. And, every strand I grew underneath the tracks, I kept. No need to trim ends that hadn’t seen the light of day in weeks. During each install, I would lift the cornrows underneath my weave (I think the configuration looks something like crop circles) to inspect the hair that had grown in. I’d wash, condition, and repeat with something new.

Undoubtedly, I’d return to work or school each cycle and the brows of my peers would wrinkle curiously. “Did you get a haircut?” they would ask. Or, “So, where is your hair?” My favorite will always be the question about sewing fake hair into my scalp. For the novices, you first braid the hair, then sew the wefts into the braid — no blood!

Right now, I am enjoy alternating between my natural tendrils and trips to Dominican salons to blow out my real hair. I haven't been wearing weaves recently because I'm enjoying experimenting and changing my hair up daily. For the summer, I might try thick dookie braids again. Weaves, like hats, are a look enhancer for me — and, now, I'm a bit more back to basics. (But, I'm guessing that they'll make a comeback!)



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