If I had to take a wild guess, I'd say that I've probably spent at least a week of my life in the braiding chair. That's four to eight hours, at least three or four times a year, over the span of what, like 10 years? (Full disclaimer: Math has never been my strong suit, and I know that calculation might be off. Fight me.)
I got my first set of chin-length box braids at the age of 8, because my mom was allll the way over combing through my thick head of hair. I'm not about to show y'all the various styles I tried back then, but I can admit that my braids have been good, bad and... interesting. (Case in point: my fiery red box braids with loose, curly ends — in the fifth grade.) And because my mom didn't believe in taking out my protective styles until the wheels quite literally fell off, I walked around with my fuzzy black roots and real hair peeking through for a good four weeks. This is my truth, and I'm living it.
During college, I experimented with sew-ins because I couldn't afford to get my hair blowdried as frequently as I wanted to. But I always envied the girls on the yard, casually killing it with their Poetic Justice-inspired 'dos. Even though my hair had been braided for most of my adolescent life, I figured that the style just wouldn't work for me as a young adult. But, after three years, my best friend finally convinced me otherwise.
She took me to get my hair braided at a small, African-owned shop on Marcy Avenue in Brooklyn — and I haven't looked back since. My chest-length braids have been my saving grace while transitioning from relaxed to natural hair. I didn't want to big chop, so I've opted for extensions for over a full year now and continue to experiment with different styles; I channeled my younger self with a braided bob, and styled lightweight Marley twists during the hot summer months. Then, just this past winter I decided to finally try crochet braids.
In case you're unfamiliar, crochet braids are sort of similar to a weave, as you still have cornrow your base. But, instead of sewing on tracks, you latch your extensions on with a crochet hook. The hair (typically Marley) is often lightweight, and a better match to your natural curl pattern than stick-straight hair. I didn't know anyone else who had tried them, but I saw them on various natural hair bloggers and vloggers before — and they looked just like the real thing. What really convinced me, though, was the time. It'd take at least three hours to install them, rather than the six to eight hour appointment for regular box braids.
So on a cold Saturday evening in January, I trekked over to my neighborhood beauty supply shop where I purchased nine packs of Freetress Medium Box Braids at $7.99 each. I was going to go for eight, but the kind cashier warned me that I should get extra if I have a big head (and I do). When I went to have them installed, the process went just as expected: My stylist cornrowed my head, and latched on the looped braids with her hook. Three hours, in and out.
And, I have to say, I was pretty happy with the results — at first. They looked real and felt featherlight compared to my usual styles, and they made me feel like my old self. But the next morning, I started having issues. After tying them up and sleeping in a satin scarf, like I always do, they were already starting to frizz. Still, I kept it moving. No one at church was able to tell that my braids were assembled with a machine, rather than the hand of my go-to girl, Gamou.
Sadly, the frizziness didn't stop on Sunday. Over the course of the week, despite me taking all the necessary measures, I was still fighting serious fuzz. I saw my best friend nearly eight days after I got my hair done, who ensured me that my hair looked fine — but I know how braids are supposed to look. Sure, they end up appearing a little lived-in, but maybe after a month, not one week.
By week three, my braids began falling out. I thank the high heavens that this happened at home, and not on the J train or something. Since I had enough braids to cover up the missing ones, it wasn't noticeable...but I definitely noticed. And I was pissed! All this damn money that I spent on a hairstyle that I wanted to last for two months, and it ended up looking a mess after a couple of weeks.
Granted, maybe I can blame my hairstylist for the drama. She could've been rushing and maybe she didn't hook my braids on tight enough. Or maybe it was the kind of hair I got, even though it did have decent reviews on Amazon. Because the braids were already sealed, my stylist didn't dip them in hot water... and I'm not sure if that was the the frizz culprit or not. I was initially grateful for the fact that I didn't have to spend an entire evening in the chair, but in the end, the saved time just wasn't worth it. Next time, I'll take that L and get my usual eight hour braids. Gamou and I are overdue for a catch-up sesh, anyway.