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Give Me a Hair - Long, Braided Hair

August 16, 2002

Linda McKethan was getting ready for her special day. One of the mail carriers for the community branch in Mount Vernon, she was soon to become Mrs. Linda Wells, and she wanted to look just right.

As she had done before, she turned to her cousin to do her hair.

She’s had braids done many times before, but this time she wanted something different. For her wedding, she decided to get micro braids woven with human hair. Look quickly, and it’s not even apparent that her hair is braided. It’s so finely woven that the braids are almost invisible. Look closely, however, and one can see dozens of braided strands. Wells chose to have human hair woven instead of synthetic and left the ends loose. For her wedding, Wells put her hair up in a bun as she does most days when she’s on duty for the post office.

“I’m doing a man’s work. I need something that’s carefree,” she said.

Many women – and men — find braids to be a carefree way to care for their hair. Finding the right person is key to getting a good style.

“Every time I go to somebody new, they have to get used to my hair,” said Wells.

Mike Wooding had to find somebody to braid his hair when he moved from Michigan to Annandale four years ago. He found the Braid Gallery in the phone book and has been coming to owner Dee Monk for his braids ever since.

“Dee’s a creative genius,” he said. Monk likes having Wooding as a client because “he lets me do whatever I want. I always do different things. ... Weaves is one of the hairstyles where I can see total transformation,” she said.

Wooding laughed as he recalled some of the hairstyles that Monk had given him. “ I was skeptical at first, but I usually like them,” he said.

Another one of Monk’s customers, Tiffany Marbury, was having her hair braided a couple of weeks ago. Monk was doing medium to large braids in two layers. “This will last for a couple of months,” said Monk.

In addition to braids, Monk said that she likes doing locks and weaves. Locks are different from braids in that braids can be taken out. With locks, your hair is actually “locked” and can only be removed by cutting. A weave involves the sewing of synthetic or human hair into a person’s own hair.

Braids come in all shapes and sizes. In Wooding’s case, Monk can vary the direction of the braids, whether they’re straight back, across or in a pattern. Then she can vary the thickness of the braids. Wooding’s most recent style involved fairly small braids, but they were nothing in comparison to the micro braids that Wells had gotten for her wedding. Those are the finest and involve braiding almost individual strands. Wells said that it didn’t turn out to be her favorite style. Because the hair was so finely woven, she was concerned about her hair breaking.

While there are hairstylists who braid at a salon, there are also people who braid just for friends or relatives. Danielle Davis does the braids for her whole family, including Krystyle, Alexis, Jazmyne, Tracey and Camilla Hayes. She also does them for Diamond Thomas and Naomi Richardson. They were all at the Sherwood Hall Regional Library one day last week, and each person’s braids were just a little bit different – some thicker, others thinner, some long, some short, and one with beads and one with shells.

THE LENGTH OF TIME it takes to braid a head of hair depends on the thickness of the braids as well as the pattern. If braids are done in a cornrow, that process goes much quicker because the hair is gathered and pulled back. It might involve 20-30 braids. Braiding from the top of the head straight down is much more involved, and a person will end up with more than 50 braids.

Braiding does take time. Wells said that she spent more than 10 hours with her cousin getting her hair braided. Now granted, there was some visiting involved, but much of that time was spent braiding.

Matilda Goodlin is a hair designer at House of Hair on Richmond Highway. She completed a cornrow braid in less than two hours. Then she started braiding Natashia Moore’s hair at 11 in the morning. At 2 p.m., she was about halfway through. The entire process would probably take until 4:30. Moore recently moved to Spain but was back here visiting her grandmother and said, “I’ve been getting my hair done by Matilda since I was 10 years old.”

Goodlin said that she learned to braid when she was growing up in Liberie, Africa. She moved to the states in 1987, when her husband received a soccer scholarship from George Mason. She received a cosmetology certificate from the Potomac Academy and went to work for Lexis Hair Design. Last December, she moved to House of Hair. She braids Monday through Thursday; Fridays and Saturdays she does regular hairstyling.

Another hairstylist in the same salon, Nikesha Duhart, braids as well. She has also been braiding since she was a child and works by appointment at House of Hair. Last week, she was working on Nikitia Maul’s hair. It had been braided previously, so she needed to take out the braids in order to rebraid the hair. Duhart said that she doesn’t charge much to take out braids, sometimes as little as $10.

Braiding itself can be expensive. Simple cornrow styles can start at $40, while more complex braiding can start at $145 and go over $200. Goodlin charged Duhart $180 for her braiding.

ANGEL BOXLEY ALSO LEARNED how to braid as a child and used to braid all of her sisters’ hair. “It’s just a gift,” she said. She was working as an accountant, but said, “I quit my job and started to use my skills. I like the flexibility I have now.”

Boxley is available by appointment and does her braiding at Rice & Co. on Queen Street. Tucked in a corner of this busy barbershop, she works her magic on clients.

Yvette Yinder has been coming to Boxley for about a year and last week was getting medium braids with extensions. An extension involves adding either strands of human or synthetic hair to a person’s own hair to get length and body. This also allows braiding to be done with very short hair, sometimes as short as 1-2 inches. While most clients who get their hair braided are African-American, all of the hairstylists mentioned said that they have Caucasian clients. Monk said that she sometimes has to use gel to get the texture for people who have thinner hair.

Many brands of synthetic hair have to be sealed at the ends, although some of them can be left loose now as well. Boxley said that some clients bring in their own hair, and other times she will pick it up for them, especially if it’s somebody who’s been coming to her on a regular basis. If a client is coming to her for the first time, she will ask them to stop in so that she can see what color she needs.

Boxley feels that synthetic hair works better. “It holds up better and lasts longer,” she said.

Like other hair salons, Sha’lon Hair Salon has a stylist who is available by appointment to do braids. Sha’lon owner Denise Hoffman said that Eveck Burgess comes in to braid by appointment; she charges $45 and up for braids. Burgess said that her cousin taught her to braid. She likes it when customers let her be creative. She recently braided Hoffman’s hair in Goddess braids. Instead of the cornrows going straight back, they have more of a pattern, and then they will be pulled up in the back. Hofffman chose to use hair that’s two-tone because it gives her highlights. Although her hair is already long, she still uses the extensions because she feels that adding hair helps to hold the braids better. “When I braid my daughter’s hair without adding anything, it only stays in for a few days before it gets frizzy,” she said.

Unlike some of her clients who leave their braids in for months, Hoffman said that she has an itchy scalp and has to take the braids out after three weeks. She doesn’t recommend leaving braids in more than two months. “Your hair needs to breathe,” she said.

Watching a hairstylist as they weave the hair in and out is like magic. Whatever the style, braiding is a true art form – one that only a few have really mastered.