Love & Sex

Tools of Attraction: Dreadlocks

Pin it

"People will say, 'Oh, you're so beautiful, but I can't bring you home to my parents…'"

Kara, 29

So how long have you been rocking this 'do?
Since 2001. When I was seventeen, I cut off all my hair. Not because I wanted to, but because it was so damaged from chemical relaxing. I'm a low-maintenance type of person — I don't like having to go the salon and having a big fuss. I decided I wanted something that I could maintain myself. I was about to move to Paris for a year and I was like, "Why is my number-one concern about whether or not I can find a salon to do my hair?!" After going back and forth for several months, I just decided to go for it. It was kind of scary, because I didn't know anyone with locks and my parents' big thing was to keep it neat. To this day, my mom still wants me to cut my hair and start them over. She wants them to be more salon, Wall Street-looking locks. 

There are Wall Street locks?
Yeah, we call them buppie locks. 

What did the Parisians think of your locks?
It was interesting because if I had them freshly twisted, people would give me compliments, but at the same time there was a stigma surrounding Rastafarians there. So, the Rastas thought I was one of them — I was not. A lot of them tried to talk to me and include me in the community. Everyone thought I smoked marijuana, which I didn't. You know, a lot of stereotypes. 

Do people think you are making a political statement with your hair?
Yeah, I think when people see me, they think, "Oh, there goes that very political, pro-black woman!" I'm so not, "power to the people." I could shave my head tomorrow and I'd still be the same person. 

Do people use your dreads as a come-on? 
Oh yeah, all the time. Everybody. Yes. They've been fetishized quite often in ten years. Like, "Oh, I'd just love to have sex with you and pull your dreads."

People really say that to you?
People say that to me! On the opposite end, people will say, "Oh, you're so beautiful, but I can't bring you home to my parents." That's a more Caribbean thing. I lived in the Caribbean, and the island I lived on, they did not like Rastas. But I've had more of the fetishizing.

Have you ever dated a person with locks?
I have. But I decided that I didn't need to date people based on them having locks after I ran into some really interesting, not-so-cool characters because I was like, "Oh, they have locks! They're peaceful, they're cool!" and that really wasn't the case. Actually, I'm married now and my husband, when I met him, didn't have locks at the time. He'd had locks before. His claim is that he had a vision of who his next partner was going to be and he didn't see my face but he knew I'd have locks. And so, when he saw me at a [whispers] poetry open mic… I know that's corny.

That's not corny! That's exactly what I dreamed for you!
He was just like, "Yes! I'm going to go talk to her!" He just started growing his locks again.

What do you think about white dudes rocking locks?
You know what? I don't have a problem with anybody rocking locks. One of my big inspirations was this book called Dreads which has beautiful photos of people all over the world wearing locks. As long as you're washing your hair and it's clean and you're not sticking honey in it… some people have some really weird ideas about how to start locks. People use honey and toothpaste. I studied abroad — not to keep name-dropping places — in Ghana for six weeks several years ago. There was a girl there who got involved with a Ghanaian Rasta guy, and he told her that Jah put a calling on his heart to put glue in her hair and start locks. 

Did she do it?
Yes! It looked green. She ended up cutting her hair off. She needed to. I was just like, "You let that man put glue in your hair?" I don't know… she's weird. She also slept with our van driver. She had lots of love. 

Prince, 22

Where are you from?
Cali. San Diego. 

How long have you had dreads?
At least two years. Basically, I was going through a phrase, trying to figure out my identity. I tried out the dreads and decided they were the perfect match — low-maintenance, but they still look cool in any outfit. 

Everyone keeps telling me they're low-maintenance, but I don't know if I believe that. 
It depends. Like you said, there are different styles of dreadlocks. There are some that are curly, which actually call for a lot of maintenance. For mine, all you need to do is wake up in the morning and spray on a little Afro-Sheen. What's so special about my hair is that I actually can't get it wet — it dwindles and it loses its thickness.

How does showering work then? 
Oh, I just wear a shower cap! And then after I shower, I just do this [shakes head]. A quick toss. 

Does it smell?
Oh, no, no, no. There are no smell issues at all. The only smell issue is the grease cream. It's called dread wax. It has fruits in it. It's specially made for your hair, and it smells wonderful. That's the only smell issue. 

That's not an issue at all. 
No, it's not an issue. It's a delight.

Have ladies approached you more because of your hair? 
Well, my girlfriend finds my hair sexy. I think that this was a good decision for me. I do receive compliments on my hair. My girlfriend especially loves my hair because she can just grab onto it.

So you're totally comfortable with people coming up to you and talking about your hair? 
I encourage it. Of course, if someone just tries to touch it without asking permission, that's not cool. Otherwise, I encourage it, because I put a lot of time and effort into this hair and I do want people to compliment it. When I see a beautiful girl who has her hair done or her dreads done, I compliment her on that, because I know it takes a lot of time and effort to get that.

Do people politicize your hairstyle?
Of course. When they see my hair, they ask if I'm from the islands. It definitely gives me a laid-back vibe. That's the kind of politics I get pegged with: liberal, laid-back. 

Did you have any culture shock, coming to the Big Apple from California?
Everyone here is fast-paced. In Cali, it's slow. Everyone is just enjoying themselves. That was a huge shift. Also, I've found out that people pay a lot of attention to their clothing. That's something I like about New York — people like to dress up. Everyone in Cali wears a white t-shirt, blue jeans, and sandals.

What do you think about white guys with dreads?
I think it's awesome. I take no offense to it at all. Nothing. In Cali, there are a whole lot of white dudes with dreads. Just be sure that you don't do it because it's cool. Do it for yourself.

"Forest Being," 42

Where are you from?
I'm from Australia.

How long have you had dreadlocks?
I've had dreadlocks three times in my life. The first time was maybe fifteen or twenty years ago. I love the energy of dreadlocks, but it gets to a point where it's good to shed a skin, like a snake. It was really refreshing and I felt really light, it sort of opened me up a lot more. Then my hair grew and it happened again [laughs]. It just happens I've got curly hair, and it's actually more of a struggle to keep the knots out. For me, my dreadlocks represent a rain forest. It just feels like an expression of life.

How do you maintain your dreads?
You've got to put a lot of care into them to have nice dreads. Each time I've had dreads they've been different. The first time I had dreads, they were quite thin and even, and I had a lot more time in my life to put energy into them. This time I've got big, chunky ones.

Has anyone ever tried to pick you up because of your dreadlocks?
Actually, I don't think so. I think it works the other way around. I think that all the pretty girls go for guys with dreadlocks, and all the guys go for the pretty girls with the lovely hair.

Do you think people get turned off by it?
It depends. There are so many types of people in the world, aren't there? I can definitely see this trend of dreadlocky guys who go for the kind of really neat girls.

Is there a particular type of hairstyle you go for with guys?
I love long hair. Somehow that just really does it for me. I think it represents an element of freedom, wind-in-the-hair wildness. 

Do people ask you for drugs a lot?
Yeah, people come up and go, "Oh, you want some marijuana?" just because I've got dreadlocks, and they're a little disappointed when I go, "No thanks."

Have you ever dated someone with dreads?
Yup, my husband. My husband used to have dreads.

Why did he decide to get rid of them?
Life is an organic, changing process, y'know? What works sometimes just comes to an end. There are cycles in life and that's just how it works. Maybe he'll have them again one day. Luckily, I'm not attached to him having dreads to be in love with him [laughs]. You miss them at first. It's a big thing, letting go of your dreads. You've got to be really ready to cut them off — once they're gone it's a complete change. 

Kylie, 19

So, how long have you had dreads for?
I've had them for two years and two months. I've had really curly hair my whole life and I just wanted something different. I just wanted to focus less on having to deal with my hair and more on other things in life, I suppose. 

So you deal less with dreads? That's surprising to me.
Well, it's yes and no. On a daily basis, you deal with them. When I first started them, my hair was down to my boobs. Have you ever seen Across the Universe?

Sadly, yes. 
You know that character Sadie? That's what my hair looked like. I loved it, and it was easy if I threw product in it, but if I was going out, I would have to do an up-do or straighten it, which was a pain in the ass. I don't know how I ever had time for high school. Some of my friends would spend two hours before school fixing their hair. 

Where did you go to high school?
In central New Jersey. Small, one-square-mile, bubble, shithole town. I just wanted something different. I'm sure not a lot of people think of dreadlocks that way. It's just cool to me that when you first start them, they look fucked up for a good couple of months before they lock up. It's interesting how knotty hair would normally be considered imperfect. People brush their hair to get out knots and use products, but with dreadlocks, the more knotty they get, the more perfect they look as dreadlocks. It sounds corny, but it's a spiritual type of journey as well. 

As a fellow curly-haired girl, I also spent some high-school years wrestling with a straightener. Why do all curly-haired chicks hate their curls? 
I don't know. My mom's owned a hair salon for about twenty years. They don't do locks there. It's upper-middle-class, old, white women — ladies who come in once a week just to get their hair washed and blown-out. I guess it's all about having control over your hair. That's what locks are like too, but they're more of an art project. An art project on my head. 

What does your mom think about your locks?
She fucking hated them at first. She's a hardcore, conservative Republican. She's an immigrant. She's all about, "Yeah, America! I'm a citizen now! I own a hair salon in New Jersey!" You know how they say two ugly people make a pretty baby? Well, I guess two conservative Republicans make a liberal hippie with dreadlocks. 

Have you ever been hit on because of your dreadlocks?
Oh, yeah. All the time. I'm not patting myself on the back. It's really funny that I should say this too, because I'm seeing someone right now who also has dreadlocks. 

What's the rule on two people with dreadlocks dating? 
It's weird, but I was waiting for that moment from the minute I started dreadlocks. "One day, I'll find my dreadlocked equal!" His are short and he just started them. We met at my school through a mutual friend.

Do the dreads come in handy in sexual moments?
Oh, dude! First of all, so many of my friends from home — like I said, I'm from a tiny town where nobody leaves, a bunch of guidette club girls. When I first started my locks, my friends would made stupid comments about guys pulling my dreadlocks and I would just say, "Yeah! It's like fucking ropes on my head. You're jealous. Whatever." That's why I was so happy to get with the guy I am currently seeing: now I get to grab his dreads. 

It's a mutual exchange of pulling. That's beautiful.
I know, it is! It's animalistic. We both have loft beds too. We're just like two little monkeys.