Typically, most braided hairstyles are worn by young women and girls under the
age of fifteen. The reason given most often by mothers who frequently braid their
daughter's hair is that young girls with hair long enough to wear braided can have their
hair styled in such a way that the hair will look groomed for as long as possible and will
remain tangle-free while the child goes about her daily activities. Mothers who are
practiced at braiding their daughter's hair love the fact that they can do the child's hair
and not worry that at bedtime or bath-time they will face the headache (for the girl,
often literal headache) of combing out tangles and snarls.
However, whether because of centuries of societal assignment, or
some inherent sense of aesthetic, many braided hairstyles just seem to
look more appropriate on younger women. This may be because
braiding seems to be "whimsical" or "playful" in many circumstances, no
matter how 'involved' the style is.
Or, perhaps, the level of detail and 'sophistication' of modern
hairstyling techniques is so far removed from the looks achieved by
braiding that these older techniques seem immature by comparison.
There are many exceptions. Many simple, sophisticated looks are
created using braids that both fit any occasion and flatter a woman's face. Yet in spite
of this, the opinion that most braiding styles look better on younger women is nearly universal.
This was not always the case.
We are all aware that hairstyles have changed throughout history. It is a fact well-
documented by paintings, tapestries and other artwork through the ages. Modern
women have the benefit of changing mores, and advances in styling technologies that
allow them the freedom to wear their hair virtually any way that they want. In earlier
periods of history, we see that for women, long hair was the custom. Artwork from the
Medieval and Renaissance periods show us many women who wore their hair in
elaborate braids and styles, with hair that fell well past their hips in most cases.
It should be noted that these styles did not reflect the norm among the populace.
Elaborate hairstyles were not to be found among the average woman in the periods, in
spite of their prevalence in portraiture artwork from these eras. We, the viewer, must
remember that only in very rare cases was a "common" woman ever depicted in an
artist's work. Most artists created their pieces when commissioned by wealthy merchants
and nobles, and these pieces were usually to be done to immortalize a favored family member.
The women found in such portraits were members of wealthy families, with dozens
if not scores of servants in the household, many of whom were assigned the sole task
of assisting the lady in bathing, grooming and dressing. There is also the fact of a
much "slower" pace to life in the earlier eras, and many ladies of standing spent
hours being groomed and coiffed in elaborate hairstyles for the various social events to which she would be invited.
Because of this, elaborate and complicated braids would be created and worn for
days at a time, which seems less unusual when you consider that women's dresses of
the period were usually sewn directly onto the lady with detachable portions such as
skirts and sleeves that could be removed for sleeping. Particularly in Medieval periods,
braids were the fashion because of the long-wearing nature of the styles. The amount
of time required to braid hair that was often several feet long was lessened when the presence of grooming maids is factored in.