I love my dreads. They’ve been the best decision I’ve made for our travelling lifestyle. I’m so happy with how they look on me, the ease of maintenance and the immediate bond I have with people at the extreme cultural edges of our society!

Lauren, January 2012
I'm really happy with my dreadlocks. Would you judge me based on my hairstyle?

Easy-wear

Dreadlocks have been a terrific decision for full-time travel. In the morning, I get up and go without even thinking about my hair. A woman can decide whether she wants to wear make-up or not, but it’s very hard to get away with no hair care at all. The only exception I can think of to this is my friend Missy — she’s kept her hair shaved for years.

Before I had dreadlocks, I was used to brushing my long hair out each morning. Even before we started travelling full-time, my hair became annoying. However, I like wearing long hair and even though I kept breaking hair brushes, I didn’t want to cut it short.

Dreadlocks mean that I can have long hair to wear up or down. However, I don’t have to do anything to it if I don’t want to. I simply adjust my headband from the night’s rolling around and I can face the world.

Cultural considerations

In December 2010 when I paid to have my hair styled into dreadlocks, I didn’t realise how it would change me. I didn’t realise that I was entering into an alternative, creative subculture where I would be welcomed and embraced — simply because of my hairstyle!

Days after I started wearing my dreads, I realised that all of a sudden I didn’t necessarily belong in mainstream society any more. I was walking through a busy shopping centre in Brisbane when I met the eyes of an Aboriginal man. He smiled at me and greeted me, and I greeted him back. Then we passed each other by and never saw each other again. I am certain that if I had been wearing my hair in my previous style, or perhaps in any other style, we would not have shared that moment of casual friendship.

Over the last year, I have encountered many similar individuals. Because of my hairstyle, I am judged as creative, liberal, inclusive and edgy. These are good for me — they pull me out of my comfort zone where I am seeking approval in conformity and peace in anonymity.

I don’t doubt that I may also be judged as dirty, poor, lazy and a druggie. One by one, with each positive encounter I have with anyone who judges me poorly, I can break down any negative stereotypes that may still be remaining.

One time in a large department store in New Zealand, I remember selecting some items for purchase and then deciding at the last minute that I would buy neither one. Instead of returning them to their proper places, I dumped them onto the trolley of a nearby shop assistant who was hanging clothes on the racks. Her negative reaction initially made me feel defensive and outraged. Surely it was her job to put things back in their right places. And then I woke up. I didn’t want to be the lazy, dreadlocked stereotype — I want to be the friendly, loving dreadlocked lady! Since then, I have been mindful — especially in stores — to be courteous and lovely to those around me, especially to those who are being paid to serve me.

I haven’t found that there are places that I cannot go because of my dreadlocks. Money talks, and if we have the money to be in a certain venue, then my hairstyle is irrelevant.

However, I have discovered that my dreads do grant us entry into certain places that we may otherwise not gain access to. Because I have chosen to wear my hair in this way, we are considered to be “safe” in homes where the average middle-class suburbanite family would not be welcome.

Dread care

There is some maintenance with dreadlocks, but it’s quite minimal. I wash my hair, and dreadlocks can be washed in the same manner as loose hair, but I continue to use the baking soda and apple cider vinegar combination that weaned me off regular shampoo years ago. I only feel like I need to wash my hair if I’ve been quite sweaty or if my scalp gets itchy.

Twice in the past year, I’ve paid for dreadlocks maintenance. This is when someone looks at each individual dreadlocks, tightens it, winds loose hairs into place and threads the lock into itself at the scalp. Because my hair that is growing out is not growing in dreadlocks (yet — it should start happening naturally in about the third year), I need to have this done every six months or so. Otherwise I look very fuzzy-haired — which is not necessarily terrible and can easily be covered with my head covering!

Accessories

There are three main accessories that I use with my dreadlocks. The first is the scarf/headband. I use a Buff, and although I have a couple of others, I love my Buff best because although I’ve been wearing it almost daily for a year, it hasn’t pilled or faded. It’s a really versatile head-covering and is so quick to wash and dry.

Lauren's dreadlocks, December 2011
I wear my red Buff almost every day — sometimes as a headband, sometimes as a hair elastic.

I also love my wrap-around hat. For most of the year, I couldn’t find a hat that would fit my head because the dreads pad it out and make it so much bigger! I used a crocheted hat that I ordered online, but it didn’t provide enough sun-protection to make me feel comfortable and it was also too hot to wear in summer. So when I spied a wrap-around hat with no crown, I knew that it would be the perfect companion for my head — and it comes in red!

The only other accessory that I’m on the look-out for is a shower-cap large enough to fit my big head of hair. I know that there are some online sellers, but I’m reluctant to buy one without trying it on. Does anyone know of someone who makes large shower-caps (in red) specifically for dreadlocked heads?

Lauren's dreadlocks, January 2012
The hat wraps around my head and is secured with a bit of velcro. If I want to protect the crown of my head from the sun, I simply pull my Buff over the top of my head.

I’ve seen some very creative dreadlocks out there. Some people felt lengths of wool into their hair to add colour. Others colour individual dreadlocks. Others wrap dreadlocks in strips of fabric. There are many options available that look great.

Lauren's dreadlocks, December 2011
I'm happy with my natural auburn colour, but I do like accessorising with beads.

With kids

Long hair and babies don’t go well together. Somehow, strands of hair become wrapped around their arms, fingers and other parts. They clutch at strands of hair and become tangled in it. With dreadlocks, however, I haven’t yet found any strands of my hair wrapped around any bits of Elijah. They’re so tightly wound up in locks that they don’t escape!

Also, when a toddler pulls on a dreadlock, it’s not painful like it is when a toddler pulls on loose hair. It’s more akin to having a ponytail pulled. This is a relief as Delaney is a real hair-puller. She likes to use it to gain power over someone, and when she pulls my hair, I don’t have to react!

What about you?

I understand that they’re not for everyone, but I’m stoked every time I hear of someone new who is choosing to dread their hair. This hairstyle has set me free — not just from brushing — but also from my cultural ties that held me back from connecting with a wider range of individuals. I’m delighted to be part of this dreadlocked sub-culture and would love others to experience this same freedom that I’m experiencing.

Do you have a dreadlocks story to tell?