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The Difference Between Locs and Dreadlocks

Depending on where you’re from, locs and dreadlocks have different meanings and connotations, and it may be challenging to point out the differences between the two hairstyles.

Some people believe that dreadlocks are matted hair left to grow without proper care, and others believe that there are spiritual reasons to rock the dreadlock style. What’s right? What’s wrong?

Today, we’ll explore the differences between locs and dreadlocks.

Whether it’s locs or dreadlocks, you need to maintain them with the right products. Get yours here.

Related: Different Ways to Create Locs

A Brief History of Terms: Locs vs Dreadlocks

People of various races and religions have used “locs” and “dreadlocks” interchangeably for centuries. However, these two terms have different meanings and connotations behind them.

First, let’s look into where these two words came from:

What Are Dreadlocks?

Dreadlocks have an interesting history, most notably stemming from a group of East African warriors and holy Rastafarians in Jamaica

On the warrior’s side, the term came from the feeling of dread people would feel when coming upon the warriors who were identified by their unique dreadlock hairstyle.

However, the dreadlocks found in Jamaica are likely what had the stronger influence in the Western world. With their black hair history awareness, Rastafarians wore dreadlocks as a symbol of their religious status and power.

The real question is how significant is the word “dreadlock” to someone not of Jamaican descent and interested in relating to their locs with the concept of beauty, community, and personal history?

What Are Locs?

The term “dread” has positive sentiments in some cultures, but in others, it has a more negative meaning. The natural hair community aims to transform people’s perspective of natural hairstyles (like locs).

Although we don’t speak for everyone, we do know that transitioning from other hairstyles to natural locs is not always easy. We also believe that everyone in the natural hair community — whether you have locked or loose hair — should embrace their own natural hair texture, style, and beauty.

Locs are traditionally an African hairstyle that consists of twisted, coiled, or braided strands of hair, creating a rope-like appearance. This style’s history dates back to various cultures, religions, and areas, from ancient Greece and the Israelites to Hindus.

Locs and Dreadlocks: Connotations, Similarities, and Differences

man with dreads staring at the sunset

The primary difference between locs and dreadlocks is that one is simply a type of hairstyle, and the other is more of a way of life that may come with a significant religious or spiritual meaning behind it.

Dreadlocks vs Locs

Dreadlocks are a hairstyle involving braiding, rolling, or backcombing with little effort to finish the strands. The rope-like strands are typically thick and don’t have a defined root system.

Dreadlock roots don’t have rows of neat partitions — it’s more of a single mass that gets distributed into individual dreads. Once established, there’s no way to get a comb through dreadlocks, and it’s almost impossible to transition to a different hairstyle.

Related: What Are Faux Locs?

They have deep Rastafarian roots and became extensively popular along with reggae music in the early 1960s.

Locs are visually similar to dreads; however, they are often more polished due to constant twisting, braiding, coiling, or palm rolling. Locs typically go through different stages of locking that result in a polished look — the second stage (buttoning) gives locs their unique look.

The tighter your hair, the quicker and better it will lock, resulting in one significant difference from dreadlocks: you can see and identify your hair’s roots.

In addition, locs are challenging to remove; they must go through an “unlocking” process, which is relatively difficult to perform. This polished hairstyle is often decorated with various colors, charms, clasps, jewelry, and other accessories.

The Cultural Origins of Locs

Many anthropologists and historians believe that locs originated centuries ago. In addition, they weren’t restricted to African culture. While the look of the original hairstyle varies, it’s often described as rope-like strands of hair with defined roots.

Locs have been part of different cultures’ lives for centuries, including Egyptian, Ethiopian, Hindu, and Islamic ones.

People in Egypt would commonly wear their hair in the loc style after victories to represent power — it’s believed that the snake-like appearance showcased their accomplishments.

Similarly, the Hindu culture believed that the locs helped them control their energy and made them closer to their deity.

In addition, locs symbolize warriors and spiritual leaders in African American culture for those who want to remain connected to their roots.

The Cultural Origins of Dreadlocks

Apart from the confusion of dreadlocks vs. locs, there is an underlying negative connotation with the term “dreadlocks.”

Many people believe that the term originated from the slave trade era when Africans didn’t have the time or resources to groom their hair — that’s why many try to avoid the words “dread” and “dreadlocks.”

During this time, the long voyages didn’t allow them to properly groom their hair, leading to it getting “locked.” And because of this rope-like appearance, some would refer to their hairstyle as “dreadful,” leading to it being named dreadlocks.

Does That Mean Calling Them Dreadlocks Is Offensive?

man wearing a white sweater staring at the camera

Many African Americans shy away from the term because of its connection to slave history. However, the use of locs, dreads, and dreadlocks differ from area to area and carry different connotations.

In addition, some people have begun to reclaim the term “dreadlocks,” embracing it in an attempt to change the negative meaning into a positive one. Others, however, still prefer not to use it to honor their ancestors who suffered through the slave trade.

Related: What Are Freeform Locs?

A Final Word on Locs vs. Dreadlocks

To wrap up the locs vs. dreadlocks debate, the most important difference is their unique origin and history. 

Locs are often more defined with a distinguished root structure, while dreads don’t part on the scalp and have more of a dry, matted look.

Do you want locs that rival ancient African warriors or holy Rastafarians? Get the loc products you need from our shop at Lion Locs.

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