Wednesday , May 29 2024

Saigon youth fall for African hair braids

African braided hairstyles are all the rage among Ho Chi Minh City’s young people after artists began popularizing the trend at local rap contests recently.

Tran Hoang Thuy, 21, said she had tried a variety of hairstyles in an attempt to find one that best represents her individual personality.

She’s now finally settled on cornrows, a braided hairstyle that originated in African societies. Thuy said she was inspired to try the braiding technique because it’s the favorite style of her idol, Vietnamese rapper Tlinh.

Her “rows” cost her VND1 million (US$41) and four hours at a hair salon. She said she felt the discomfort of tension on her scalp throughout the four straight hours of the process. But once it was finally all said and done, she was totally satisfied when she looked in the mirror.

“It took me a lot of time and effort, but I feel more confident and charming in this hairstyle,” she said.

Tran Hoang Thuy, 21, spends four hours and VND1 million on her cornrows. Photo by Hanh Le

Tran Hoang Thuy, 21, spends four hours and VND1 million on her “cornrows.” Photo by Hanh Le

As the new year is approaching, many people want to refresh their looks to inspire new beginnings. African braiding such as cornrows, twist braids, and box braids are now some of the most widely popular options in HCMC.

The rising popularity of these styles among young people can at least be partially attributed to popular rap artists sporting such looks.

Google’s 2020 annual report showed that the most-searched beauty-related query in Vietnam was “how to braid hair.” Similarly, a report regarding TikTok trends in Vietnam over the past three years revealed that the hashtag #cornrows had garnered an accumulative 4 million views, with 91% of the audience aged 18-34.

Nguyen Ngoc Ha, 26, a hair braider with 7 years of experience in HCMC, said her number of clients increased 30-40% this year compared to the same period last year.

“I was fully booked every day from morning till night in July this year,” she said. “I had only three days off throughout the month. I used to have a lot more free time.”

Ha said the number of her clients has continued to surge during the lead up to Christmas and the Tet Lunar New Year Festival. The majority of her clients are now students, but she has also styled for celebrities like rapper Phap Kieu and streamer Linh Ngoc Dam.

Ha said these African-style hair braids require braiders to learn intricate techniques that involve lines of hair tightly braided against the scalp, instead of merely at the ends of the hair as commonly featured by braiding styles in Vietnam.

The braids may also form different patterns – hearts, stars, or squares – and each African-style hair braiding session takes at least an hour to complete. Braiders also need to prepare specialized equipment like rarer hair gel and hair sprays.

Thus, African braiding is now seen as a specialized profession that general hairstylists might find challenging.

Because of the labor-intensiveness of these braiding styles, Ha now serves on average only two to three clients a day to ensure ample time for each process.

“I require my clients to come only when they have a lot of free time, as I want to be able to style without time constraints,” she said.

There are currently at least four to five HCMC establishments known for offering such specialized hair braiding services for both men and women. Hair braiding service prices in these places may vary, depending on the complexity of the style, the length and volume of the client’s hair, and the time the braider has to spend crafting their work. The cost of such braids is normally not lower than VND1 million, and can even go up to VND6-7 million.

“The most expensive hairstyle I have ever done cost VND 4 million” Ha said. “It took me from 9 p.m. to 12 a.m.”

It is reported that the majority of such braiding clients are women aged 18-26, with many among them being students and office workers.

“Celebrities only braid their hair when they attend special events or have photo shoots, while young people braid their hair anytime they like,” Ha said.

Rapper Minh Lai in full-head cornrow braids, which reportedly took two and a half hours to complete. Photo courtesy of Minh Lai

Rapper Minh Lai in full-head cornrow braids, which reportedly took two and a half hours to complete. Photo courtesy of Minh Lai

Apart from the idol culture, another common motivation for customers seeking new specialized hair braiding services is their desire to find confidence and express their individuality.

At a hair braiding establishment in the city’s Tan Binh District, Nguyen Le Thuy Nguyen, 18, is a regular customer.

An introverted student with long hair, Nguyen decided to get full-head cornrows for his 12th-grade yearbook photos because he wanted to stand out. He said his father discouraged him from maintaining the hairstyle, while his school’s principal asked him to un-braid it. But despite the naysayers, he received many compliments from his friends and ever since he’s felt more confident and distinctive in public.

In fact, Nguyen has been so pleased that he has since had his hair braided again.

“I feel I look good and unique in this hairstyle,” he said. “I have also made more friends after doing this.”

Nguyen’s hair braider is Dung Mai, 26, who was introduced to the profession in 2016 and officially started pursuing it as her career in 2018. She said the majority of her clients have been men, and the number of male clients seeking these braiding services has also been increasing lately.

“Vietnamese men usually have dry hair, which is harder to braid than women’s hair,” she said. “I only take customers whose hair is at least seven to eight centimeters long without scalp problems.”

Dung Mai said a good braided hairstyle must meet two criteria: clean and neat. The braid lines must be equal in size, straight, and tight, in order to last longer.

Dung Mai once spent 10 hours braiding female rapper V#’s hair. Photo courtesy of Dung Mai

Dung Mai once spent 10 hours braiding female rapper V#’s hair. Photo courtesy of Dung Mai

Maintaining the braids requires a lot of effort, according to her.

Holders have to cover their hair with a special scarf when riding motorbikes, as well as when sleeping or playing sports, in order to keep the braids in shape. They have to treat the braids carefully and only gently massage the scalp when washing their hair.

Holders may experience some scalp discomfort, which can make it hard for them to sleep on the first night after having their hair braided. However, they often get used to it after that. Their hair may turn curly after unbraiding, but it often returns to its original state after washing, Dung Mai said.

“People used to have their hair curled or dyed when they attended parties or outings as a way to stand out,” she added.

“Now they have braiding, which brings them a unique appearance without damaging their hair and scalp due to chemical usage, [as an additional option to consider].”

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