African-style braiding became popular in the late 1970s, enjoyed a resurgance in the '90s and is coming back once again. On June 30, Nawa "Kandee" Kamate, of K&D African Hair Braiding in Bay Shore, talked about how hair braiding is more than a fashion choice — it's rooted in community, family and helping people wear styles more representative of their culture. Credit: Randee Daddona

“Summer is a disaster for me” says Aliza Licht, 44, a North Woodmere native who is a fashion executive and author. She’s talking hair. “I become a Chia Pet, for real. My entire happiness is based on the percent of humidity that day. On bad days, I look like I’ve been electrocuted, and I’m miserable.”

Licht, along with many others, has discovered the beauty and the ease of the summer braid. With the help of a headband and the skills of a talented co-worker, Licht has been sporting a thick fishtail braid to tame her summer locks. When she wears the look, she says: “I feel put-together and chic. Every part of my hair is secure and humidity proof.”

For college student Eboni Porter, 18, of Freeport, long box braids help keep her cool and protect her hair, which she says gets, “really, really dry in the summer.” Versatility is a selling point for her. “I get bored with my hair, and when it’s braided, I put it up in a ponytail to wear to the gym, braid the braids or even add silver thread or beads for a different look. It’s a fun way to change things up.”

Added benefit? The cooling effect. “The air on your scalp feels so good,” she says. For Porter, braiding can take up to 10 hours when done by a friend and a third of that time when she goes to a salon. And the process goes beyond hair, says Porter. “It’s a bonding experience that’s been passed through the generations. Every black girl goes through that. Your mom does it when you’re little, and I remember wanting to spend that time with her. You braid when you sleep over at a friend’s house. And even now, I do it for my younger cousins before we go out.”

At K&D African Hair Braiding in Bay Shore, manager Nawa “Kandee” Kamate says she’s seen “a definite spike in the popularity of braids. They’re a lot less work and a sun-protective style, along with being hip, fun and daring for the summer.” And although it’s “part of our culture,” says Kamate, whose parents own the salon and came here from Africa's Ivory Coast, there are no ethnic boundaries when it comes to braiding. “We see folks from all types of cultures here — African-American, Latina, Asian, whites and even males.”  

At her salon, braiding can take anywhere from 45 minutes to six hours depending on the complexity and length of hair. “Feed-in corn rows like the ones appropriated by Kim Kardashian are the quickest,” Kamate says. Not so fast: braids Beyoncé wore in her "Lemonade" music video. “The length is dramatic, and you need an eye for symmetry and shape,” Kamate says.

The twisted trend has caught on at nuBest salon and spa in Manhasset, too. “We’re doing a ton of braids right now,” says owner Jamie Mazzei. “It’s an easy thing to do and there are a lot of fun styles out there, other than the traditional French braid.”

Fashion exec Aliza Licht, of North Woodmere, uses a a...

Fashion exec Aliza Licht, of North Woodmere, uses a a fishtail braid to control problem summer hair. Credit: Aliza Licht

Mazzei thinks that HBO medieval drama “Game of Thrones” may have spurred the trend, but for summer, he says, “it’s a collision of style and practicality. Fitness is part of it. People are wearing braids at the gym to keep their hair in check and tame, but you can also look great at a party with a braid and, no question, they’re a shield for humidity.”

Although they’ve done men’s braids at nuBest, they’re not quite as popular, says Mazzei. “It’s rarer on a guy, though it’s possible that the man bun may be morphing into the man braid.”

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