Adventures in Dreadlocking. And Personal Style.

A twisty tree. This will have to suffice in place of any pictures of me with dreadlocks. Because I just don’t have any. But you get the idea…

Oh the post titles just get better and better.

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now – just waiting for the mood to strike.

For years I considered getting dreadlocks. Off and on, in fact, since about 1993. So, um, a while then.

Now, I don’t identify with a “tribe” per se. In fact, I can be fairly skittish around tribes and groups. I like to connect with a diversity of people, and often find that tribes invoke a certain amount of conformity. Even amongst the counter-culture. Or sometimes, especially amongst the counter-culture.

Having said that, I do find I often have more in common with the tattooed, dreadlocked, body-modified, so called “freaks” than I do most others. I’m a freak, after all. And I really have deep aversion to a conservative mind-set that judges others negatively, based purely upon how someone dresses, their ethnicity, sexuality, or their appearance in general; and this as a test of whether they conform to a certain ideal or moral imperative that they (up)hold.

However, I don’t stand out myself, particularly. My ears are pierced, and that’s it. I did have a belly piercing years ago, but that just annoyed me no end, so I removed that one.

I have no tattoos. The idea just never gelled with me enough to get one. Or I couldn’t find one I connected to, or felt passionate enough about. I think if my body ever needed identifying, they’d know it was me by the lack of distinguishing features! I suspect I’m pretty much the only person in my circle who doesn’t have a tattoo.

To be honest, even though I love beauty and beautiful things, my preoccupation with beauty takes me in a slightly different direction. I’m just not interested in spending a great deal of time and money on my appearance. I think it may be that I’m fairly abstract.

Having said that, I’m very much an “embodied” person. I’ve never subscribed to the idea that we’re just walking brains. We at least partially express who we are through our bodies, through movement, and the senses. Skinny-dipping by moonlight, mud between the toes, rain on skin, woodsmoke and incense, and the rolling stretch and ache of muscles dancing, running.

To be honest, I’m actually pretty happy with me, my body. Long ago, I chose to love it. This has attracted a lot of criticism at my audacity. Audacity that someone as “imperfect” (as in, not like a model), as me could dare love her body and who she is – mon dieu!). It stirs up people’s merde. Women’s especially, and those who struggle with body image. But it’s not my merde to carry. All these ancient and cultural wounds that get laid on us. I just want others to enjoy their beauty too.

I do feel that my identity this way is quite fluid. And I like the freedom of that. In fact, the only person who has ever really hit the nail on the head for me, and reflected how I feel, really quite intimately, about “personal style” and dress is Amanda Palmer in this interview. Pretty much everything she says.*

I don’t like to be pinned down, put in a box, and categorised, (lordy! who of us does?) as belonging over here in “this” group of people, and not “that” group. But I’m aware that we humans do this instinctively. It’s how we primally recognise danger, and it’s also often how we spot our kindreds. But it can also be unkind.

But as much as I’ve observed the be-suited corporate person overlook and judge the ones who are colourfully dressed, with multiple piercings, and dreaded hair, I’ve also seen this operate in reverse. And I’ve also seen those who know how to rock a delightful fairy-goth sneer at the girl in the long flowery dress and cardie; or a women’s circle of hippy chicks snub and actively exclude a woman who had come straight from her day-job, dressed in suit and high heels.

They would never discover their wonderful convergences – that they like the same music, or share the same wicked humour, or love of books. We’ve probably all experienced shades of this, at some point in life. Either dismissing, or being dismissed.

We’re all capable of arrogance, hey? It’s too easy to begin to identify with those outward markers, to the point where it becomes the focus. And then we can begin to see through people. Or fear them.

I adore colour, but I often wear all black in social situations. A uniform of sorts, it brings me a sense of stillness. I can forget about how I look, and observe more. I don’t like to be the focus of attention. Although sometimes I do find myself a focus. I still, after all these years, (weirdly, in my 40’s, more so than ever), am approached on a near-weekly basis by complete strangers, and told that I look like “a short Julia Roberts! No, really – you do!”

This has been the case since I was 19 or 20 years old, when that dodgy film came out, and a boy in my undergrad english lecture, sidled up to me and told me, “you look just like Julia Roberts, you know”.**

Since then it’s been frequent enough that I have a polite response prepared so that I can smile, and move on. Quickly. It comes from both women and men. But there have been men (that I don’t know) who have been quite aggressively, (intimidatingly), pointed about me receiving it as a compliment; and they’re offended if my facial expression doesn’t show that I’m as thrilled or flattered as I “should” be. But that’s a whole other issue. For a start – um, men I don’t know. Personal space. Boundaries.

But I digress. Back to dreadlocks.

The thing is, I’m an extremely low-maintenance woman. I take about 10 minutes to get ready most days. Maybe 20 if I have to posh up for something. And dreadlocks have always looked like hard work. Also, as someone who can’t sleep with any jewellery on, (not even sleepers in my ears),*** the thought of sleeping with dreadlocks was slightly worrying to me.

Over the years I’ve chatted to friends and acquaintances with dreads, as well as professionals wot do dreadlocks; and I’ve also read a ton of stuff. Pretty much all of the advice I received about dreadlocks was that my type of hair would dread up ridiculously easily. But…it would behave like velcro. So keeping the dreads separate and defined would be a lot of work. They would instinctively seek one another out, and form one dread to rule them all.

But I tried it anyway. And it did dread up ridiculously easily. And…it behaved just like velcro. I lasted about half a day. I could already tell that it was going to be ridiculous for me. And the pain! Satan’s balls. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep properly, and I just don’t understand suffering for a look. I mean, that’s why I don’t wear high heels these days. With dreadlocks, I felt like a swaddled baby, fighting her way out of her wrappings.

I also noticed the judgements came thick and fast. This I found interesting more than anything. To be on the receiving end of people’s attitudes. I gathered it all up like a magpie.

I’m already a fringe-dweller by choice, but the silent and suspicious hostility I met with in certain quarters (in public space), was not only a bit of a downer, but it was also yet more attention I didn’t want, nor seek.

Some people were lovely of course, and you could even say this could be considered a litmus test of someone’s character. A test of their prejudice. But ultimately, I have no interest in testing people. People are people. And I actually enjoy being approachable, which I didn’t feel as much with dreads. Maybe when I too was a strawberry blonde 20 year old, the experience may have been different. But I’m nearly 45 now. Not that age is a barrier, because I’ve seen older women looking really quite fab with dreads. But we each wear things differently over time, don’t we?

So it all comes down to a sense of freedom for me. Just like any choice of this nature. For some, getting dreads, (or any other example of body modifying) can be liberating. They become more themselves. This is a Good Thing, non?

But I’ve returned to my version of au naturale. I’m really happy that I tried dreads though, because now I won’t always wonder what it would have been like. And I continue to admire dreads on others, and I think they can look beautiful. But for my own part, I’ll keep my hair long, and hennaed. For now anyway ; )

Has anyone tried dreadlocks? If so, what was your experience of them?





*Except that I’m not as enthusiastically naked as AP. Also Amanda Palmer says she doesn’t like online shopping, and apart from charity shops, that’s all I really do! Not that I buy clothes much. I can’t bear going into bricks-and-mortar shops, most of the time. The lights! The confusion! The time spent just shopping! Changing rooms! Cue irritability and existential woes about spending my life’s precious hours shopping.

**No. I f***ing don’t. This isn’t false modesty – I really don’t like it. None of my family and friends think, I look like JR either – and they know me well. They rightly think it’s ludicrous. Obviously there’s an echo of something there – from a distance. Maybe. But, honestly.

***I believe I may have sensory issues…I can’t abide anything on my body or around my body that hampers my sense of freedom. This is a big reason why I wear my hair long and don’t have a fringe (bangs), because my hair gets in my way otherwise. Also, I can only sleep on pure cotton sheets, and wear natural fibres, I’m extremely sensitive to noise, aromas, lights, and textures. I know this sounds neurotic at best, barmy at worst. I’ve always been like this. My parents stopped dressing me in red as a child, because I used to go, um, wild, whenever I wore that colour. So this is added context for anything I do with my hair and body.


13 thoughts on “Adventures in Dreadlocking. And Personal Style.

  1. Brilliant. I’m a long distance dread-lover too. I’ve dreamt of them for years but the fact is my hair is fine and it would suffer terribly. Also this isn’t Portland where such things are/were hip, it’s Wiltshire where you’d be taken for a feckless soap-dodger who lives in a bender, does too many drugs and hates everyone. Also… itchy! Smelly?! Mine would quickly become 25% canine and 10% hedgerow. But I do love them on other people.
    Great piece. Appearance is suddenly a big deal for me and something I’m wanting to write about. I just can’t unravel my feelings into sentences yet. X


    1. Yes – happy to love dreads from a distance, also. I have all the more appreciation for them now, in fact. And I’d love to read anything you write on appearance. I thought of a whole lot more I want to write about this, because…there are a million rabbit holes. But, yes. xxx


  2. Fabulous post. I’ve been wanting to get dreadlocks for years, despite my wardrobe being mostly lace and cardigans. The amount of work required for them has always put me off (ironic, since most people think dreadlocks = lazy/dirty) and also the fact that I am sensitive too, and having clumpy scratchy hair would be difficult to cope with. Someone else reminded me also of the joy of having the wind go through your hair. So I shall let dreadlocks remain a dream, and be content with that.

    The amount of judging of people based on their appearance is really so sad, as is the apparent confusion that someone could be two or more things at once – for instance, love to listen to heavy rock music while reading Jane Austen’s books. Most people are complex and contradictory, But we don’t seem able to publicly accept that.

    Now I’m off to read the Amanda Palmer interview. Thank you for the link. 🙂


    1. Oh Sarah, yes – the assumptions. I do get weary, I must admit. You’d think now, when we’re all exposed to a greater diversity of people, ideas, and images than ever before (through technology and travel) that there’d be a release on the death-grip of assumptions and judgements. Perhaps now people are more afraid of otherness, and become more “tribal” under such conditions (?).

      I do find there’s a lot of blandness – a lot of homogenising in Western culture. Whether that be apply to fashion, music, ideas, aesthetics. I think it’s actually quite fascinating to look at how and why this conservatism seems to have increased.
      Because as you say, most people *are* complex and contradictory. xxx


  3. let’s get one thing sorted: you do not look like julia roberts. which i believe to be a good thing, actually. i think that there are people, and quite a few—maybe most—are male, who seem to see faces almost schematically. it’s weird to me, but doubtless perfectly normal to those who are this way. i recall being in one of my life drawing classes and wondering why this other student’s sketches all sort of looked the same, no matter who was modeling that day. he had a sort of stable of female faces, three or so, that he drew. i began to watch him and question him, and i realized at some point that he was drawing what he saw, but that what he saw was filtered and/or grouped by certain salient features; eyebrows were a big one. shape of chin. length of mouth seemed noticeable by him. everything else just seemed invisible to him…my ex-husband was much the same. he also couldn’t tell a lot of colors apart, though he had no form of color blindness. turns out, people have differing numbers of receptors in their eyes for color, and people’s brains process what they see differently. so…

    i have all those sensory things going on that you mentioned…there are quite a number of us out there. we probably do learn to keep quiet about much of it, hoping to avoid the neurotic and barmy labels, but it’s always there!

    apropos that, i think you’d HATE having dreads. they are HEAVY. also, for many people, even when they keep them meticulously clean, they have a certain smell. not always, but often. they also grab and hang onto ambient odors like smoke, cooking smells, whatever. i love the way they look on other people of all ages and genders and types, and they are fun to play with, but i concluded without any real trial that they were not for me. my hair, matted and horrid after some of my extended childhood illnesses, convinced me of that for life…also, they can tend to break off in some people after a while, leaving one with gappy weird damaged hair amongst remaining dreads. it looks a bit like a failed felting experiment, or a shedding bactrian camel. i’m certainly not “anti” locks—far from it. i truly appreciate them on those who have hair that works well that way, and they have a fascinating beauty. but not on me. 🙂

    tattoos now…i love a good tattoo. i have to resist getting any more…


    1. Ah, bless you! And thankyou! I really don’t believe I look like JR at all. But that’s such an interesting idea about people seeing faces schematically. I’d never thought of that. And it makes sense to me!

      I’m discovering a lot of us out there with sensory and sensitivity issues. Mostly I encounter younger gens who speak of this…

      And with dreads – I hadn’t considered the heaviness factor. That’s a point. And as someone with heavy, thick, naturally dry-ish hair, I don’t doubt that my locks would suffer. I’m glad to have dabbled, it makes me not only really appreciate gorgeous dreads, but also my own hair more, somehow.

      I love a good tattoo as well…but like dreads, am happy to drool over them on others. But I never say never, I mean, who knows? I’m always open to possibilities, or a change of mood : ) xxx


  4. i’m not really seeing Julia Roberts either. but there you have it. in my twenties i was repeatedly accused of looking like that actress whose name i cannot for the life of me remember…the one that was in Silence of The Lambs? OH! Jodi Foster. yeah, not seeing it.


    did dreadlocks. realized i love them better from afar. they’re a TON of work — painful work — and since i have a very sensitive scalp, it was pure hell most of the time. even the tying-up of them hurt. i’m a person who can’t stand having her hair in a ponytail for too long, or to wear a hair-band, or head-wrap.

    also — they’re like little velcro spongey soaker-uppers so i gathered all manner of tat in them, including many aromas that no amount of washing could ever completely banish — that being eau de horse, which, although loved by many, also not loved by many.

    it was such a RELIEF to shave them off…oh, you can’t imagine the joy! i realize most people would labour over combing them out but i couldn’t bear one more yank on my poor head. i was very close to madness, i’m sure.

    i still love the look of them, though……just not the actual *feel*. 🙂

    ah, style and the assumptions made therein. ’tis indeed a veritable warren of rabbit-holes, that one!



    1. Mel, I can well understand the urge to shave your head, rather than painstakingly (pain being the operative word) trying to comb them out. Mine had hardly been in, and I found it a challenge to unravel them. But by gum, I did. I was determined. Poor hair.

      Ultimately I’m too lazy for dread maintenance. And the pain you speak of. Just can’t do it.

      Oh well, good to try, hey? Experimenting can often move us closer to where we truly want to be, I suppose. In truth though, I’d rather be in the garden. xxx


  5. Also did dreads. Had them c. 18 months, and sort of loved them from time to time, but man, they are timehoovers if you want them to look a certain way, and you are totally right with the ‘one dread to rule them all’ concept – in fact, that seems to happen even if your hair isn’t super-suitable (mine is naturally very slippery and fine, and not at all, ostensibly, a natural match for dreads). I spent bloody hours maintaining them, and they still ended up driving me up the wall. I still hanker, sometimes – part of me thinks if I’d had a bit more time I might have got to the point where they made sense, but I never quite made it.

    I have one tattoo, as of earlier this year. I love it; I wouldn’t be without it, but it took me a long time to find the right thing, and to have the confidence that it was for me. Same with piercings – I got my nose pierced in February, after years of wanting to and not being sure. It’s interesting to find that both changes have altered the way some people talk to me, from time to time; as you say, it’s always interesting, seeing the way people judge and sometimes overlook those about whom they’re making assumptions… I was often the heels/suit end of the community where my daughters were, until recently, at school, for example, and you’re bang-on about the harsh attitude you can encounter from the so-called alternative types… But I digress, and am about to rant… So will move on, and say I would love to see a pic of you with dreads – bet they looked fab while they lasted!


    1. I remember you had dreads for a while…you were one of a few who inspired my own efforts. And yes, the alternative community can be harsh. Elements therein are every bit as judgemental as those they rail against.

      Time. That four-letter word. As big an issue as pain, in my world. Time was, in the end, my tipping point with removing said dreads.

      Nose piercings are so pretty, (but this is where I reveal my pathetic squeamishness), I’m a bit wary (um – dead scared) of the discomfort involved there. My ears were pierced by a needle, not a gun. So I remember the all-too visceral sound of tearing fabric, and the searing, hot pain. A tattoo – still a possibility…maybe, (yes – truly pathetic).

      I kick myself that I don’t have photos of my dreading experience, because for about 5 minutes I was really happy with how they looked. For only 5 minutes, though. xxx


  6. Ah, Antoinette, thank you, very helpful info! I too, have played with the idea of dreads for years, and I imagine my hair would probably dread fairly easily, being thick and wavy (and now with wiry grey coming through!) I love the look, and having reached an age (50 this year) where I’m getting really annoyed at the idea that women ‘of a certain age’ should do particular things with their hair, I like the idea of something that is kind of ageless and unconventional. But…and it’s a very big ‘but’…I’ve also always been a low maintenance kind of girl, particularly with my hair. I discovered in my early teens that it was never, ever going to do what I wanted it to do (which at the time, was those perfectly symmetrical ‘flicks’ Farrah Fawcett style), and so I gave up and have pretty much let it do its own thing for the last 35 years, apart from the occasional henna or semi-permanent colour. The thought of having to spend a lot of time fussing with it is really putting me off the whole idea, and I wonder too, if it would drive my nuts trying to sleep at night (and there’s also the hat question…I’m rather fond of hats).

    I’m probably lucky that I live in a rather lovely country town community where no-one would really care, and I’d be in good company, but it would be interesting to see what kind of comments I got on my occasional trips up to the ‘big-smoke’.

    I do have a nose-stud, and also toyed with the idea of a tattoo, but it needs to be something that MEANS something to me, so I may never get around to doing that simply because I can’t decide what I want.

    So I may still try the dreads one day, but at least I have a better idea of what I’m in for!


    1. Apologies for my late reply Christina. I haven’t dropped in here for a wee while.

      Anyway, it does sound as though we both have similar hair types. I chuckled when you described your experiences as a teen – because my hair is also disobedient. Trying to get any kind of fringe on me makes me look demented. And I have to be so careful with getting layers because I can end up looking like a startled muppet.

      But yes – achieving dreads is pretty easy. But like you say – fuss! And hats! Oh my word! Hats! And the older I get, the more I love me a good hat. So, that’s a good point.

      I think I worked out that I may never get a tattoo, because I think I’m past the stage of treating my body like a canvas. It’s not an aversion, (I always appreciate seeing a good tatt). It’s just something I don’t think about. Any tattoo would have to have a lot of meaning, as you say. But I think it’s that I am much more interested in the land, and spending my money on poo and plants than on my body. Which makes me very much my grandmother’s daughter, I’m afraid.

      Although I do have a fetish for body oils/lotions, and gorgeous bedlinens. xxx


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