Dreadlocks - Pimp my Scalp
November 21, 2005 12:55 AM   Subscribe

I might get dreadlocks over Thanksgiving break. Who has experience caring for dreadlocks or interesting dreadlock stories, especially regarding any social stigma?

I have extremely thick curly blonde hair that I've been keeping just above my eyes for several years now. At this length, it forms thick dreads on its own rather quickly. As an experiment, I want to try actual dreadlocks.

I can have my little sister and her little high school friends put my hair in dreads for free over break, and if I immediately dislike them I should have a few days before they really set to pull them out. I'd like neatly ordered dreadlocks that aren't monstrously thick, so the idea is for them to partition my hair appropriately and then use the backcombing method. Once I’ve got them, how much effort will it take to properly maintain them?

Am I likely to run into any trouble in society for having dreadlocks? The friends I’ve mentioned this to think it’s a fine idea. I am curious what kind of first impression dreads tend to make on women. I’m not worried about getting harassed; I’m 6’5”, heavily muscled, and if need be I can defend myself or run like hell. However, it would suck if the police decided to mess with me because of my hair or if I had trouble getting service somewhere. If I like my dreads and decide to keep them, will having neatly cared for dreadlocks damage my chance of finding summer employment or an actual job in the future? I’ll be graduating with a B.S. in physics and would like to work in the science industry for a year before I go to grad or law school.

So, I’d appreciate your thoughts on the technical and social aspects of having dreadlocks. Blunt and disparaging opinions are welcome; a person with your strong opinion might someday be in charge of hiring me, reviewing my insurance claim, or thinking about dating me. Just provide a reason.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (70 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I've had dreads for about 2 months now. I don't really know the right way to care for them yet - they're getting a little ratty (I'm planning on taking a crochet hook and pulling the loose ends through, unless I come up with a better idea).

I've had no real problems with them, socially. Strangers treat me pretty much the same as they did when I had my hair tied back in a braid. Some of my cousins have made it clear that they don't like the dreads, so I'm sure that they're not universally adored, but I didn't get them to please everybody.

My boss's reaction when he saw them was "All right!" but I work for a small software company in SoMa in San Francisco. I'm positive that there are businesses where employees would be disallowed from dreads.
posted by aubilenon at 1:20 AM on November 21, 2005

Blunt and disparaging opinions are welcome

Alrighty then.

Are you white? If so, don't do it.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 1:30 AM on November 21, 2005

i flirted with dreadlocks only recently, but after the first day i had enough and removed them relatively easy by combing the dreads out little by little and washing and conditioning the hair to remove the wax that was left in.

i guess i just don't have the patience, plus i like the ability to touch my scalp.
posted by a. at 1:31 AM on November 21, 2005

As for the effect on women - like any distinguishing feature - goatee, shaved head, long hair, tattoos - somewhat polarising, I would imagine. There'll be women who might not otherwise be immediately attracted to you who now will be, and vice versa.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 2:02 AM on November 21, 2005

I've had dreads for ~6 years now. Thickest are a little above the width of a finger, most about half that. Mine formed naturally so I don't know how or if your forced dread experience will be different. Given all that:

1. Responses can be very positive. I probably average about 1 "Hey man, cool hair" remark for every 4 times I go out. Girls like playing with them.

2. Responses can be somewhat negative. Some people have a visceral reaction to hair they perceive as dirty. Matted hair can trigger that reaction.

3. It takes quite a bit of shampoo to produce a lather that will permeate dreadlocks.
posted by catachresoid at 2:17 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: AmbroseChapel; Well, I tan as dark as my half Portugese roommate after working outside over the summer, but yes, I'm white. Blonde hair, blue eyes; I definitely look the part of my German/Irish ancestry.

Why shouldn't I get dreadlocks because I'm white? I know dreadlocks are now commonly associated with and got their current name from rastafarianism, but they've been used by people of all colors throughout history; Christian and Hindu monks, etc... I don't see how I'm appropriating anyone's cultural icon; they certainly aren't unique to rastafarianism or black culture even if they have been out of style in Europe for a few centuries. Further, I think the idea of a particular fashion belonging to an ethnicity is silly. Of course, if I'm going to have to constantly explain that to people, I have something to think about.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 2:38 AM on November 21, 2005

i had dreadlocks (down to the small of my back) for about 5 years before shaving them off. they ruined my hair for about a year afterwards, in that it growed back strangely. no matter what people tell you, they're difficult to look after and wash and you will likely get dandruff (which will become part of the dreadlocks - not pleasant!). also, after being established, they are permanent.

Am I likely to run into any trouble in society for having dreadlocks?
depends where you are, i spent time working in both london and seattle (working in IT) and nobody batted an eyelid. but if you live somewhere more conservative i think you will run into more problems.
posted by tnai at 2:42 AM on November 21, 2005

I had dreads for a few years. Chicks dig them. Bosses in the financial sector do not.
posted by pompomtom at 4:09 AM on November 21, 2005

I agree with ThePinkSuperhero. I think that white people with dreads are ridiculous-- not just because it looks ridiculous, but because I've had to walk past the Food Not Bombs stand a few too many times and actually heard dread-headed white boys talking. So I wouldn't talk to you and I certainly wouldn't hire you.

That said, you don't care about impressing me. You're in college-- go nuts and don't worry about what other people will think. You're probably going to have a haircut dictated by The Man for the rest of your life starting very shortly.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:53 AM on November 21, 2005

My little brother (22, white) has them down to his lower back. Maybe I'm just used to them, but I think they look fine. He tends to keep them tied back when I see him at family gatherings, so maybe I'm missing the full effect.

On the upside, he's had some attractive girlfriends since he started growing them.

On the downside, one of them had very fair skin and broke out into a rash whenever his dreads brushed her face.

On the upside, he's travelled the world and had no dread-related problems -- in fact, they've helped him meet more young locals than he probably would have otherwise. He's a very smart kid who's participated in some interesting science research projects both the US and foreign countries, and received no guff from professors or others.

On the downside, his hair can really start to stink between washes.

Overall, I'd say if you can overcome any stigma the dreads carry with your winning personality, and keep them from grossing people out with the smell, you'll be fine.
posted by schoolgirl report at 5:42 AM on November 21, 2005

Look, there's nothing inherently wrong with dreads on a white guy. It's just that a lot of white guys with dreads happen to be wankers, and like it or not some people will lump you in with them.

That said, when I had dreads — and I'm white, and FWIW I was a bit of a wanker at the time — I never got hassled by the police or thrown out of stores or anything. It's like a permanent Phish T-shirt, not like a visible gun holster or even a facial tattoo.

If you do get dreads, have someone else form the locks for you. Each lock needs to come from a contiguous patch of your scalp. Even a few out-of-place hairs will make them look ratty and uneven, so it's very important that you get this stop right. Do you have any friends who are good enough at braiding hair to get paid for it? If so, they're the ones you want to recruit.

Be warned, too, that if you cut the locks out and grow your hair back, it may have a totally different texture. When I put mine in dreads, it was long and wavy and a little frizzy. When I cut it out at the end of the summer, it grew back in tight little curls, and 5+ years later it's still curly.
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:49 AM on November 21, 2005

(Get this step right. Forgive me. It's early here.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:51 AM on November 21, 2005

You're gonna have to smoke a LOT of pot.
posted by spilon at 6:02 AM on November 21, 2005

for science/grad i can't imagine it being a problem - don't know about law.

i've never thought about this before. i'm off to google to see if it's possible to have them when you're starting to go bald on top... :o)
posted by andrew cooke at 6:18 AM on November 21, 2005

I'm white, my wife's black. When I see a white person with dreadlocks I immediately think "hippie." When she sees a white person with dreadlocks she thinks it's another attempt at by a white person at appropriating black culture. She's not militant by any stretch but to her it's poor form.

As others have said, though, you only live once. If you want to do it, do it.

But whatever you do, promise...PROMISE you won't wear patchouli.
posted by Atom12 at 6:38 AM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: I've had dreads since 1994. I just recently got into a conversation with a lady who teaches health classes at the local high school about them. She had a hard time believing they weren't dirty or otherwise some sort of a health hazard. I hope that I gave her some useful information. Mine are not the "put wax in and get dreads" sort of dreadlocks, they are the "let your hair do its thing" sort of dreadlocks, so I'm not sure about how to make them and maintain them if you have them the way you seem to be considering. I have a lot to say on the subject so forgive me for not being brief.

culture: people will assume that you are a hippie and that you smoke pot. I've seen people with dreadlocks who can overcome this and get normal jobs, etc, but you'll probably have to do more work at it than you would otherwise. I've had no problem being a public librarian, an IT person, a tech consultant, an adult ed teacher or a visitor to nearly anyplace with my hair this way. When I went to Romania with waist-length dreads people called me "Bob Marley" because they had never seen another white person with dreadlocks. The people in this thread who seem to have some sort of "don't do it if you're white" opinions are not typical of people I have met over the last decade. I've had people who've asked me why I've done it, and I'm familiar enough with Rastafarian culture that people who are deeply involved with that culture don't think I'm just goofing on it. If you're black people will be more likely to assume you have some cultural reason to have dreads, or that black hair "just does that", if you're white they may see it as a bit more of an anti-social stance.

care: People have varying experience with care and maintenance of their dreadlocks, here is mine. Mine don't itch, mine don't get dandruff. I rinse mine off, but I rarely wash them with soap. Usually I don't even get them wet in the shower, they are hell to dry especially in the winter. This has been fine until just recently when I started swimming regularly and the chlorine + hair oils turned into something nasty. I am cutting them off this weekend and will try again once my hair is short. I have never had a problem with them itching, smelling, offending, whatever. People have very different dreadlock care regimens. People outside of Rasta/hippie culture often don't know many white people with dreadlocks so they may make assumptions about your cleanliness or lack thereof.

other people: people have covered this pretty well. When people ask why I got dreads originally I told them that it was because I was tired of random guys hitting on me at the bus stop [I had longish red hair which is some sort of a freak magnet] and it worked. People who are attracted to people with dreads are a small subset of the general population. This may be good or bad depending on how you feel about other people. I think there have been some people who thought I was perhaps more interesting or more alternative than I am because I had dreadlocks. Other people have thought that I was more unpleasant than I am because I had dreadlocks. Just like any outward manifestation of "I'm different, on PURPOSE" some people will assume things that aren't true. If you are generally outgoing and congenial and willing to talk about it, that should not be a problem.

In short it's a better thing to do at this point in your life if you're dread-curious than at a later date when you may already have a job. Good luck, email me if you have more questions.
posted by jessamyn at 6:58 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Definitely keep them small. The big chunky ones tend to look matted and gross: more like fur, less like hair. And if you can avoid combining your dreads with long facial hair, that would be a huge plus.

To me (freaky left-wing intellectual chick)
- Guy with neat dreads and glasses=original sexy hottie
- Guy with matted dreads, tie-dye and woolly beard=gross hippie dude
posted by junkbox at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2005

I’m 6’5”, heavily muscled, and if need be I can defend myself or run like hell.

The odds of you being beaten up for wearing dreadlocks have got to be utterly trivial, and anyone who would do so would probably have found another non-reason to beat you up anyhow.

The worst thing that you can expect is that some people will think you look like a git. Not that you look shocking, or challenge their preconceptions, or anything actually sort of positive like that, but like a plain old git. It's like a pocket protector for faux-leftist wannabe hippies. But, as everyone keeps saying, college is exactly the time to be or seem that sort of git.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:07 AM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: I had dreads back when I was 18-20. I have the perfect hair for it - thick and curly. In fact, if I leave my hair alone for long enough, it will eventually form the dreads naturally.

Still, I was impatient, so I decided to do the dreading myself. There are a few ways of doing this - the most popular among my friends was "back-combing." All of the methods basically boiled down to "tying lots of little knots in your hair." These all worked out really well, and anyone who tells you that you have to put some kind of crap or goop in your hair to make it dread is dead wrong. There are some who think that it's "totally wrong" to do the dreading yourself, and that you absolutely must let it happen naturally. In my mind, all that matters is that it looks good.

I never really washed my dreads - in the two-or-so years that I had them, I think I washed them 3 times. I don't know if this is necessary or not. My impression was that by not washing them, you give your hair oils a chance to build up at the root of the dreads, and it makes them grow in properly. Mine grew in beautifully, but maybe they would have anyway.

Some warnings :
1) Your head WILL itch. You will either get used to this, or you will cut off your dreads.
2) As your dreads grow in, they will need to be "separated," lest they grow together. This is really only important in the first 6 months or so.

Having dreads will definitely will affect how people treat you. As has been mentioned, a lot of how people treat you will depend on your skin color. I think that it's a lot more socially acceptable for black people to have dreads then white people. I was a white kid with dreads, so everyone just assumed "hippie," which was true for the most part.

My experience was that cool people treated me REALLY well, and assholes treated me REALLY badly. On the good side, people know that it's difficult to have and keep dreads, so you'll get respect from a lot of people in the "underground." On the bad side, life can be tough for a white kid with dreads - you'll endure greater scrutiny from police, potential employers, or practically anyone in "straight" society.

At the time, my city had a sizable "hippie" community, where it was very acceptable to have dreads. I'd imagine that this would work out a lot better on the west coast or in the midwest then on the east coast or in the south.

Ultimately, my dreads and I parted ways at a Rainbow Gathering in the White Mountains of northern Arizona. I had contracted a case of lice, and had no real way of getting rid of them. I've heard from various people that there are ways to get rid of lice if you have dreads - however, I was a broke-ass kid on the road with no resources and no access to a shower. I cut them off on a chill July morning on a mountain top, where they're buried to this day. Be warned that this is a common fate for dreadlocks.

In the end, I loved having dreads. They looked good on me! I definitely was not trying to appropriate black culture or anything like that. I genuinely liked having dreads, and anyone who sees old pictures of me from that time thinks they looked really really good on me. Don't let anybody tell you that you have to be a certain ethnicity to have a certain haircut. If you feel that it's you, then go for it! Just remember that there are definitely some tradeoffs.
posted by afroblanca at 7:14 AM on November 21, 2005

I've had my hair locked up since 2000. I love it and have never received even a single negative remark. OK, maybe once, in a Boston-area museum cafeteria where one cashier remarked to another in Spanish that I had nerve as a white woman trying to look black with that silly hairstyle. (My Spanish is pretty solid for a white woman...uh...trying to look black.) So Curley's POV seems regional? Maybe. I live in uber-PC Seattle where dreads on white folks are pretty common.

I disagree with the comments that white people shouldn't have them. How crude. Would you also tell black people they cannot relax their hair?

I wash mine 2-3x/week with Dr. Bronner's soap. A few squirts make plenty of lather and it rinses easily.
posted by DawnSimulator at 7:14 AM on November 21, 2005

White people with dreads just looks bad. If Anna Wintour were here right now she's beat you to death with her minimilistic Prada bag. It has nothing to do with looking black or cultural connotations, as it does with just looking lame.
posted by geoff. at 7:32 AM on November 21, 2005

Whats the smell factor in this (dread ignorant here)? If your head will be giving off some kind of funky smell, or oil scent to cover it up, it might impact negatively on people around you. I've run into people who seem to prefer to use some kind of scented oil in lieu of showers, and while they don't smell dirty, it certainly isn't pleasant. In a non-liberal professional atmosphere, I don't think anything such a hygiene tactic will go over well. But for college, right now, it'd slide pretty easily.
posted by Atreides at 7:48 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: This is all very interesting, especially the hippie connotation. My normal getup is relaxed fit jeans or athletic shorts, my big hiking boots or running shoes, and usually a rugby jersey of some sort. I own enough team and league jerseys to wear a different one every day of the week if I want to. I doubt I look like any kind of hippie. Will dreads really mark me so strongly even if I otherwise look nothing like whatever a hippie today looks like?
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 7:52 AM on November 21, 2005

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:07 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

posted by jessamyn at 8:09 AM on November 21, 2005

Whats the smell factor in this (dread ignorant here)?

Mine never smelled. Of course, I showered regularly, and wasn't really a "dirty hippie," except for when I would be on the road or camping for long periods of time.

Will dreads really mark me so strongly even if I otherwise look nothing like whatever a hippie today looks like?

Unfortunately, they probably will. However, that may depend on where you're at. There are very few "hippies" in NYC, so whenever I see a white person with dreads I generally think "artist." However, where I used to live in the midwest, most of the dreadies I knew could be considered "hippies." Either way, there's definitely a "counterculture" association that I think you'll probably be stuck with.
posted by afroblanca at 8:11 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: ThePinkSuperhero and jessamyn; LOL! Thanks, that makes it pretty clear.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:12 AM on November 21, 2005

I disagree with the comments that white people shouldn't have them. How crude. Would you also tell black people they cannot relax their hair?

Nobody is forbidding dreads, they are just telling the poster how dreads are perceived on white people. I think the idea is that if you have hair that naturally tends toward dreads, like Afroblanca, dreads won't look weird or like you are trying to hard to be something you are not, whether you are black or white. The same is true of black people who relax their hair, some will look lame (think Snoop Doggy Dogg) and others (vanessa williams comes to mind) will look totally hot. I guess the barometer should be if the dreads fit the person physically and if they fit their personality. Most white people cannot pull off dreads and most black people look weird with relaxed hair, in my opinion.
posted by sic at 8:27 AM on November 21, 2005

Jinx, jessamyn! You owe me a Coke.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 8:29 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

You will find three social reactions against dreadlocks, although all are less prevalent as this has become a mainstream alternative hairstyle over the last decade or so.

It is still a "counterculture" (that is to say the manufactured counterculture simulacrum of tatoos, piercing, hairstyles, and the couture-gadget-media axis) 'do, so in a very conservative mainstream environment it could still raise eyebrows (say in a very conservative business office). It may also be seen, not utterly without justification, as an indication that you smoke dope. As far as job prospects I'd ballpark it as having a similar impact to, say, a modest visible tatoo or a mid-level piercing (eyebrow or nose). It could exert an influence in the most conservative settings or where your projecting a mainstream appearance to the public was important.

The snobber hipster may sneer at your adoption of this now mainly mainstreamed hairstyle (you just can't win). Well-to-do white kids with purchased dreadlocks is a cliche at this point (i.e. the so-called "trustifarians") and you may bear this onus from some.

Dreadlocks are still seen by some as an offensive appropriation of black culture. My brother had nasty, gnarly natural dreads many years ago and this was the dominant negative reaction. He received a number of unfriendly comments from black people - random strangers on the street. I think this likewise is becoming less common as dreads on whites become more common.

Of course, there is also the reaction of people like me, which is that they simply look stupid, but there's no accounting for tastes.
posted by nanojath at 8:30 AM on November 21, 2005

"snobbier hipster," that is. Although I'm still not sure is a word.
posted by nanojath at 8:32 AM on November 21, 2005

I don't think you should do it! (what everyone else said). I'm a Labor Organizer, and I wouldn't hire you. My white-boy colleague who started this job with dreads cut them off pretty-much instantly because no one too him seriously. You would have to work 10x harder to make me think you had anything of value to say.

Because white dreads tend not to be acceptable at any non-hippy/creative job, yet are so easy to remove, you would stand out to me as someone who had never had to worry about having to get a regular job, the younger you are, the more I would think this. ( I do not have the same impression of black people with dreads).

My attitude may well be irrational and unfair and wrong, but I just can't shake it, and I've met very few (read no) white boys with dreads who've challenged my assumptions.
posted by crabintheocean at 8:32 AM on November 21, 2005

too - took
posted by crabintheocean at 8:34 AM on November 21, 2005

My take on the whole "white people shouldn't wear dreads" is that... Well, this is purely anecdotal, but I've never seen a single white person with the hair to pull it off, and so every single white guy or girl I've seen with dreads have had awful looking hair. Not awful because I think dreads look awful - I've seen some fantastic heads of hair done like that. But awful in the sense that it looked matted, messy, gross and unkempt.

I mean, maybe I just haven't seen the right um. White guy with dreads, I don't know. But in my experience, it will look bad on white people.

But hey. Considering the circumstances (ie doing it over a break where you can undo it easily), knock yourself out.

And yes, you will instantly look like a hippy.
posted by vernondalhart at 8:37 AM on November 21, 2005

He received a number of unfriendly comments from black people - random strangers on the street.

Wow, that wasn't my experience at all! In fact, I found that black people were friendlier to me at the time then most white people. Also, since I lived in one of the most solidly black neighborhoods in the city, nobody thought I was a poser or anything.

Now that I'm sporting an afro, I have a similar experience- most of the compliments that I get are from black people. It is often suggested that I get my hair braided or dreaded, to which I reply, "I already tried that!"

I would say that it does help to have hair that is naturally dread-friendly. However, I have seen several asians with dreads, and they were hot hot hot hot hot! (in my opinion, anyway)
posted by afroblanca at 8:42 AM on November 21, 2005

I had my locks for about 3 years and it was a truly wonderful experience. I have had the desire to grow a new set, but I know I'd never get a decent job with them. That is a sad reality in todays world, and the comments in this thread support it.

I can't help but laugh at all of the people who are so self righteous to consider white people having dreadlocks as missappropriating black culture or something else completely inane. It's a hairstyle that fits outside of their concept of acceptable behaviour so they deride it. It's not particularly intelligent or productive, just a wonderful habit of self-indulgent condescension so they can feel smug and witty, oh so clever and much more intelligent than you "dirty liberal hippies".

I'd say go for it and have fun, the worst that happens is you cut them off. As nebulawindphone notes, having someone else form the locks for you is very crucial. I had a family member diligently section and back-comb my head for 6 hours before they were done. It may sound rather insane, but the results were fantastic and repeatable. Your hairstyle sounds absolutely perfect and with the right materials and some dedicated friends they should turn out top notch. I'd say do it and enjoy it while you can, it will be an eye opener.
posted by prostyle at 8:50 AM on November 21, 2005

Tossing my hat in the ring...

I've had dreads for years, and love them. My main recommendation to you, would be to get them done right, if you are going to do them. You say you'll have your sister and her 'little friends' do them which leads me to believe you are sort of going at it tongue-in-cheek. "Oh, if they don't work then just fuck it I'll cut them off."

The thing about dreads, however, is that unless you are of African descent or have incredibly kinky, coarse hair, they will NOT look good at first. Creating lasting, good looking dreadlocks is a labor of time and love, and you get out of them what you put in.

I've had mine done twice, and the first time was sort of a "let's see how this goes" type of thing. It didn't go well because I didn't take the time to get them done right, I had them put in by a friend relatively quickly. They sucked. Second time around I had them twisted up by someone who had done it before, and truly labored over my hair for 14 to 15 hours or more. They came out thin and stringy at first, locked up tight and weighed down with wax. They didn't look good. But these initial efforts atputting them in were well worth it as the dreads grew out, thickened up and tightened properly. They look great now, and it's all due to the time she spent putting them in correctly.

Point is, take your time when putting them in!! It's worth it and will pay off in the long run. Dreads are a hairstyle that really do take time.

As far as reactions, I work at a relatively small publishing company and also part time at a newspaper, and have had no negative reactions whatsoever. I applied for the job at the publishing company and showed up with my dreads for the interview. There was never a mention of them (I think my resume spoke for itself), though your mileage on this one may vary.

95% of questions have to do with my washing habits. Girls seem to like them a lot.

Are you white? If so, don't do it.

To each his own, but this seems awfully condescending, especially considering that dreadlocks aren't by any means a strictly black or African hairstyle.

For example, consider the polish plait, that isn't exactly dreadlocks, but shows that hair on anyone will naturally form dreadlocks without the influence of conditioners and combs. On people of African descent it goes faster due to the natural kink and dryness of their hair. And just a thought, but would you tell a black person that they shouldn't straighten their hair?

Anyway, best of luck to you! If you have any questions feel free to e-mail me. Talking about dreads is fun!
posted by dead_ at 8:51 AM on November 21, 2005

One of my buddies had dreadlocks in high school when he played rugby. He kept them pulled back in a pony tail for games. One day on the field a dread slipped out of the binder and somebody decided it would make a good handle. A few seconds later it was removed from his scalp.


That was my interesting story for you. My sister had dreads for about a year, while working as a hostess in a restaurant in the suburbs, and responses ran the entire gamut of hilarity. Some people gave her serious compliments for it (as a counter-point to the people above who say white people can't pull it off, trust me, she did, and so have others I've known), and one lady in particular would not stop harrasing her about how awful it looked and how mortified she was that a young white girl would wear that haircut.

Overall, I say do it. I doubt you're making this as a lifestyle decision, just a cosmetic one. The way I think of it is, if you like your dreads and somebody wants to get down on you for having them, then why the fuck should you care about their opinion?
posted by baphomet at 8:59 AM on November 21, 2005

You think dreads would be more socially acceptable in the Midwest than the East Coast, afroblanca?! In Chicago, perhaps, but not in the vast majority of the region. Though I don't have dreads, I do have dyed hair in an exceedingly non-traditional cut, and here in Boston I tend to get compliments, while when I visit my parents in the Midwest I get more stares, parents grabbing on to their kids when I walk by, etc. I'd say that you're likely to find people to be more accepting in any area where there's a large student population, a lot of artists, or a fair amount of alternative culture - people will be used to seeing more unusual hairstyles. I've never had trouble being served, despite my haircut. You will have to work past the assumptions people will make about your lifestyle on the basis of your haircut, however. Although you can overcome it, you'll have to work harder to get jobs, internships, and the like. Getting away with an unusual look is easier in science research than in many other areas, although that may not be as true outside of academia.

As jessamyn says, though, this is the best time to experiment with things like dreads. Go for it.
posted by ubersturm at 9:02 AM on November 21, 2005

I live in the midwest and don't have any problems here (though it is a college town). I can't even remember the last time anyone has stared at me for them.
posted by dead_ at 9:05 AM on November 21, 2005

crabintheocean: Your attitude that black dreadlocks are somehow more acceptable than white dreadlocks is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. It's a shame you're in a position to hire/fire anyone, especially when you admit your belief that people with dreadlocks are somehow inferior workers is irrational.

Perhaps you've never met a 'white boy' who challenges your assumptions because you've never actually taken the time to challenge them yourself.
posted by dead_ at 9:10 AM on November 21, 2005

dead_, I just knew someone was gonna "go there" in this thread. Everytime someone asks a question on AskMeta about how such and such appearance-wise could affect people, someone goes off on how it's wrong to judge, and blah blah blah. APPEARANCE MATTERS, and people will judge based on appearance, and for a case like this, where the person did ask about how it could affect job prospects, for someone to say it would affect their decision isn't "ridiculous", it's honest, and it's exactly what the poster was asking. So lay off, eh?
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:14 AM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

Sorry, but I have a lot of better things to think about, and a lot more attitudes of my own to work on before I give serious thought to understanding white boys with dreadlocks.

And that's a big part of my problem with them. In my job, it's not about me and my ego and my style, it's about the person I'm listening to and supporting in something that's very tough for them. I don't dress at work how I dress off duty, because I need to quickly win people's trust and respect and shift the focus on to them. To me, if you choose to have white dreads, you're making it all about you, and that's inappropriate for an organizer.

It isn't about how hard you work, it's about why would you choose to create a potential barrier? Especially as most of the people we work with are older women who pride themselves on dressing smartly on minimum wage, and don't appreciate being approached by someone who looks like a scruffy college kid.
posted by crabintheocean at 9:38 AM on November 21, 2005

Sorry for the derail. You guys are right about just answering the question, even if I might not agree. Carry on!
posted by dead_ at 9:46 AM on November 21, 2005

My brother has dreads. Note that people will come up to you on the street, on the subway, in the park, at concerts (!), and basically everywhere asking if you know where they can get some pot. My brother does not find this annoying, but I think I might.
posted by zpousman at 9:48 AM on November 21, 2005

"why would you choose to create a potential barrier?"--in the off chance that others have the maturity to not give a damn. Usually too much to hope for.

Even though you asked me this a week ago, I'll weigh in here too: I get shit all the time for having an afro, though that's only really been in the midwest. No one in Calfornia cares, that's for sure. Stared at, honked at, yelled at--it's ridiculous, and that's in Lawrence too, of all places. You're about six times my size though, so I doubt you'll catch any flak for dreads.

As for jobs, your resume is pretty unimpeachable. I wouldn't worry about it too much. Plus, you have to do this cause I told you to.
posted by hototogisu at 9:56 AM on November 21, 2005

When I see a white person with dreadlocks I immediately think "hippie." When she sees a white person with dreadlocks she thinks it's another attempt at by a white person at appropriating black culture.

Your wife's reaction is exactly how I feel. BTW, I am white, and male (and am losing my hair - maybe that's part of it). But I won't tell someone what she can't do with her hair.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:58 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: baphomet; I too play rugby, although I'm going to buy a scrum cap as soon as I can afford one because I'm tired of tearing ear cartilege in scrums, so hopefully that will protect my dreads. Still, ouch... Actually, that's kind of funny. I think I'd have to laugh about getting partially scalped.

I'd like to thank everyone for contributing, even the people who've totally pissed on the idea. I did, after all, ask for it.

As far as having the right kind of hair, as I mentioned, I have extremely thick, curly blonde hair, which starts dreading on its own when long. I shampoo my hair daily but generally do not comb it, and it forms semi-dreads on its own after a few days. I mean, the wind will pick up when I'm walking on campus and suddenly I'll have a halo of tapered hair ropes blowing around my head. The quasi dreads tend to have a flat side and will generate a lot of lift. I have dry skin and have never had a problem with greasy hair or dandriff, so maybe I'm in luck?
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 10:03 AM on November 21, 2005

When I see a white men with dreadlocks I think a) must like trance music b) is probably Israeli c) is probably an asshole.
posted by dydecker at 10:04 AM on November 21, 2005

I've known a few people with dreads, and I just gotta say - if you don't think they stink, well, maybe you're just used it it being all over your head?? Not all of them, mind you, but about 80% of the dreads I've encountered have indeed been pretty funky on the smell tip.
posted by tristeza at 10:06 AM on November 21, 2005

I lived in a dorm with a womanizing Trustafarian with dreadlocks once . One day I was taking a shower and he got into the next stall. As the hot water hit him the smell of his dreads was aerosolized by the shower's steam, suffusing the stench throughout the entire shower area. I thought I was going to suffocate.
posted by Sara Anne at 10:17 AM on November 21, 2005

I had dreads for a few years. Chicks dig them.

I had a friend who had dreads. A small percentage of women liked his dreads. Of that small percentage most were just curious. Of the small percentage left, most were no longer interested once they got near caught a scent. The very small percentage left LOVED his dreads.

Moral to the story, if you're doing it because someone tells you chicks dig them, you will be disappointed. Not saying you believe that, just a warning.

(I personally believe an adult white person with dreads looks comical and equals a teen girl getting her belly pierced. It's all about the attention. But hey, as someone else said, no accounting for taste.)
posted by justgary at 10:29 AM on November 21, 2005

Hamiltonian: He, too, thought it quite funny, but decided the memory was enough and destroyed his locks as soon as he had the chance.

Also, on the utility of dreads: When my sister's dreads grew past her shoulders she was able to form them into a dread bun/ponytail which, when sitting atop the crown of her skull, was a convenient place to hide a flask, a dimebag, and a pinch. Useful for concerts and such, because who is going to search your hair?
posted by baphomet at 10:34 AM on November 21, 2005

You think dreads would be more socially acceptable in the Midwest than the East Coast, afroblanca?!

Actually, yes.

Maybe it was just where I lived in the midwest, but it seemed like dreads were more common there. I think it's because the whole "hippie" aesthetic is still quite popular among young people in the midwest. I've heard that it's even more popular on the west coast.

I live in NYC now, and I see very very few white people with dreads here. I just don't think it's considered as stylish out here.
posted by afroblanca at 10:41 AM on November 21, 2005

It's a hairstyle that fits outside of their concept of acceptable behaviour so they deride it.

I think you seriously miss the point. The point isn't that dreads are unacceptable or shocking or anything like that. They're emphatically not, any more than wearing skate-rat pants or listening to Marilyn Manson or getting your navel pierced are... ie, not at all. They're just silly, at least to some people, in the same way that giant skate-rat pants are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:45 AM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: Let's forget all these racial politics and focus on the really important issue: Guess which one of the following is likely to be a deal-breaker with a potential sexual partner?

a. tall
b. young
c. heavy-muscled
d. thick curly blonde hair
e. dreadlocks

One interesting aspect to this discussion is that--to my white eyes--black guys totally make dreads look APPROPRIATE. Does that make sense?

Like, if I saw a black guy in a nice suit with a bunch of dreads pulled back, if I noticed his hair at all I'd probably assume he was a cool lawyer. Conversely, if I saw a dreaded white guy in a nice suit, I'd think he was off to his Possession trial.

But even with the (totally valid) racial politics aside, it's not IMPOSSIBLE to pull off white dreadlocks and not look like Josh Wink or R.U. Sirius. Just because I can't think of a single example of someone who looks good with them doesn't mean it can't be done. I mean, I saw a (skinny) (white) (just a shot in the dark here: gay) teenager at the mall this summer totally rocking an ascot, for Christ's sake.

Okay, just off the top of my head: Grow a big thick beard, get a giant yakuza tattoo on your back, and just get really really ripped. Walk around without a shirt as much as possible. Don't talk that much, and when someone talks to you, stare into their eyes without blinking. Peel and cut apples with a giant ivory-handled hunting knife; squat down and chew thoughtfully while staring at the horizon as though you want to kick its ass.

(Answer: E. There are conceivably people who would consider dreads to be a asset rather than a liabilty, but I think it's safe to say you should keep your distance.)
posted by Ian A.T. at 11:04 AM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: Can anyone with independently verified non-smelly dreads give me advice on keeping them clean and neutral smelling. I can at least count on my roomies to say something if I start to stink.

On preview;

Ian A.T. - ROTFL!!! Who needs sex when you have unaproachable manliness? Unfortunately, hardly any hair will grow on part of my jaw where I got a nasty abrasion as a child, so I can't pull off a beard. Point taken, although I don't think dreadlocks will look any more barbaric than my current mop.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 11:20 AM on November 21, 2005

Well, it can't be independently verified (by anyone on MeFi), but my dreads don't smell whatsoever.

I don't wash them that much either, and for about a year I was running 10 miles a day and racing 10ks and half-marathons nearly every weekend. Never had a smell problem, ever. Now I workout about 2 hours a day and play soccer and still have no smell problem. So there's a lotta sweat... but no smell. Maybe I'm lucky?

As far as care I never had to do much, as they've never smelled, though I know that regularly washing ANYTHING should remove smell pretty quickly, and dreads can certainly be washed regularly with soap that doesn't have conditioner in it. Also I know people like to wrap their hair in scented towels and such in order to keep them nice. Tea tree oil is also nice to rub on your scalp and leaves a good smell.
posted by dead_ at 11:43 AM on November 21, 2005

Best answer: Dreads on a white guy.

I think so long as you can sell the codpiece; you're golden, dude.
posted by weirdoactor at 12:04 PM on November 21, 2005

I can't help but laugh at all of the people who are so self righteous to consider white people having dreadlocks as missappropriating black culture or something else completely inane. It's a hairstyle that fits outside of their concept of acceptable behaviour so they deride it. It's not particularly intelligent or productive, just a wonderful habit of self-indulgent condescension so they can feel smug and witty, oh so clever and much more intelligent than you "dirty liberal hippies".

Look, maybe it's because I am in college, and know a bunch of people who attend another college that has a "stoner" reputation. It's a fact that the majority of anglo-saxon men (and women) that I know who sport dreads are either hippies or white Rastas. However, if I met a white man with well-kept dreds, who was wearing jeans and a rugby shirt instead of tye dye and a rasta cap, I wouldn't assume he was a dressed-up dirty hippie.
posted by muddgirl at 12:35 PM on November 21, 2005 [1 favorite]

There are good dreadlocks and there are bad dreadlocks. I am intimately familiar with both. Remember Anwar from American Idol? Good dreadlocks. Remember bums who lurch up to you reeking of booze and lech onto your chest? Bad dreadlocks.

In my personal opinion and experience, it seems that white people have a harder time (but not an impossible one) getting good dreadlocks. This may be due to the properties of their hair; I have no clue.

Another thing to consider is -- well, what happens when you're bored of dreadlocks, or when you do take that financial-district internship? Are you ready to shave?
posted by booksandlibretti at 1:32 PM on November 21, 2005

I know this question has pretty well been answered, but as far as the work thing goes. I worked at a rural-ish library in Central Vermont for two years with fairly long dreadlocks and they all knew me as "that girl with the fuzzy hair who is good at computers". Many of them just didn't really know what dreadlocks were, or didn't think a white person could have them. Some people would ask me questions about them and I'd answer them, no problem.

I had a friend who asked me, after the first time I'd cut them off "Why do you want to look different from everyone else?" and I told him that basically this was how I liked my hair to look. I liked how easy it was to take care of and how I could style it and mess with it. If everyone else started wearing dreads it wouldn't cause me to go out and get a crew cut just to be alternative, this is how I like my hair and I don't lose sleep over the fact that other people don't like it. I'm not all about my hair, it's a really small part of who I am. If you have a strong enough personality and/or self-identity so that your hair is just a small part of who you are -- which I think is a good idea generally -- then trying something out seems like a completely reasonable thing to do.
posted by jessamyn at 1:34 PM on November 21, 2005

I had locks for about fifteen years, and dealt deeply with Rastafari. This was quite a while back, though, when anybody - white or black - with dreads was either a Rasta or a crazed street person. I never met hippies who wore them for trendiness until years after I had mine trimmed. One accepted a certain amount of stigma when one decided to dread up. Succesfully overcoming that stigma - by having a good job or going to school- was part and parcel of a Rastafari ethos - which is why so many Rastas - especially immigrants from the Carribean - invested time and money in a somewhat preppy wardrobe or in italian suits.

In my 14 years I never really experienced much in the way of negative attitudes about "white people with dreadlocks" but then again, there weren't too many around in the mid 1970s. It was hard to get taken seriously by employers, but I don'ty think it held me back. Since I was doing work involving African linguistics and Carribean languages and living in a house full of Africans and Jamaicans, my hair wasn't usually the point of conversation.

Rule # 1. Wash your dreads. At least twice a week or more. When I lived in Jamaica a pickup truck would come by the market every day to pick up a dozen or so Rastas, take them up to a spring in the hills, and everybody would wash their dreads - with soap - and rinse them thoroughly in fresh water. If your dreads stank, believe me, Jamaicans are the kind of folks who would relentlessly rag you about it. Shampoo is fine - just rinse your hair thoroughly.

Rastas wear hats - "tams" - to protect their locks, both from the unwanted attention of "Babylon" but mainly from dirt and dust. When I lived in the States, I tended to wear my locks stuffed in a modest black beret. There was a certain aesthetic to having as much hair as possible stuffed into the smallest possible hat. One thing this did is keep your hair elevated above your head, so you didn't sweat so much in the heat. Also, certain types of hat or tam can identify you with a cetain group of Rastas. There used to be Jewish haberdashers in Brooklyn who specialized in specialized in making hats for Rastas, esecially hard felt brimmed hats. One friend of mine walked in asking for a large flat cap, kept asking for larger ones, and finally, the shop clerk called out to the back stock room "Saul! Bring out the Pizza Pie!"
posted by zaelic at 3:05 PM on November 21, 2005

Jessamyn: Similar story. I was known as the "Weird looking guy in the Language Center" at the University where I worked. Everybody got used to it - faculty, students - and I didn't even feel the need to wear a hat all the time. Just rolled my hair into a large turban most days.

A few years after I cut my dreadlocks, I was working as an editor for a newspaper in Budapest. A rookie reporter came in for an interview. As I asked him a few questions, I recognized him from the University where I had worked. I asked him if he spoke Hungarian. No. What languages did he speak? He answered that he had taken Spanish in college.

I looked at him and said: "Professor Lozano. Tuesdays and Thursdays, ten to twelve." He jumped. How could I know that? "Take a look at me. Recognize anybody?"

posted by zaelic at 3:30 PM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks all. Hopefully some pictures of my dreads will surface here as a result of the Lawrence meetup in a few weeks, in case anyone is curious. You can all pass final judgement on them! :-)
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 4:22 PM on November 21, 2005

Response by poster: by "here" I mean in the post-meetup thread
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 4:38 PM on November 21, 2005

I like running my fingers through a man's hair. Dreads prevent that, which is a shame.
posted by cali at 9:42 PM on November 21, 2005

When I see them on a white person, I think "WHY!?" and I find it really distracting to see hair all tangled up and matted, to the point where I consider it unpleasant to be around.

The dreads I have seen on black people have been much neater and don't cause me any concern.
posted by beth at 12:58 AM on November 22, 2005

I have nothing especially compelling to add, but as a liberal recent college grad living in a major, diverse city (Toronto) with a much-liked brother in Food Not Bombs (no dreads, last time I saw him he had a pseudo-'hawk), I would probably never date a white guy with dreads. I don't think it always looks bad (though I am struggling to come up with an example), but I honestly can't imagine dating someone with dreads.

I have very few appearance-based deal-breakers, but white dreads just are. Sorry.
posted by SoftRain at 1:00 PM on November 24, 2005

Response by poster: Pictures of what will be actual dreads in a few months can be found in the Lawrence meetup post, along with my thoughts after getting them.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 6:03 PM on December 4, 2005

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