In the vibrant tapestry of natural hairstyles, locs and dreads stand out as iconic expressions of self, culture, and identity. Often used interchangeably, these terms actually represent distinct styles, each with its unique history, cultural significance, and maintenance practices. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the what’s the difference between locs and dreads, exploring the origins, styling techniques, and the rich cultural narratives that shape these captivating hair traditions.

Defining Locs and Dreads:


  • Locs, short for “locks,” are cultivated and intentionally maintained ropes or strands of hair. This style involves twisting or matting sections of hair to create cylindrical or rope-like formations. Locs can be achieved through various methods, including palm rolling, braiding, or interlocking.


  • Dreads, short for “dreadlocks,” are natural or intentionally cultivated rope-like strands of hair formed through a natural process of matting and tangling. The term “dreadlocks” has historical roots and is often associated with the Rastafari movement, where the hairstyle holds spiritual and cultural significance.

Historical and Cultural Origins:


  • Locs have a diverse cultural history, with roots in ancient African civilizations. They have been worn by various African ethnic groups as a symbol of spirituality, identity, and cultural pride. In modern times, locs are embraced by individuals across cultures for their versatility and low-maintenance appeal.


  • Dreadlocks have a significant association with the Rastafari movement, which emerged in Jamaica in the early 20th century. Rastafarians view dreadlocks as a symbol of their connection to nature, rejection of Babylonian societal norms, and adherence to the Nazarite vow mentioned in the Bible.

Formation Techniques:


  • Locs are often intentionally cultivated through methods that encourage hair to form cylindrical or rope-like shapes. Common techniques include palm rolling, two-strand twisting, braiding, and interlocking. The process is typically gentle and may involve the use of natural products to aid in the locking process.


  • Dreadlocks form naturally through a process of neglect or minimal interference with the hair’s natural texture. While some individuals intentionally cultivate dreads through methods like backcombing or the “freeform” technique, many dreadlocks come into existence without deliberate styling, allowing the hair to mat and tangle over time.

Size and Uniformity:


  • Locs can vary widely in size, and individuals often have the flexibility to choose the thickness and length of their locs. Locs can be uniform or vary in size, providing a range of styling options.


  • Dreadlocks can also vary in size, but the natural formation process often results in a more organic and irregular appearance. The emphasis is on embracing the uniqueness of each dreadlock rather than achieving uniformity.

Maintenance and Styling:


  • Locs require regular maintenance to keep them clean, healthy, and well-defined. This can involve washing, moisturizing, and retwisting or interlocking to maintain the shape. Locs offer versatility in styling, allowing individuals to experiment with various updos, braids, and accessories.


  • Dreadlocks, particularly those formed through natural methods, often require minimal maintenance. Washing, conditioning, and separating strands as needed are common practices. Styling options can be more spontaneous, embracing the natural and freeform appearance of the dreads.

Cultural Significance Today:


  • Locs have become a popular and widely accepted hairstyle, embraced by individuals of various ethnicities and backgrounds. They are celebrated for their beauty, cultural significance, and the sense of community they foster among those who choose to wear them.


  • Dreadlocks remain deeply rooted in the Rastafari movement, symbolizing spiritual commitment, resistance to societal norms, and a connection to nature. While dreads have also become a mainstream hairstyle, for Rastafarians, they continue to hold profound cultural and religious significance.


Can anyone get locs or dreads, regardless of their hair type?

Yes, both locs and dreads can be achieved by individuals with various hair types. The methods used for cultivation may vary based on hair texture, but both styles are versatile and adaptable.

How long does it take to form locs or dreads naturally?

The time it takes for locs or dreads to form naturally varies from person to person. Factors such as hair texture, length, and maintenance practices influence the timeline. It can take several months to years for the full maturation of locs or dreads.

Are locs or dreads considered professional in a workplace setting?

Perceptions of professionalism regarding locs or dreads can vary based on cultural norms and workplace policies. In recent years, there has been a positive shift toward accepting natural hairstyles in professional environments, but individual experiences may vary.


In the dynamic realm of natural hairstyles, locs and dreads emerge as distinct expressions of culture, history, and individuality. Understanding the differences in their origins, formation, and cultural significance enriches our appreciation for the diverse beauty these styles bring to the tapestry of personal expression. Whether one chooses locs or dreads, each style carries its own unique story and contributes to the celebration of natural hair in all its forms.