Do Armenians wear braids?

Armenians and braids

Wearing braids has been a hot topic in the past years. Some are accused of appropriating African culture by wearing braids. The case of the Kardashians was rather illustrative. So, I thought it would be useful if I looked at the braiding tradition among Armenians. I will talk about the role of braids in Armenian culture with some insight into modern trends. Do you also wear braids or want to share some thoughts? Let me know on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.

Wearing braids is a deeply rooted historical tradition in Armenian culture. Women wore braids in the past because it was practical. But braids also symbolized beauty, unity, and strength in Armenian culture.

Miss World Armenia 2021 with braids. Source: @marashlyan_photo_atelier on IG

The role of braids in the Armenian culture

If you have seen photos of Armenians from just a century ago, you might have noticed that Armenian women had the tradition of wearing braids. This tradition was socially rooted and had both practical and symbolic reasons.

If you go back to history and just skip through some old photos you will see that typically Armenian women always had long hair. So, wearing braids was a practical way of managing hair. One thing was that women used to do a lot of housework and braids kept their hair out of their faces and were just a way to keep themselves neat and tidy.

But of course, we Armenians are also a bit of show offs right? So, even at that time, our women were inclined to make elaborate braided hairstyles for special occasions such as weddings and other celebrations. Braids also traditionally belonged to some of our ritualistic dances performed by women. One may recall the traditional Armenian dance Uzundara, which is typically performed wearing thick braids over shoulders. Even today our dancers wear such braids when performing this dance. Check the dance in this video, isn’t it stunning?!

Symbolic and cultural meaning of braids for Armenians

Researching this topic, one cannot omit the apparent significance of braids in how we saw ourselves and the world around us for centuries. Looking into our history books, you don’t only see braids being described as a symbol of beauty. Often these are coupled with depictions of female characters known for their strength of character and resilience. Over and over again, we see the idea of thick and strong braids being associated with women capable of enduring very challenging times. Armenians even have old tales and legends about women with long braids who used them to climb mountains or cross rivers with the help of their hair. And, although clearly not true, it does cue strength and resilience quite evidently.

Another interesting, and also common, narrative is about braids symbolizing superior order, the sense of holding full control of the situation, and being in charge of your own destiny. Again, going back to dances like Uzundara, you can clearly see the symbolism in the controlled and very precise movements of the dancer’s arms and body. Braids are essential for reinforcing that symbolism.

One also cannot understate that the process of weaving braids itself was and is often an opportunity for intergenerational connection and an exercise of social connections among women in Armenian culture. I’m sure this aspect of braids isn’t unique to our culture. And probably it stems from practical reasons primarily, as in parents looking to manage their kids’ hair. But still, the effect of creating an opportunity to talk and share with each other while weaving braids, inevitably supports social cohesion and the exchange of generational wisdom.

White ‘Taraz’. Source: @marashlyan_photo_atelier on IG

Do Armenians wear braids today?

Though widespread in traditional Armenia, the popularity of braids among Armenians has declined. I cannot say that you won’t see an Armenian girl or a woman wearing braids on the streets of Yerevan. However, it is not as common as in the past.

One of the significant factors for this change is the influence of Western fashion trends. Nowadays, based on my observations, typically Armenian women follow Western hairstyles. Braids, though, seem to be more popular among children and teenagers.

Also, braids remain a popular hairstyle among Armenian dancers, especially if they perform traditional Armenian dances. This is how they show their cultural heritage, and it’s kind of “on brand” for the genre. And I agree, that somehow intuitively I feel like visually braids belong to the traditional Armenian dance. So it kind of makes sense. But I’ve also seen several dancers in the modern genres (street dance, vogueing, etc.) who wear braids. I guess in those cases the motivation may also be the practicality.

Modern haircut instead of braids. Source: @marashlyan_photo_atelier on IG

Modern trends in Armenian hairstyles

So, what is in trend in Armenia now when it comes to hairstyles? Now, I have to make a disclosure. I’m in no way a fashion or style guru 🙂 so this is solely based on my observations on the streets of Armenia. Now, that is of the way, let’s look at what’s trending in Armenia.

Short haircuts: If in the past the symbol of beauty and femininity was long hair, today short haircuts are more popular. One thing is that they require low maintenance and you still look modern. Very stylish short haircuts are popular among young and mid-aged women in Armenia. However, one thing I have to mention is that I’m so grateful that I don’t usually see the typical “Karen” hairstyles in Armenia. Probably because most women of “Karen” age probably grew up in the USSR times and didn’t accumulate the “Karenness” we all know so well and hate. 🙂 

Natural texture: A lot of Armenian women, especially the younger generation, are now moving away from elaborated techniques of hair maintenance and styling and choose to embrace the natural textures and beauty of their hair. And I gotta tell you I’m absolutely loving this, cause it helps them keep their hair healthy and doesn’t put unnecessary strain on young minds susceptible to think they should sacrifice their nature to chase trends.

Loose, wavy hair: this type of hair is considered especially tempting, from what I recon, especially among urban Armenian women over 30. You may see lots of hairdressers working hard on Armenian women’s hair to make it wavy. And from what I understand from my friends, this costs loads of money. I believe that the desire to have extremely voluminous and wavy hair is probably the trend that is Armenian celebrities boost more than others. I think celebrities inspire fashion trends in Armenia as much (if not more) as anywhere else in the world. Check out my post about the 9 most famous Armenian female celebrities. That will help you see what I mean.

Beautiful braids. Source: @marashlyan_photo_atelier on IG

Final thoughts on braids

Armenians have gone a long way from traditional braids and long hair to short haircuts and natural texture. But even if you find braids in Armenia today, for the most part, they have lost most of their symbolic meaning which they used to have. Although still a symbol of beauty and femininity, they ceased to symbolize unity or protection of the family. However, they are a strong way to cultural heritage as braids still keep their traditional significance as a symbol of being an Armenian woman. If you would like to have a sense of an Armenian look, check my other post on the typical Armenian look.  And don’t forget to ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips to share your thoughts.

Featured image credits: Photo by Peter Carapetian on Wikimedia Commons (edited)