Dreadlocks: How, When, and WHY

As most of you know, a few days after my 38th birthday, I decided that I was going to fulfill a very long-held wish and dread my hair.    A faithful friend came over and spent six hours carefully sectioning, backcombing, and keeping me company while we watched three whole chick flicks in a row.

Unfortunately, we weren’t quite as aggressive as we should have been with the backcombing.  Less than a week – and one washing – later, they’d all fallen out.  I was determined though (I am nothing if not determined), so over the course of the next few days, I re-did them, using a method known as the “twist and rip” method.  It simply means taking the section of hair in two pieces, giving it a twist, then pulling it apart again, separating it in a new place each time.  It. took. forever.  especially since I was doing it myself.  But it worked.

That was one month ago today, and I still have dreads!   There’s a way to tuck the ends all in to make them all blunt and neat and tidy, but so far I like them free and wispy.  They’re just babies, so most days they’re a big fuzzy mess, especially when I wash them (yes, people with dreadlocks wash their hair.  I just use an organic, non-residue shampoo)  Some are tight and some are loose.  I have stray hairs and grey hairs everywhere.   They bend all crazy, and they have odd loops and strange turns and random bumps.

I can’t wait to watch them grow and change and mature.

And in the meantime, I’m enjoying experimenting with them.

On the good days, when they’re not looking too ridiculous, I like wearing them with just a headband or a bandana.

So why did I do it?

(From least to most important)

3.  I think they’re cool.   Mature dreadlocks are just a striking, beautiful look to me, and it’s one I’ve been in awe of for years.

2.  I’m lazy.  Or more accurately, I prefer to spend the least amount of time as possible on my physical appearance.  I’ve never been one to want to spend more than 30 seconds hours doing my hair and/or makeup, and the more kids I had, the more true that became.  I barely wear makeup.  I don’t straighten my hair.  I can’t remember the last time I used a hair dryer.   For the last several years, I’ve been a hair-in-a-ponytail 8 days out of 7 kind of girl.  So you can imagine how attractive and freeing I find the idea of a hairstyle that I can literally just wash and wear and be ready to step out the door.

1.  I wanted what I looked like on the outside to match what I felt like on the inside.  My whole life, I’ve felt “different.”  I’ve never been one to fit in with the crowd (any crowd), instead identifying most strongly with those on the outside.  And rather than running from that truth, I want to embrace it.    I want to embrace anything that helps me to feel more comfortable in my own skin, that helps me feel even more free from constraints, more free to relate to others, more free to be me.  A couple of days ago in church, the lesson was in part about judging people by their hearts rather than by their physical appearance.  People – whether they openly admit it or not – often tend to do the latter, while God looks strictly at the heart.  At one point the pastor started listing things off:  “God looks at your heart… not your tattoos, or your piercings, or your mohawk, or your purple hair, or your ‘tramp stamp’…”  Mike and I looked at each other and just laughed, because you can find all of the above in our household.   And while people may judge us for any or all of those things, God does not.  God wants us to be free.

So while in many ways it’s just a small thing (it’s only hair after all), in a symbolic way, it is a huge thing.  An outward reflection of an inner decision to reject being spoon-fed, to challenge the status quo, and to whole-heartedly embrace the search for truth and authenticity.

And over the next several months and years, as my dreads change and grow and mature…. so will I.

Liked it? Take a second to support jen on Patreon!


Filed under about me, acceptance, dreadlocks, life

32 Responses to Dreadlocks: How, When, and WHY

  1. Amy

    I love your hair! 🙂 I am one of those girls that doesn’t mind straightening my hair, but I also only do that twice a week, to coincide with how many times a week I wash my hair! (Monday and Friday, without fail!) I need to go back to a short hair style, because that’s “me”, but I need to wait until my obligatory 6 months from last haircut are up!

    You’re beautiful!

  2. Kristin Scott Dorsey

    I LOVE your hair and have also wanted dreads. Society gets in and says you can’t do that, you are a mom, or are too old, etc. But you have inspired me. I might just do dreads for myself : )

    • Jen

      Thanks Kristin, and you should!! 🙂 I never listen to “society” anymore, and it was far and away one of the best decisions I ever made. 🙂

  3. Stacie R

    So exciting, it’s a hairstyle I’ve been interested in trying as well! Instead I just chopped all my hair off, lol… went from hair mid-way down my back (to where my bra clasps… when I wear one…) to pixie short and I’m loving it! I take the 30 seconds to blow dry and rub some natural patchouli smelling gunk in it from the local “green” salon which messes it up just right and then I’m done. I figure it will be really nice as I’m expecting #2 in a few weeks and will have 2 kids under the age of 2, I definitely need LOW maintenance.
    Someone local was recently asking questions as she is getting ready to dread, and mentioned that it’s important to completely dry your dreads each time you wash, that seemed pretty time consuming to me, but it’s in order to avoid mold/mildew. Is that a concern of yours at all? I’m excited to see how it goes with her, maybe in 10 years or so I’ll have some time to consider it myself, my mother would be horrified of course, but she loves me anyway 😉

    • Just wanted to comment on the mildew issue – I had to chop 2 inches off mine because of mildew, so it is very real but also very avoidable 🙂 You just have to make sure to wash early in the day and never wear it up or in a tam for hours when wet (these were my mistakes). I use a blow dryer now during winter because mature dreads take much longer to dry than babies, but I only wash about every 5 days (with baking soda/ acv rinse) and it’s not too much of a hassle – on all the non-washing days I spend 2 seconds putting on a headband and I’m done 🙂

    • Jen

      My mother is horrified at a few of my decisions. 😉 But she too loves me anyway.

      I don’t really worry about mold/mildew. Hair dries FAST in AZ, and so far since they’re not very tight, it’s not an issue. I just make sure I leave them down and don’t cover them up at all on the days I wash, so they get a chance to fully dry.

      • In that case you shouldn’t have a problem 🙂 I live in cold and damp Northern Europe and just did all the wrong things, like wash before bed and cover with tams. Oh well, learned my lesson then 😉 And still LOVE my dreads!

  4. Heidi

    AWESOME!! I am in total love/lust of your hair! LOL! I just don’t know if my pixie will E-V-E-R grow out (admittedly, my last cut was days before you announced you were dreading…!). Pre-pixie days, I always just ponied my hair, and got bored. Actually, when I was little my mom always had my hair pixied, and it is about the only hair I thought I could ever wear well–after years of different styles. I always imagined only bone-straight, fine, flat and stick-to-my-head hair could be pixied, and only thick, lush hair could be dreaded!

    So, either because I turned 45 in December, or more likely because I went no ‘poo, MY HAIR ISN’T FLAT AND STICKING TO MY HEAD ANYMORE. I don’t have to use any products in it, and it keeps shape or curl (when I bother with either!). So now, maybe-just-maybe I will be able to grow it out and do the dreads!

    Besides this topic, I am just in awe of you, Jen! I want to be as confident in my skin as you are in yours. My personality and my childhood so far have inhibited me being anything but “the rule-following, don’t-make-waves, be-a-good-girl” person I am today. Dreads might be my first step out of that role! LOL!


  5. Carrie

    Awesome! They look great! Good for you for doing what you want! I so relate to wanting your outside to match your inside, to feel free and unrestricted. I struggle with this too, especially as a not-twenty-something mom. People think you should and shouldn’t do certain things. It’s so annoying! I’m really glad you’re being you! You’re beautiful! 😉

    • Jen

      Thanks, Carrie 🙂 And it’s taken me 38 years to get to a point where I don’t listen to all those “shoulds”and “should nots.” I wish I’d gotten here sooner, but I guess that taking this long has made me appreciate it that much more.

  6. AmyJ

    Love it! I’m an unschooling mom who’ll be turning 38 in less than two weeks and I decided to do dreads about a month ago. I’m still in the growing out process, cuz my hair has been pixie short for most of the past 5 years or so. I’m expecting it to be long enough to dread (planning to backcomb it) in about 4-5 months. But I was so excited to see that you were doing it, and can’t wait to hear more about your journey. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I love it. And those are wonderful reasons to alter your appearance, as insignificant as “just hair” may seem.

  8. Amy

    I love it, too, Jen! And I love what you said here: “I want to embrace anything that helps me to feel more comfortable in my own skin, that helps me feel even more free from constraints, more free to relate to others, more free to be me.” I want to join you on this journey to embrace those things that help us feel even more free from constraints–more free to relate to others. What a wonderful way to be!

  9. Sarah Durall

    They look great on you, CJ!

  10. This is so awesome for you 🙂

  11. Hi, unschooling mum to 2 boys in Denmark, Europe, here, and I just had to write you since I took this exact step, for the exact same reasons, 18 months ago 😀 And I can tell you – it will be a great journey, a great lesson in patience and acceptance, and and a wonderful feeling when you finally look like YOU 🙂

  12. Hi Jen – I love your post, and love your locks. I’ve had synthetic dreads for the past 10 years, and my real hair is also dreaded. I originally had them put in because I wanted to have some color in my hair. I was also coloring my real hair at the time, a lot. I had all kinds of different colors -pink, purple, red, fusha, lavender, black, red-brown…and I loved it.

    Then I decided I wanted to stop dying my hair, because I had changed my diet and a lot of other things, and wanted to be more natural. But I kept my dreads. I’ve had my natural color for over 6 years now. I can’t imagine not having my dreads.

    A dear friend of mine who used to do hair when she lived here put them in originally. She had real dreads that were long and gorgeous, but finally took hers out. She has moved away, but my hair always reminds me of her, and I think it’s a part of me that will never leave. They really do tell a story about us, a very personal one, to the world, of who we are. I hope you love your dreads, and I hope they inspire you to create stories and memories that are meaningful to you. <3

  13. Pam

    Your dreddies look great! I’m surprised they’re so unusual over there, there are plenty over here (Melbourne, Australia). You should come to Rainbow Serpent Festival some day, you’ll be in the majority! http://www.rainbowserpent.net for some pics. Good luck in growing your baby dreads 🙂

  14. hey lady! just stumbled on yer site – love it so much! can i tell you – i’ve had dreads for 5 years, and the BEST THING i ever discovered was the “baking soda/vinegar wash.”
    it is cheap, easy and oh so effective. i know yer dreadies are new, so mildew, buildup and *weight* (my bootie length hair is HEAVY) are prolly not an issue yet, but stick with that hairstyle for long enough, and they will be!
    here’s the info, if yer interested – and you look AWESOME, by the way. i have loved my dreadlocks so so very fiercely…
    i only wash mine once every 2-4 weeks. it’s all they need and keeps them from being too dry or too gnarly:
    add one tbs of baking soda in 2-3 cups water
    pour over hair, making sure to get at the roots, scrub well and let soak for as long as can (i try to go for 5-10, but with a little one in the house? i maybe make it 2-5, *tops*).
    rinse very very well.
    add 2 glugs of apple cider vinegar to 2-3 cups of water.
    pour, scrub and soak (but not for as long) – this is the “conditioner” – it’s really important not to skip this step, or yer hair will really dry up.
    rinse with as cold water as you can stand.
    just make sure not to use more than (MAX) 1 tbs baking soda to 1 cup water – it’s a pretty abrasive cleaner at high ratios.
    hope that’s helpful! keep on rockin’ the dreadlocks (or “dweadwoks” as my kiddo calls them.)

    • jen

      Thanks! And that’s funny. I just tried the baking soda and vinegar this past week. 🙂 I like your way better though! The “recipe” I tried used a whole pitcher of water for both the wash and the conditioner. I’m going to try it the way you described next time. Thanks!!

  15. Mrs C Hill19

    Wow! I don’t normally comment on random blogs I visit but this post really struck a chord with me! I have had dreads for 8 years now and have been getting restless with my appearance lately. After reading your reasons for getting dreads it really made me stop and appreciate my own. Thank you and good luck on your dreadlock journey! They look great already!

    • pathlesstaken

      Thanks for the comment;  I love hearing from long-time dread wearers! 🙂  Thank you for the compliment… they are looking much rougher now, but I love them!!

  16. Jamie

    I just came across your blog tonight and I’m LOVING it!! I realize you posted about your dreads a year ago but just wanted to leave a comment. I am a 38 yr old dreaded homeschool mom also! I have had mine a little over 3 years now and I just love them. I had my dreads before we started homeschooling. And I can totally relate to your reasons for wanting dreads…those are my same reasons! Those and the fact that the husband totally loves them, encouraged me to do it and actually did them for me!

    Would love to see an updated picture!

  17. VibeAlive



    I am 37 and did my this past May.. they look like SHIT right now.. I resemble a Chihuahua with mange… lol

    Your explanation is EXACLTY why I got them as well… I WAS that typical ‘fit in with the crowd’ person… but it ALWAYS felt like I was going against the grain… it wasn’t ‘me’
    and I just let go… Feels great… I just can’t wait for them to mature a little.. lol 😉

  18. Alison

    So glad i found your site. I started my dread journey three months ago, on my 36th birthday. I have fine, but very curly hair and so they’re locking up well. I find myself impatient at times and the thought of getting rid has crossed my mind, but the though of what they will look like once they’re mature is what keeps my going.

  19. Tara

    I was just wondering if you still have your dreads and if not, why not.
    I am 41 and have been finally starting to feel I can be who I am meant to be. More free and a little wild. I have short hair so I cannot dread it right now, but I am making synthetic ones to put in and maybe, just maybe my hair will dread itself as it grows with them in.
    I have very fine straight hair with no body so long has never really worked for it, but dreads just might give it enough body.
    I go in for surgery next month and I hope to have my synthetic dreads installed before I go under. My surgeon has always loved how every time I go in, I have done something new with my hair. Different colors and styles.
    My dreads though not real will be a new beginning of a new healthier, happier me. It will be a constant riminder of where I want to go and who I want to be.

    • jen

      Hi Tara,

      I had and loved my dreads for three years, and then just needed to be done for awhile, so I combed them out this past January. I had “normal” hair for three months, and while it did feel very good to comb it out and really scrub my scalp, I realized that normal hair just isn’t “me” anymore. So I started a new set of dreads. 🙂 They are very different than last time, and it is fun to watch what they are deciding to do.

      Best of luck to you with your upcoming surgery!

  20. Kristin

    I’m 50 and have had dreads for about 5 years. I’ve just recently gotten rid of all the synthetic extensions (tips for length and fillers for volume and uniformity.) It feels great to know my dreads are all “organic” even though they are slightly less striking now that they’re shorter and thinner.

    I’m a NICU nurse (who has also been a hospital administrator) and take my profession very seriously. I’m preparing to start my doctorate this fall. I’m a mom who I’m told is strict yet fun and quirky. I guess what I’m getting at is that my dreads are just a hairstyle. I love them and they suit my lifestyle and desire to be low maintenance. (My eyeliner & brows are tattooed and my lashes dyed so I can live/travel without makeup even as a pale Scandinavian descendant.)

    My biggest issue with dreads is the assumption that I’m this kooky free-spirit because of the hairstyle. I’m motivated, driven, a rule-follower, at times ultra serious and I’m professional with a creative streak. It’s definitely the combo of expressing creativity and ease of care that make the dreads perfect for me. I look forward to a time when I’m not the only PTA mom or hospital director with hair so unique people have to ask about it before we can get to business. Yes, go for the dreads if you like the look…even if you don’t think you fit the typical profile of a dready.