I wore a ‘man braid’ for a week to see if it really is the next big thing
VICE called it the ‘spiritual brother of the man bun’
Born on the streets of Shoreditch and Seattle, to flannel-shirt wearing coffee snobs, the man bun quickly became the most divisive men’s hairstyle of last year. 2016, however, is the year of the “man braid”.
Ever since they started selling clip-on varieties it was obvious that we’d reached peak man bun. The man braid is an abomination and thus obviously the heir to its legacy.
It’s gaining serious traction: Justin Bieber and Harry Styles have both been spotted wearing them, VICE has called it “the spiritual brother to the man bun” and last month the Telegraph declared: “The man bun is dead, long live the man braid!”
But where does that leave regular guys? It’s all well and good for on-trend celebutantes to flounce around with their hair intricately braided, but what about the man on the street? I decided to test out whether wearing a man braid in my day-to-day life would make me look trendy – or just a bit of a tit.
So I found myself sitting at my desk on a Monday morning, having my hair yanked and wrenched into plaits and then meticulously pinned and sprayed into place. Admiring my colleagues’ handiwork in the mirror of the mens’ toilets, I had to admit I didn’t hate it – there’s a level of artistry in braids which you don’t quite get with a fistful of Vo5 Extreme Style Matt Clay.
If only everyone else felt the same – by lunch I was starting to notice how little the general public cared for my new look. The ribbing from my colleagues I could endure, but the sideways glances from passers-by were harder to bear. A large part of the beauty of the man bun is that there’s something rugged about it – as if you’re tying up your hair so it stays out of your eyes while you chop wood. The message of the man braid is more along the lines of “I’ve threaded my hair in a way that makes me look pretty”, which is decidedly less Samson-esque.
After work I was meeting my parents for dinner, and as part of my plan to see if my man braid was culturally acceptable I decided to show up without telling them. When I’d given a satisfactory answer to the expected “what the bloody hell is that on your head?”, my mum proceeded to spend the rest of the evening apologising to the waiters for me.
On the first day I’d gone for what the Telegraph had called the “standard man braid”, in which the wearer pulls all his hair together “creating one, neat plait down the middle of his head”. This had felt quite subtle – which was probably the point – but subtlety wasn’t the name of the game here: if I were going to embrace the man braid I was going to do it proudly. On day two I went for three braids.
How stupid could I look? Very, it turns out. The corn-row effect had a colleague comparing me to Lemar, which meant I spent most of my day wringing my hands about cultural appropriation and wondering if I was destined for a special circle of hell where I’d only have Iggy Azaelia for company.
Later on I decided to head to the gym. My heart was racing as I walked in, imagining how the tanked-up regulars would react when they saw a small pale guy in a vest sidle in wearing what were essentially pigtails. I’d forgotten my card, but politely declined a replacement at the front desk because I knew they’d try and take a photo of me.
When I was actually inside, I only lasted five minutes in the weights section before the judgemental looks had me scampering over to join the middle-aged women on the stationary bikes. Not that it helped: I still looked like the captain of the Lithuanian women’s rugby team. I stuck out like a sore thumb.
I mixed it up on the third day with a Roman braid: despite the majestic name, my colleague said it merely made me look “cute”. By this point I’d started to develop a newfound respect for girls with long hair – despite the endless pinning and repinning I still could never get it looking quite right, and stray strands jumping out all over the place had become the bane of my life. I’d even stopped washing it entirely so it wouldn’t look so fluffy.
But by Thursday, I was fully into the man braid life, and I’d started to feel empowered by the confused glances I’d get as I strode to my office. Not everyone else was as used to my new look, however – as I sat down for a meeting that afternoon with the CEO of a tech company we were collaborating with, I could literally see the moment as he shook my hand where his eyes darted up to my hair and back to my face, wondering whether he should ask about it. He didn’t.
Finally the weekend came, and I was apprehensive again as I’d planned to go for dinner with a real human woman. Turns out we’d both been misinformed: her about how fucking stupid I was going to look, and me about the classiness of the establishment we’d be dining at. The maître d’ arrived to escort us to our table, reading the name “Sophie” off his list and glancing expectantly between us, as if waiting for us to clarify that was her name and not mine.
And you know what? I didn’t even care. If I’d been snorted at by a sommelier at the start of the week I’d have been bright red with shame, but by Friday I’d thrown embarrassment to the wind entirely with the sort of don’t-give-a-fuck mentality that comes with wearing a hairstyle so obnoxious. It’s like the amount of care going into the plaiting of the braids had given me the ability to stop caring about anything else.
All this occurred to me eating lunch that Sunday, and I felt happy. Maybe that’s what the man braid is about – not caring what other people think, as long as you look fucking fabulous. I looked down at the flat white in my hand, and back up at the overpriced Shoreditch street market I’d bought it from, and I realised something else. This is how the man bun started: the braid was taking over. I could feel myself becoming part of the problem.
Begrudgingly, I took out my hair pins and went home for a much-needed shower.