There are a couple of ways to determine whether something — a hairstyle, a popular style of shirt, a designer shoe — is evolving into a full-fledged trend. First, you see it on Instagram. Next, you see it on the streets of SoHo. Then, you see it on Rihanna. Or, maybe it's the other way around. Regardless, our favorite non-singing singer has recently put her bad gal stamp of approval on a protective hairstyle you're probably already seeing everywhere: knotless box braids.
Unlike regular box braids, the knotless kind are, just that, knotless. There's no bulge of hair stemming from the scalp, and instead the root is flat and smooth. This is due to what's called the feed-in technique, which involves "adding braiding hair to the client's natural hair as you go along, as opposed to adding it all at the beginning," celebrity hairstylist Ursula Stephen, whose clients include Serena Williams, Zendaya, and, yes, Rihanna, tells Fashionista. Susy Oludele whose celebrity clients include Beyoncé, Solange and Princess Nokia, explains further that the stylist uses a three-strand method starting with your natural hair which is then intertwined with the extensions.
As for why this particular style has become so popular recently, well, it's hard to say (Oludele shares that it's been requested by clients so much in the past couple of months that she's started hosting classes at her salon to teach people the technique). Figuring out the algorithm of trends these days is tricky, but both Stephen and Oludele think the interest is due to more and more women wanting a less put-together look. "People are coming into themselves and are tapping more into the natural side of their hairstyles," Oludele says. "They don't want [their hair] to look like extensions, they want it to look effortless."
Additionally, knotless box braids don't require a high pain tolerance like many other protective braided styles do. Gone are the days of taking Tylenol before sitting in a salon chair for half the day, restless nights after first getting your braids installed, or being too scared to put your hair in a bun right away. At Oludele's salon, the stylists make it a point for most hairstyles involving extensions to be painless and lightweight and this extends to knotless box braids. She adds that, with the knotless style, there's also likely to be "less breakage, less pulling, and less strain by your edges."
All of this isn't to say that regular box braids are an inferior option to the knotless style. In fact, since knotless box braids exposes more natural hair at the root, they also tend to get frizzier faster, meaning they may not last as long as the traditional version. For those who spend a lot of their time swimming come summer, Oludele suggests considering knotted box braids. Also, since the process tends to take longer than regular box braids (expect to tack on an extra 15-20 minutes depending on the size and length, Oludele says), some stylists may charge more.
When it comes to the style's longevity, Stephen says they should last about four to six weeks, similar to that of knotted braids. The upkeep is also pretty much the same: Oludele recommends sleeping with a silk bonnet, silk scarf or on a silk pillowcase as well as regularly cleansing and moisturizing the scalp and applying castor oil (we like this one) to edges.
What kind of box braids you choose, at the end of the day, comes down to personal preference. What's for Rihanna or that person you follow on social media with a different hair type from your own might not be for you. Thankfully, there are plenty of other options out there to choose from, most of which you can probably find in Rih's very own long and varied hairstyle history. As Stephen reminds us, "the beauty industry is great at creating styling options for each individual" — and so is our favorite Barbadian.