Dreadlocks have come in from the cutting edge

August 04, 1994|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

We do indeed live in a global village, trading cultural ideas as well as fashionable trinkets quicker than you can spell Benetton.

Dreadlocks, the matted hair of Jamaica's Rastafarian believers, are weaving their way into mainstream America. Slowly, to be sure. Rockers jumped on the dread wagon fairly recently -- anything to stand out in MTV's endless trendiness. The young club set is following suit, and before we know it glimmers of Kingston style will start raising eyebrows at the country club.

This fall's J. Crew catalog, the shopping bible of laid-back preppie style, features a model in dreads and button-down oxford shirt. It figures. Among the first whites to adopt dreads were privileged preps of the '80s who felt a need to declare their solidarity with the global community by way of Benetton philosophy and togs. Today, dreads are even more of a style and less of a statement.

Youngsters find style models in the sports arena. Zachary Hartley and Chad Raymond, best friends and soon to be fifth-graders at Linthicum Elementary school, are testing the waters on the new hairstyle.

They're sports fans more than trend spotters. "I got the hair about a month ago," says Zach. "I got the idea from the World Cup Games. Cobi Jones had it and it was cool. My hair grows down and it was long enough so I used the colored rubber bands from the orthodontist, but I couldn't do it myself so I asked my mom to do it."

His friend Chad needed parental help, too, and approval. "It's kind of like braids, but it's hard to do," he says. "My mom does mine. She thinks its all right, but my dad hates it and wants me to cut it off." Their mom-made locks are not quite dreads, but it isn't as if they're not trying to get that soccer do. Time and know-how separate dread wannabes from dread wearers.

Randy Foutz, whose dreads reach midway to his back, has had them for eight years and is still trying to decide why he has them.

"I just happen to have this hair," he says. "Some people are put off, but the reaction is mostly positive. Some blacks I know think it's cool, some think it's somehow sacrilegious for whites to wear dreads."

He swings a hammer at construction work now. He graduated from the Maryland Institute with a degree in sculpture in 1984.

"Some of the people I work for warm up to the hair once they get past the novelty; they start to see me as a person," and that, he thinks, accounts for his choice of hairstyle.

"If there's any hope at all for the world," he says, "it is a tolerance for variety in people."

"I'm not fashion-oriented, I just have this hair. It may even be that my Scottish ancestors wore their hair the same way."

Unlike the ancients who did not shampoo regularly, he maintains a hair regimen. "I do wash, contrary to popular belief -- biodegradable shampoo diluted with water. Evey four months or so I pour beer all over my head to have the alcohol cut the soap residue. I don't like chemicals."

He had help to start the locks and that's the secret. The style may appear careless but it takes careful manipulation by an experienced practitioner.

Ousmane Toure and Somari Toure, who run the Africentrics salon at Howard and Saratoga streets, are among the few stylists in Baltimore who do dreadlocks professionally.

"It's not a casual hairdo decision; it takes time," says Ousmane Toure. "Dreads once had a cultural and religious significance. Today, most people who want them are very fashion-conscious. It's a little harder for our white clients because their hair is straighter, but we have developed a new technique that causes hair to lock instantly," he says.

Somari Toure chooses to call his salon locks a "Nubian Twist" because "dreads have an association with letting hair go. Our styles are crafted and precise."

That manipulation can cost -- $90 and up depending on hair type, condition and length -- and it takes about four weeks to get a look that is really defined.

"The technique is more like sculpting," says Somari. "Once there, however, dreads can be styled up or down in any number of ways, even into a squared-off bob. Cute."

As for precise instructions, stylists tend to be guarded.

Melody Powell, whose salon, The Place, is right there in New York's trend-central East Village, says her technique is a trade secret, but that is what keeps her salon busy and jumping.

"We're a multi-racial salon, we do everyone and everything -- rappers, Wall Street guys, white lawyers, Japanese kids, you name it," she says.

Her newest run of clients consists of Japanese youths who come in for the latest look. "The Rasta thing is cultural, wilder, clumpy. Fashion dreads are something else altogether," she says. "It's an expensive process, but kids will find a way to pinch pennies, collect cans, whatever, to have them." Prices up to $700 do seem to require a fashion commitment.

"When I finish with them it's done and the only way to undo dreads is to cut them out," she says. She lists among her clients an Allman brother and a diverse group of musicians and performers who are always looking for a new image.

The big Afros of the '60s may just be the next big thing.

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