Dreads vs Locs

Dreads Vs. Locs: Is There Any Difference?

Among hundreds of hairstyles that black people solely owned, at first, Dreadlocks, Dreads, Locks, or Locs was one of them. It happened unintentionally because of the texture of their hair. But if you have the time to dig deep into the history, no one can claim that their culture invented the hairstyle, or maybe it’s better to say- the lifestyle.

After the revolutionary Reggae music entered in people’s lives, Dreadlocks became a popular hairstyle for western culture. Probably since then, the terminology of this hairstyle started to baffle everyone. Because it is easy to misuse the term and can offend any person who is wearing them.

So, what is the appropriate way to refer to them? Is using the term Dreadlock offensive? How can you differentiate Dreads vs. Locs, or is there any difference between them at all?

Before giving you the answer, let’s take a quick tour of the history of this hairstyle first.

The Tale of Dreadlocks or Locks: Where Did It Start?

History of Dreads and Locs

There is no way of knowing what our ancestors or cavemen used to call their hair, so let’s refer to them as locks for now because the term ‘dreadlock’ was used long after that, perhaps, during the Middle Passage. Therefore, it is better to use locs to talk about the events before that.

So, yeah, the cavemen used to have locs in their hair because nobody cared to invent the comb. And after discovering the archeological evidence, historians acknowledged that people had locs in their hair from the very beginning.

Now, it’s time for mythology. Emanuella Grinberg, a famous journalist of CNN, has written that Locs existed in the Vedas and ancient sculptures. These artifacts found in different temples of India, can be dated before 1800 B.C. Vedas described Lord Shiva as a deity with significant long matted Locs or ‘Jataa’ in his hair. A reason why in Hinduism, Locs is considered as a powerful blessing from God.

And many years after that, Egyptians also owned the style. However, unlike the matted locks of Shiva, Egyptians were found to style their locks with accessories and kept the hair neat and manipulated. Ancient relics, artifacts, and even mummies uncovered the secret of locs in Egypt.

Furthermore, as the excavation proceeded, archeologists discovered locked hair in German tribes, Middle East and the Mediterranean, Early Christians, Dervishes of Islam, Aztec Priests, Australian Aboriginals, Vikings, the Somali, Galla, and Massai warriors of Africa.

When did people start using the term Dreadlock and why is it offensive to the Loc Community?

During the Middle Passage, the enslaved Africans were transported across different parts of the Atlantic Ocean. They were forced to stay on the ship for months. Due to the voyage, their hair texture, and the unhealthy treatment they received, locks used to form in their hair naturally.

And when they arrived at the destination, the civilized people would refer to their hair as ugly or dreadful in other words, Dreadlocks or Dreads. Because of the meaning of the word ‘Dread’ and the downhearted backstory, some black people do not prefer calling their hair ‘Dreads’. They think of it as disrespectful, offensive, and insulting.

However, the meaning of this terminology changed drastically when the Rastafarian Movement began, back in the 1930s. When the Ethiopian emperor Ras Tafari was exiled, his supporters protested by not cutting their hair until he was free.

As a consequence of their vow, their hair started to lock naturally and looked matted. The Christians ostracized rastas, and many of them were executed by the authorities for their beliefs in Rastafarianism.

Even after all the tortures, the Rastas never ceased to exist. They continued their journey to the world of spirituality and mysticism. People referred to them as ‘Dreads’ due to their ferocious looks and hair. So, to the Rastas, this terminology signifies their individuality and uniqueness more than any other people in the world.

In the late 1970s, Bob Marley involuntarily popularized the Dreadlock hairstyle. And in his songs, he mentioned both the terms Dreads and Dreadlocks without any hesitation. To spread the Reggae music culture of Jamaica, he wrote songs that still inspire people to this day.

Bob Marley Hairstyle

The Definition of Dread or Where to Use Them?

YouTuber Atreyu has created comparatively rational content about Dread vs. Locs among the internet’s controversial debates. He mentioned that Dread is a term used by the Jamaican in four different ways.

It can be used to:

  • Greet a person who has dreadlocks even if he/she is not a Rasta
  • Greeting an elderly as a form of showing respect who has dreadlocks
  • Expressing the excitement by calling a friend who recently started his Lock journey
  • As a form of admiration to the Rastas’s holy, rebellious and robust lifestyle.

As you can see, the Jamaicans and in certain places in Nigeria, black people don’t find it offensive to refer to their hair as Dreadlocks or Dreads. So, you can use Dread or Dreadlock in these regions.

For them, it is more than just a hairstyle. The Dread Community considers their dread, a root or an antenna that connects them with mother nature. Whether it is matted or shiny, they refer to their dreads as a source to absorb the God-given energy around them.

Loctician Mandisa D mentioned in a short documentary that she has seen children born in Nigeria with dreads. And those children are admired as powerful and gifted. And even the kids have acknowledged the divine strength within them and chose not to cut or manipulate their hair out of respect.

The Definition of Locs or Where to Use Them?

As mentioned before, the term Dreadlock or Dread is often used as a form of disrespect or insult by many white individuals around the world. And sometimes, with a negative connotation.

In certain places such as the USA or certain parts of Europe, if you have locs in your head, you will be considered as a rebel or drug addict who smokes marijuana all the time.

Mostly, the African-American Black community feels comfortable using Locs or Locks to drop the stigma or misconception. Since they think there is nothing dreadful about their hair, they reject the word Dreads (considering the abbreviation). And also, to them, calling their hair Dreads means disrespecting their ancestors.

Thus, use locks, when you are talking to an Afro-American person.

There is a video content made by Kenyata, where she explained why some black people find it offensive to call their hair Dreads. These black men and women start their Loc journey, and whenever asked, they love to call the hairstyle ‘locs’ as they are not following the Rastas or have no religious motive to choose this journey.

How to Differentiate Dreads Vs. Locs?

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After the discussion above, it might be clear to you that Dreads and Locs are simply two different institutions of belief. The only difference you should keep in mind is– the region where you are using the terms.

Can you differentiate the terms now? If not, let’s look at the summary below to get a clear conception in our head.

Similarities Between Dreads and Locs

It is evident that both of these styles are similar because their origin is the same. Let’s take a look at some other similarities other than the origin.

Protective hairstyle:

The first similarity between these two terms is that they both are considered as a protective hairstyle. Both of them are formed with methods, such as, braids and crochet. These hairstyles are preferable for all types of hair as they protect the hair from pollution.


Since these are just two different terminologies to mention the same locked hair, the methods by which they form are similar. Most people around the world, regardless of the texture of their hair, initiate their locking journey by following any of these 10 methods:

1. Twist & Rip

Twist & Rip


2. Backcomb

Backcomb Dreadslocs


3. Crochet

Crochet Hair


4. Sponge Brush

Sponge Brush Hair


5. Sisterlocks

Sister Locks


6. Two-strand Twist

Two Stand Twist


7. Comb Coils

Comb Coil Hair


8. Braids

Colored Braids


9. Faux Locs

Faux Locs


10. Freeform

Freeform Hair


Some Misconceptions About Dreads Vs. Locs

Apart from the abbreviation part, there are some other misconceptions for which the black and white community delivers some negative implications. Let’s take a look at them.

Different methods are needed to achieve Dreads and Locks:

The manicured locking version is often mentioned as the Locs, whereas Dreads refer to the freeform version. The thing is, both are just different methods to get the same hairstyle. It is the personal preference for how they want to grow and call them.

Roots of Dreads and Locks are different:

In some regions, people tend to believe that the hair roots of dreads and locs are different. They say, in locs, the hair follicles are separated from one another at the root, but in Dreads, they are interlocked and can never be separated.

The part ‘hair follicles cannot be detangled’ is true in both cases. And the hair follicles are distinguishable at the early stages of locking.

Rastas/ Dreads never wash their hair:

According to Afrocks, Rasta men and women perform ‘ritualistic grooming routines’ to clean their hair. They often recharge their dreads so that their hair can absorb the energy of nature and make them more confident about who they are.


The discussion regarding Dreads vs. Locs sparked when the western world began to adopt the hairstyle and abused the term Dreads without any respect. Again, it became controversial when anyone complimented the black people’s hair as Dreads.

You will have two things to keep in mind to avoid this awkward situation. One, ask the person what they prefer to call their hair. And two, refer to your hair as Dreads only if you have an appropriate motive behind the naming. Anyone can have dreads or locks as long as they choose to respect the history behind the name and appreciate the holiness of this beautiful heritage.

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