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The Rise of Knotless Braids

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Hair can be fussy, uncooperative, moody. When it does not bend, curl or sit on command, it can be frustrating. Hair can be a handful, a time suck, a money pit, a drag. Perhaps no one knows this better than Black women.

Enter, stage left: braids.

And not just any braids. Many Black women are going with a style that has been gaining in popularity: so-called knotless braids, which differ significantly from traditional box braids.

In the old style — notably worn by Janet Jackson in the 1993 film “Poetic Justice,” which helped enshrine the style in American beauty culture — the hair is parted into discrete sections, and strands of synthetic hair are knotted at the roots. Hair stylists who create knotless braids also start by dividing the hair into separate sections, but then comes a change in the process: They braid an inch and a half or more of the natural hair itself, and then they feed the synthetic strands bit by bit into the newly created braid.

Since the hair extensions are not knotted at the roots, those who choose this style will feel very little tension at the scalp. The lack of knots also means there is none of the bulkiness that may appear with box braids. And the newer style leaves the braids flatter. Knotless braids feel lighter, too.

“It’s just so easy to handle,” said Jamilla Dick-Quashie, 42, the director of health and safety at the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner who is also a mother to a 6-year-old. “When I’m putting my hair up in a bun or trying to do a braid style with the knotless braids, it’s so much easier. And I know that I’m not feeling the tension on my scalp — and that’s a big difference.”

“The knotless braids, in the beginning, it was more difficult for us, because it’s something that we are not used to,” said Ms. Fall, 37, who is from Senegal. “When we got used to it, we noticed that it was actually a little bit easier for us than the regular braids.”

Without the bother of making small knots at the roots, the stylists found that they could braid more quickly — which meant more customers and more revenue. At Aminata, box braids, whether knotless or not, cost $140 for hair that reaches the back and $180 for waist-length.

The new style also drove demand. In the days before knotless braids ran the Instagram explore page, a customer could show up at an African hair braiding salon without booking a time. Now many hair braiders are requesting that customers make appointments online. Some require a deposit of $30 to guard against no-shows. (Aminata African Hair Braiding is still first come first served.)

For Meagan Louis, who braids hair at her own salon, Soignée BK, in the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, said that knotless braids had been good for her business, which she started when the new style was coming into vogue.

She said she had not set out to braid hair full time. After graduating from the University at Albany in 2012 with a biology degree, she worked as a technologist in a medical lab and did hair-braiding after her shifts to supplement her income.

“I would do my 9 to 5 and then, when I come back home, I’ll probably knock out two clients,” Ms. Louis said. “I would do that probably every other day.”

She would do one woman’s knotless braids, and that person would refer her to another client, and soon she had more customers than she could handle.

“It was becoming more full-time than the actual full-time job,” Ms. Louis said.

But Ms. Louis was hesitant, partly because her parents, who immigrated from the Grenadines, hoped that she would become a doctor.

“I was getting ready to apply to medical school,” Ms. Louis said, “and it was just a moment where you decide, ‘Is it even worth it to go another 11 years to become a surgeon, or do you just braid this hair and you can make the same amount?’”

In the end, Ms. Louis quit her job at the lab. The possibility of being able to set her own schedule and spend more time with her daughter and son, now 8 and 4, figured into her decision, she said.

“I make more money braiding hair and have more creativity,” Ms. Louis said. “Science is very strict. It works, or doesn’t. It’s scientific, it’s mathematical. But here you can be creative, you can do what you want.”

Ms. Louis worked out of her home until she opened Soignée BK in February 2020. Then the pandemic hit, which left her unable to see customers for months. During those early months of isolation, she built up her salon’s social media presence. She said that when she announced that she was ready to see clients again, she booked an entire month of appointments within two minutes.

She now starts accepting new appointments on the 16th of each month at noon sharp, and the month fills up almost immediately. Ms. Louis attributes her success to her speed and neatness. The braids she creates have a uniform look, almost as if they were done by machine.

A scientist at heart, Ms. Louis is particular about making sure that the one side of a customer’s head does not end up with more braids than the other, a common pitfall. She also requires that her customers have at least four to five inches of hair and arrive with it freshly washed and blow dried. (With the older style of braids, there was almost no limit to how short a customer’s hair could be.) Ms. Louis charged $150 for medium-size braids per person at first. Now the price is $350 for the same service.

She says she prefers doing knotless braids, partly because the process is faster. Another advantage of the new style is that it is less likely to damage hair, according to customers and stylists. With traditional box braids, knotted tight and close to the scalp, some women experienced hair loss.

Ms. Dick-Quashie, of the medical examiner’s office, said she chose the knotless style because it is known to be gentle. She began to see Xia Charles, 29, the owner of Braided, a salon in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn.

Ms. Charles, who was born in Trinidad and Tobago, said she learned to braid hair from her grandmother starting at age 3. Her skill came in handy when she was a student majoring in economics at the University of the West Indies at Cave Hill in Barbados.

“When I would get tired of eating ramen, I would braid an extra couple of heads just to make some money,” Ms. Charles said. “When I finished university, I went back home to Tobago and I couldn’t find a job, so I started doing hair in my sister’s clothes store on a little cooler chair.”

After immigrating to the United States in 2017, she started to braid hair at a barbershop across the street from where she lived in Brooklyn.

After five months at the barbershop, she rented a booth at a salon. To establish a clientele, she started posting photos of her work on social media. Customers came for one of her specialties — stitch braids, which are cornrows where the hair is parted horizontally, beneath the spine of the braid. Like knotless braids, stitch braids start with natural hair and involve synthetic hair being fed into the braid, causing less tension. Ms. Charles’s method is unique, because she parts the stitch with her ring finger as she braids downward.

“Stitch braids take care of your hair,” Ms. Charles said. “Back in the day, they would start with a big bump of synthetic hair, and that would rip your follicles out of your scalp. Now you start with your own hair. Black hair, we tend to get traction alopecia a lot; we have our issues.”

After having some success in her rented booth, she started braiding hair in her two-bedroom apartment. “I operated as though it was a salon,” Ms. Charles said. In 2018, she had a breakthrough after she braided the hair of the reality TV star Tanisha Thomas, who posted the result on Instagram and tagged Ms. Charles. Soon, the rapper Cardi B was among Ms. Charles’s Instagram followers — and then became a customer. Ms. Charles said she still braids Cardi B’s hair on occasion.

Cardi B tends to get the fishbowl, which is generally just cornrows with your natural hair, and then the extension,” Ms. Charles said. “It does not pull on your hair at all.”

In 2020, Ms. Charles was part of the hair-braiding team for Beyoncé’s “Black Is King” visual album, in which the megastar wore box braids longer than her body.

“The biggest influencers are the celebrities,” Ms. Charles said.

In September 2021, she opened Braided, a spacious salon with paper white walls and large bay windows. She also provides classes in braiding and occasionally hires her students. With business booming, Ms. Charles has purchased her first home — within five years of arriving in the United States, she noted.

To those who say prices have gotten too steep, she says customers don’t mind, as long as the braids are done right.

“It might be more expensive,” Ms. Charles said, “but people are willing to pay, provided that when they take it all out their hair is still intact. People want protection, they want ease, convenience — and that is what knotless braids offer.”

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Love Letter: A Mysterious Delivery

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After Charlotte Maya lost her husband to suicide, she and her young sons were used to unexpected visitors. But when her doorbell rang one mid-December evening, nobody was there.

Instead, on her doormat was a kit to make a gingerbread house with a note that only said, “On the First Day of Christmas. … ”

In this week’s Modern Love essay, “When a Doorbell’s Ring Means Hope,” Ms. Maya describes how a series of mysterious deliveries buoyed her family during their darkest days.

Join the 7-Day Happiness Challenge.

Research shows that the single most important driver of happiness is the strength of our relationships. Sign up for a week of exercises from the New York Times Well desk that will help set you up for a happier, more connected year.

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How One Japanese-American Designer Is Revitalizing Vintage Kimonos

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In her Brooklyn studio, designer Sara Sakanaka keeps a small drawstring bag that her grandmother made for her decades ago. Sewn from textile scraps, the striped pouch is one of Sakanaka’s oldest keepsakes, an heirloom representing a generations-old philosophy. “My mom used to tell me this story. It was about how if we treat objects with love and care for one hundred years, they can obtain a soul,” she shares as pours each of us a cup of Mugicha, a Japanese Barley tea that she grew up drinking. We met at her studio on a gray Tuesday morning, where a collection of silk separates, each made from reclaimed Japanese kimonos, hangs neatly. On a shelf, folded piles of salvaged textiles wait for her to sew them into something new, just like her grandmother once did as a hobby. “There’s this whole idea that objects have lives,” she says. “I like to see every piece as a true considered object in that way.” 

Nick Krasznai / courtesy of Considered Objects 

It makes sense then that Sakanaka would name her own label Considered Objects. The 39-year-old launched her line—a collection of hand-sewn jackets, dresses, and shirtings that are made entirely from reclaimed Japanese kimonos and textiles—just two years ago. “I never had the dream of starting a business,” she shares. “I was happy working toward someone else’s vision. But at some point, there’s this part of you that wants to explore what you want to say. It took time for me to be able to discover that.” 

Sakanaka has a lot to say. With 20 years of experience under her belt, she has developed a design philosophy of her own. “I have no interest in buying new materials or producing with mills,” she says while showing me the intricate, hand-stitched panels of a vintage summer kimono. As she points out its cotton lining and hand-painted family crests (her own paternal and maternal family crests are tattooed on each of her arms), it becomes clear that she is not just making clothing; she’s stitching age-old stories into contemporary garments. “After years of working at different fashion brands, I found that you can get stuck on this hamster wheel. What has always grounded me was the question, ‘how can I not only find true meaning in these things, but how can I offer connection through these pieces?’”

Nick Krasznai / courtesy of Considered Objects 

Nick Krasznai / courtesy of Considered Objects 

An FIT graduate, the apparel designer previously worked for fashion label Imitation of Christ, luxury line Ports 1961, bespoke womenswear collection Honor, and the Japanese fashion house Foxey. In 2020, after spending nearly four years traveling back and forth between New York and Japan for work, she felt she was ready for something new. “I started to wonder how I would mentally, physically, and creatively sustain. I was burnt out.” she tells me. Around that time, her grandmother, the one who gave her the collaged drawstring bag and taught her how to sew, passed away. “This was during the pandemic, so I wasn’t able to attend her funeral in Japan. I had previously inherited her collection of kimonos and rediscovered them during that time. I had completely forgotten about them, but learning about them became part of my grieving process. Having those made me feel close to her,” Sakanaka reflects. 

It was then that she took a page from her grandmother’s book. “Studying these shambled garments and giving them new life through reconstruction was a way for me to heal while reconnecting with myself and my culture,” she says. Preserving the original rectangular panels and stitching style from each kimono, the designer began dismantling and reassembling each one. Her first design? A classic, collared, button-down shirt. Inside each shirt she constructed, Sakanaka sewed a layered patchwork flower made from leftover silk scraps. “That flower, that mark, it was sort of my way of memorializing the whole experience of my creation and of finding closure. It was a way of bestowing my honor upon each piece.” 

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Here’s How to Style 5 Luxurious Loungewear Sets This Winter

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All products featured on Vogue are independently selected by our editors. However, we may earn affiliate revenue on this article and commission when you buy something.

Cozying up for the winter has never looked chicer courtesy of luxurious loungewear sets from The Row, Wardrobe.NYC, Éterne, and more. Crafted from ultra-soft cashmeres and sultry silks, these matching sets are as indulgent as it gets and can be worn in the comfort of your own home or out and about for casual coolness. As the newly appointed foundation of your winter wardrobe, styling a luxe loungewear set properly can offer both ease and elegance at the same time. 

For an elevated errand ensemble, The Row’s ‘Jaspar’ hoodie and matching ‘Anton’ wide-leg pants are knitted from the softest of cashmere. The chic combination is so comfortable that you won’t want to change once you get home. Enhance the look with stylish sneakers from Nike, plush cable-knit socks from Johnstons of Elgin, and Nothing Written’s minimalist bag. Loungewear sets, like this cashmere turtleneck and midi skirt pairing from Altuzarra, also have the power to be dressed up for festive evenings out, especially when adorned in jewels from Missoma and Laura Lombardi. A matching activewear set from Sporty & Rich ensures that you arrive at any workout in style. Sofa-ready outfits from Wardrobe.NYC and Olivia Von Halle help curate the perfect night in this holiday season and beyond. 

This winter, investing in a loungewear set has never looked better. Below, here are five ways to style luxe loungewear sets that are as comfortable as they are chic. (Plus, also find a few more statement sets to add to your winter wardrobe.) 

The Elegant Errand Runner

Nothing says chic errand runner like this matching cashmere hoodie and pant set from The Row. Knitted from the softest of cashmere, it’s a chic combination so comfortable that you won’t want to change once you get home. Enhance the look with stylish sneakers from Nike, plush cable-knit socks from Johnstons of Elgin, and Nothing Written’s minimalist bag. Jewels from Mejuri are welcome embellishments. 

The Row Jaspar cashmere hoodie

The Row Anton cashmere high-rise pants

Johnstons of Elgin cable-knit cashmere socks

Nothing Written Ferry bag

Mejuri bold Croissant dôme huggies

The Cozy, Yet Chic Evening Look 

A loungewear set doesn’t have to be confined to the comforts of your own home or even resemble a traditional sweatsuit, for that matter. Case in point: find this dazzling skirt set from Altuzarra that is crafted from pure cashmere. Complete the elegant evening ensemble with Saint Laurent’s croc-effect pumps and Anine Bing’s minimalist handbag. Drip in gold thanks to Missoma hoop earrings and Laura Lombardi’s cult-classic necklace. 

Saint Laurent Blade chain croc-effect leather slingback pumps

Anine Bing Colette shoulder bag

Missoma x Lucy Williams chunky entwine hoop earrings

Laura Lombardi Calle gold-plated necklace

The Statement Sporty Attire

When it comes to activewear, a matching set, like this one from Sporty & Rich, will ensure that you arrive at any workout in style. Go one step further and tie the brand’s ‘Wellness’ sweatshirt around your waist for extra comfort. New Balance ‘Core’ sneakers are a staple in any workout wardrobe, as are these Bala Bangles and Stanley’s tumbler to keep you nice and hydrated. 

Sporty & Rich appliquéd cotton-jersey sweatshirt

Sporty & Rich cropped printed stretch-jersey tank

Sporty & Rich printed stretch-jersey leggings

New Balance 574 Core sneakers

Stanley Quencher H2.O travel tumbler, 40oz

The Luxurious Loungewear Set

Wardrobe.NYC x Hailey Bieber’s simple grey sweatshirt and sweatpants are prime examples of luxurious loungewear. Wear with a coveted pair of Birkenstocks—or even heels for an elevated athleisure look. But because we’re sticking with loungewear, cozy up even more courtesy of cashmere socks from Raey and Brunello Cucinelli’s alpaca-blend blanket. Loewe’s scented candle is an immediate ambiance enhancer. 

Wardrobe.NYC x Hailey Bieber cotton sweatshirt

Wardrobe.NYC x Hailey Bieber wide-leg cotton sweatpants

Birkenstock Boston shearling clogs

Raey ribbed cashmere-blend socks

Brunello Cucinelli speckled-jacquard fringed alpaca-blend blanket

Loewe Home Scents Honeysuckle medium scented candle, 610g

The Perfect Pair of Pajamas 

Olivia Von Halle’s ‘Coco’ pajama set is crafted from the finest of satins to create a soft-to-the-touch feel you’ll never want to take off. Meanwhile, Ugg slippers are the perfect accoutrement. Continue to wind down with the help of scented bath salts from Maude and Augustinus Bader’s luxurious face cream. Reflect on your day with The Five Minute Journal and finally get some shut-eye thanks to Brooklinen’s silk eye mask. 

Olivia Von Halle Coco silk-satin pajama set

Ugg Scuffette II slippers

Brooklinen Mulberry silk eyemask

Augustinus Bader The Rich Cream with TFC8® face moisturizer

Maude Soak No. 2 nourishing mineral bath salts

Shop More: 

Leset Lauren cropped stretch-knit cardigan

Leset Lauren stretch-knit wide-leg pants

Éterne oversized crewneck sweatshirt

Éterne classic sweatpants

Lisa Yang Jonny cap-sleeved cashmere sweater

Lisa Yang Sierra wide-leg cashmere trousers

Zara basic hoodie sweatshirt

Girlfriend Collective ReSet cropped stretch recycled top

Girlfriend Collective compressive stretch recycled flared leggings

Le Kasha Etretat organic cashmere sweater

Le Kasha Sumbal cashmere wide-leg pants

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