Skip to Content

Locs Vs Dreadlocks: Understanding the Difference in Meaning and Origins (2024)

This site is supported by our readers. We may earn a commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase through links.

difference between dreads and dreadlocksImagine seeing locs swaying as a woman dances freely at a festival, embracing her heritage. As you admire her hair, you may wonder about the loc hairstyle – how it differs from dreadlocks.

Though they appear similar, locs and dreadlocks have distinct backgrounds. Where dreadlocks have been misinterpreted by some as dreadful, locs honor African culture.

As we explore their origins and care, appreciate the endurance and spirit behind these intricate, long-lasting locked hairstyles.

Key Takeaways

Based on the background provided, here are 4 key takeaways on the differences between locs and dreadlocks:

  • Locs have defined, separate roots at the base while dreadlocks have messy, merged roots along the scalp.
  • Locs are strongly associated with honoring African heritage and cultural identity, while dreadlocks originated from Rastafarian culture.
  • Both locs and dreads allow for long-term growth and creative styling, but require careful maintenance.
  • There are complex social, spiritual, and cultural legacies behind these unique hairstyles.

Locs Vs. Dreadlocks: What’s the Difference?

Locs Vs. Dreadlocks: What
When examining locs versus dreadlocks, you must first recognize that while they may appear similar visually, their cultural origins and significance differ greatly.

Locs denote an intentional, cultivated hairstyle embracing one’s African roots, while dreadlocks originated from the Rastafarian culture as a symbol of their ideology and liberation from oppression.

Understanding these core distinctions will provide critical context as we explore the nuances differentiating these two integral hairstyles.

Definition and Appearance

When differentiating between locs and dreadlocks, it’s important to understand their distinct definitions and appearances.

Locs have well-defined, tidy roots and a cultivated look, while dreadlocks have messy, merged roots and a more natural, unkempt appearance.

Though locs are traditionally associated with those of African descent, dreadlocks have been worn by many cultures.

Both can be low-maintenance hairstyles, but locs require more intentional twisting and sculpting to achieve their tidy coils.

Cultural Significance

Embrace the cultural significance behind locs and dreadlocks as you dive into their unique meanings and origins.

  • Loc styles like cornrows and braids have origins in various African cultures.
  • Dreadlocks have roots in spiritual practices of Hindu, Rastafarian, and Nazarite communities.
  • Historical attempts to ban locs and dreads represent efforts to suppress cultural identity.
  • Honoring the deep cultural heritage of these hairstyles promotes empowerment and belonging.

Similarities Between Locs and Dreadlocks

Similarities Between Locs and Dreadlocks
When examining locs and dreadlocks more closely, you’ll find they share common ground regarding longevity and durability.

Both styles allow for extended growth phases and creative styling options using hair accessories.

With proper care and maintenance, locs and dreads can last for years as resilient protective hairstyles.

Longevity and Durability

You’ll find both locs and dreadlocks are durable hairstyles that can last for years as they go through different growth phases. They require less maintenance and, though they can be difficult to wash, they can be styled in many ways like adding hair jewelry or getting a retwist.


  • Require less
  • Can last years
  • Many options


  • Difficult washing
  • Growth phases
  • Add jewelry
  • Occasional retwisting
  • Get retwisted

Styling Options

Both of these natural hairstyles come with an array of styling options you’re free to embrace.

You can twist, coil, crochet, braid, or backcomb locs and dreadlocks into various looks.

Feel empowered to style them in whatever way aligns with your values and beliefs.

Experiment with styling to find what resonates most with your inner truth.

Physical Characteristics of Locs and Dreadlocks

Physical Characteristics of Locs and Dreadlocks
When examining locs and dreadlocks closely, you’ll notice clear differences in how they take shape at the root.

While locs have defined, segmented bases, dreadlocks tend to have looser, less separated roots that merge together into ropelike strands.

Appreciating these subtle distinctions shows deeper understanding and respect for the cultural significance behind both enduring, sculpted hair styles.

Root Definition

Your locs’ roots stay separated while dreadlocks’ roots mesh together over time.

As locs mature, their roots remain neatly defined and segmented, keeping a tidy, well-kept appearance.

Dreadlocks develop meshed roots that blend together into one continuous lock along the scalp over the years.

Though different in root structure, both can be worn proudly as meaningful cultural hairstyles.

Overall Appearance

When it comes to the overall appearance, locs and dreadlocks have distinct physical characteristics.

Locs typically have defined roots, giving them a neater and more cultivated look.

On the other hand, dreadlocks often have merged roots that create a more natural and unkempt appearance.

It’s important to note that while both styles can be worn by individuals of various cultural backgrounds, locs are often associated with African heritage while dreadlocks aren’t necessarily tied to any specific culture or ethnicity.

Spiritual and Cultural Beliefs Associated With Locs and Dreadlocks

Spiritual and Cultural Beliefs Associated With Locs and Dreadlocks
As we explore the deeper meaning behind these iconic hairstyles, recognize that dreadlocks hold great spiritual significance for Rastafarians and represent a physical manifestation of their faith and resistance to oppression.

Meanwhile, in parts of Africa, locs may be seen as a sign of unkempt hair rather than an intentional style.

Appreciating the varied cultural perceptions tied to locked hair allows us to thoughtfully examine our assumptions.

Rastafarianism and Dreadlocks

In Rastafarianism, dreadlocks are regarded as a powerful symbol of empowerment and wokeness, representing a break from mainstream ideas of respectability and appropriateness.

Dreadlocks connect to colonialism through their emergence from oppression, becoming a symbol of resistance.

Portrayals in media often perpetuate stereotypes, yet many in the Black community celebrate dreadlocks’ ties to identity and self-expression.

Though some view them strictly through a fashion lens, dreadlocks hold deeply personal meaning for those embracing natural hair.

Cultural Significance of Locs

Although locs have often been associated with Rastafarianism and dreadlocks, you’d be wrong to think they only hold spiritual meaning for one culture–locs have deeply personal and cultural significance for many African descendants seeking to honor their heritage or make a statement against colonial injustice.

You can see evidence of locs tracing back to ancient civilizations like Greece, India, and Egypt, where they symbolized wisdom, strength and status.

To many, locs represent an embrace of natural African beauty and texture while rejecting Eurocentric standards that suggest straight hair is good hair.

Understanding the Terminology: Locs, Dreadlocks, and Misconceptions

Understanding the Terminology: Locs, Dreadlocks, and Misconceptions
You should understand that locs and dreadlocks, while similar hairstyles, carry very different cultural meanings and associations.

  • Locs imply intention, order, and cultivation of one’s hair texture.
  • Dreadlocks arose organically from hair left to its natural state.
  • Historically, dreadlocks carried a profoundly spiritual meaning in Rastafarian culture.
  • Locs represent a celebration of African identity and cultural pride.
  • It’s important we understand the complex social and spiritual legacies behind these styles.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How often should I wash my locs/dreadlocks? What products should I use?

To maintain healthy locs or dreadlocks, it’s recommended to wash them every 1-2 weeks.

Use a sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner specifically designed for textured hair to keep your locs/dreadlocks clean and moisturized.

Can I go swimming with locs/dreadlocks? Will they unravel if wet?

Yes, you can go swimming with locs/dreadlocks.

However, it’s important to protect them by wearing a swim cap or tying them up before entering the water.

Wetting your locs/dreadlocks won’t cause them to unravel if they’re properly maintained and cared for.

How long does the locing/dreading process take? Does hair type or length affect this?

The locing process can take 6 months to 2 years depending on your hair type and desired length. Approach this journey with patience and care. Honor the tradition by appreciating the symbolism of strength and spirituality that locs can represent.

Can I still style my hair in other ways with locs/dreadlocks, like putting it up or using accessories?

You can still style your hair with locs/dreadlocks!

Updos, braids, and accessorizing are all options.

Embrace the versatility of your new hairstyle while expressing yourself and honoring cultural significance.

Will having locs/dreadlocks affect job prospects or how others perceive me? Is there still social stigma surrounding them?

Having locs or dreadlocks can impact job prospects and how others perceive you.

While social stigma still exists, it’s important to embrace your cultural identity and express yourself freely.

Don’t let stereotypes hold you back from achieving success!


In a sea of hairstyles, the beauty of locs and dreadlocks shines through their rich history and cultural significance. While both styles may appear similar, their origins and meanings set them apart.

Locs pay homage to African heritage, celebrating the endurance and spirit of those who wear them.

Understanding the difference between locs and dreadlocks allows us to appreciate the diversity of hair and the stories it tells.

So next time you see someone rocking their locs or dreadlocks, remember the depth and meaning behind their choice.

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is a published author and software engineer and beard care expert from the US. To date, he has helped thousands of men make their beards look better and get fatter. His work has been mentioned in countless notable publications on men's care and style and has been cited in Seeker, Wikihow, GQ, TED, and Buzzfeed.