Home » Hairstyles » Dreadlocks vs. Locs: What’s the difference?

Dreadlocks vs. Locs: What’s the difference?

For centuries, people of many religions and races have used these words interchangeably.

However, do you know that these words have different connotations and meanings behind them?

Since it is a sensitive topic, we do not wish for people to refer to these hairstyles in ways that might feel controversial to some extent.

Therefore, to help you understand the core differences between dreads and locs, we have an explainer article ahead featuring the history behind the words and their difference.

Most significant Differences Between Dreadlocks and Locs

The most significant difference between dreadlocks and locs is that – one is a hairstyle while the other is a lifestyle with some religious meaning behind it.

What Are Dreads?


Dreads is a hairstyle that involves backcombing, braiding, or rolling without much effort on the finish of the strands. The hair is usually sculpted into multiple rope-like strands that are thicker without any defined root system.

The roots do not have rows of neatly carved partitions but a single mass that later gets distributed as long individual rope-like dreads. You cannot use a comb on dreads, and it is nearly impossible to change the hairstyle once the rope strands start to establish themselves on the head.

It has deep cultural Rastafarian roots that later became extensively popular with commercial reggae music’s evolution in the early 1960s.

Making a dreadlocks hairstyle is easier if one possesses curly hair since silky hair won’t last or stay gripped when it’s twisted. For an authentic dreadlock hairstyle, one needs to have volume and accept the natural matting phase of the hair.

Also read: Best Shampoos for Dreadlocks

What Are Locs?

About Locs

Visually similar to dreads, locs is a hairstyle of African or Nubian descent that looks like ropes. However, this hairstyle is more polished because of constant coiling, braiding, twisting, or palm rolling.

Locs usually go through various stages of the locking process to come at a pleasing polished look. The buttoning stage is a second phase that gives this hairstyle its unique look.

The tighter one’s hair, the better and quicker their hair will lock. The significant difference is that you can see the roots of the hair strands in locs as opposed to dreads.

Locs are difficult to remove as one needs to ‘un-lock their hair, which is slightly more challenging than plain braiding. Since it is a polished hairstyle, people usually decorate their locs with multiple colors, jewelry, tiny charms, clasps, and other accessories.

Many historians and cultural anthropologists believe that the origins of locs date back centuries and are not restricted to African culture. Because of the shape of the original hairstyle, it isn’t easy to put them in one generalized term.

But the basic definition of locks ( rope-like hair strands with a defined root ) suggests that Egyptian, Ethiopian, Islamic and Hindu cultures have made this hairstyle a part of their lives for centuries.

People and warriors in the Egyptian era usually wore locks after their victories that ultimately represented power. The snake-like appearance was a distinct quality of their locks that showcased their accomplishments.

Similarly, the Yogic in the Hindu culture believes that having locks helps them control their energy while being closer to their higher deity. Moreover, these locs are a noble sign of spiritual leaders and warriors in African American culture who wish to stay connected to their roots.

Note: Because of the cultural implications, many African American populations feel that ‘locs’ is a term appropriate strictly for their community. At the same time, ‘locks’ is a more race-neutral word for all cultures regarding this type of hairstyle.

Also read: Are dreadlocks dead hair?

Quick Comparison

ImplicationNegative implications  Cultural identity  
CultureRastafarians  African, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Aztec  
Method  Naturally occurring/no maintenance  Cooling, braiding, palm rolling, twisting  
Root structure  Not defined  Defined  

Are They Different Hairstyles?

One can easily trace the words ‘locs’ and ‘dreads’ back to the word ‘dreadlocks.’ However, there is a more significant difference between them in terms of perception and personal expressions.

Dreads still hold a dark, painful history related to the slave trade, while the locs are considered a cultural identity. Many westerners copy the dreadlocks look, which has its roots in the Rastafarian culture, while locs represent Nubian and African people.

Similarities Between Dreads Vs. Locs

While both phenomenons aren’t the same, they share some common points. The following are the some most noted similarities between the two:

  • Locs and dreads are both highly unique hairstyles.
  • These hairstyles are comparatively long-lasting and relatively easy to maintain.
  • Both types prevent the hair from losing any extra moisture
  • Both hairstyles carry a long lineage of culture and rich reasons behind their origin.
  • Locs and dreads truly promote a strong mane while actively minimizing shedding.

Dreadlocks And Slavery

negative connotation of dreadlocs

Apart from the general confusion regarding the meaning of dreadlocks vs. locs, there is one significant underlying negative connotation that is reasonably valid and sensitive to this age.

Many people tend to avoid using the word ‘dread’ or ‘dreadlocks’ as it has a generational old negative connotation to them. People believe that the term ‘dreadlock’ originated from the slave trade era wherein the African people lacked resources and time to groom their hair.

Since their long voyages did not allow them to carry out their customary grooming rituals, their hair would get locked, which looked different from the Caucasian hair type.

Because of their rope-like appearance, the enslavers would refer to their hair as ‘dreadful,’ which further led to it being called ‘dreadlocks.’  Thus, since the term embodies a painful history, the relationship between dreadlocks and slavery is closely connected.

See also: How do dreadlocks form?

Is It Offensive To Call It “Dreads” or “Dreadlocks”?

Most people from the African American race do not prefer using the word dreads or dreadlocks because of its connection to African slave history.

Since having ‘dreadful’ hair is an ongoing racial-charged societal point concerning African hair types, people mostly prefer to abstain from using those words.

Additionally, the pressure to have good and normal hair because of Western beauty often creates a stigma around black hair that needs to be disguised by braiding or hidden using weaves and wigs.

Because of that, many African Americans have taken it upon themselves to spread awareness when it comes to words like dreads or dreadlocks. The use of these words also highly differs from geographic locations as some areas consider using these words as a standard practice while others prefer to call it locks or locs.

Some individuals have also started reclaiming this word and embracing it in a solid attempt to change its somewhat negative connotation to a positive one. While others still prefer not to use it to honor the ancestors who have been through the slave trade.

Final Word

  • Dreads: Exclusively linked to Rastafari culture and highly connected to slave culture
  • Locs: Umbrella term exclusively monikered by the black community
  • Locks: Race-neutral term for locs that every culture can use

To wrap up this topic, we would like to mention that both dreadlocks and locs have different characteristics of origin and history.

Locs are more defined with a definitive and distinguished root structure, while dreads do not have any scalp parting with a dry matted look.

Additionally, suppose you wish to stay politically correct; in that case, you can refer to the general concept as ‘locs’ to be more respectful towards the slave culture.


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I’m Aida and this is my blog where I write mostly about beauty & make up related stuff, but I like to spice it up a bit with lifestyle and photography posts. Or with whatever that comes to my mind. Hope you will enjoy the reading enough that we will ‘see’ each other more often!

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