The Braid Book

Author: Karen Marie Shelton
Book Reviewer

The Braid Book

The Braid Book

by Helen Rosenbaum

Reviewed March 1998
Review Updated October 15, 2004

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This book review was originally published in early 1998 and at the time it was written, it was based 100% on my own personal opinions and thoughts.  This review, like all book reviews, food reviews and other review documents was based solely on the opinion of the reviewer and may not agree with the opinions held by others. 

This review is in no way intended to make any direct or indirect statements about what is right or wrong with fashion, hair design or hairstyling practices, race, creed or religious based beliefs, history or practices.  It is merely my personal opinion about a book that I read and consequently reviewed.

A Paperback From The Past

I found this 17 year old paperback innocently nestled in the shelves along with all the current 1998 hair and beauty books at Powell's main bookstore in downtown Portland, Oregon.  I looked around to see if there were any other copies, but this was the only one.  The book was in pretty good shape considering it was a paperback version.  It survived nicely over the years. 

This 125+ page book was written at the height of a new cornrow craze that was started by Bo Derek in the very popular movie "10".  Right after Bo graced the screen with her gorgeous blonde locks done up in cornrows, the look became the rage of the year for women that normally might not have  considered cornrow styles. 

Helen Rosenbaum was one of the hair and beauty experts who spent hours doing cornrows on all the women anxious to get the Bo look.  She wrote The Braid Book in response to the sudden new demand for cornrows that she experienced as a direct result of the Derek cornrow craze.

Many women, according to Rosenbaum, were desperate to sit for as long as 10 hours and spend hundreds of dollars to duplicate Bo's braided look.

Although women of color have been wearing cornrows for centuries, many of the Bo Derek period cornrow wearers were Caucasians and did not have the knowledge of the hairstyles that women of color have had. Since many of these women were new to cornrows they were not familiar with the amount of time and skill it took to create the styles.  As a result they were often unprepared for what was involved.  Rosenbaum's book was intended to help explain the cornrow process from beginning to end.

All of the photos and illustrations are done in black and white except for the cover which shows a photo of Bo Derek with her cornrows.

This book reminds me that I was one of the women who saw the Bo Derek look and decided that for me, it was not an option to spend 10 hours, $300 and deal with possible hair damage to recreate it on my own hair.

This does not mean that I am against cornrows or that I think they are wrong for anyone else.  They were just not the right style for me and my hair type, texture, condition and goals. I will not stop at anything to grow my hair longer, but I am always cautious about potential hair problems from a new style. 

Helen does point out some of the dangers of tight cornrows and the addition of fake hair which was used on thinned haired women to create a fuller braided look. In essence, Helen warns that cornrows might not be right for everyone and every type of hair.

Nicolette Larson

Overall I really enjoyed this book very much.  There is a great photo of the recently deceased singer, Nicolette Larson posed against a tree with her thigh length hair in two large pigtail braids.  Helen quotes Nicolette as saying "she washed and conditioned her hair with Vidal Sassoon, never used a blow dryer, cut her hair 3 inches every year and had not had a major haircut since 1969".  Considering this book was published in 1980, that was pretty impressive hair information at that time.

There are also photos of Miss Piggy, Valerie Simpson of Simpson & Ashford, Peter Tosh and of course, Bo Derek, all in various cornrow styles. I enjoyed the really interesting photos of braid variations.  Even though they are done in black and white and don't have instructions, I am certainly going to play with recreating some of the styles for myself.

This book is out of print and hard to find. will do its best, but may not be able to find it.  If you can get your hands on it, I would strongly recommend it.  I paid $3.95 for the book at Powell's although the original price on the cover was $4.95.  It is probably cheaper to pay a surcharge to some book publisher like Amazon to locate the book than fly out to Portland to search at Powell's.   Since I needed to be in Portland anyway, I was just lucky to find the book.

Good luck and happy book hunting.

Note: On October 10, 2004, I searched for this book on and the Net.  It appears that the value of this out-of-print book has skyrocketed in value to the $65-75 range for used copies.  The used copies are still available through

Buy The Book

Publisher: Simon & Schuster (June 1, 1980)
ISBN: 0671414976

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