While I was driving through Casper, Wyoming last month I passed through Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters, where I had the delightful fortune of buying a pair of cowboy boots from a salesman who described the lined-up merchandise “like a snake winding around” in a mumbled drawl. This self-proclaimed “Corral O’Famous Brands” captured my imagination of the Great American West and renewed my long-held desire to expound upon the cultural importance of Willie Nelson’s two braids.
Why do they work? Those two little braids that dangle and dwindle down to the chest. They would not be the same if they were full-bodied, lustrous or in any way normal. Often emerging from underneath a jaunty hat or bandana, Willie Nelson’s braids supply endless appeal due to their off-color, slightly androgynous, and ever-present charm.
This is perhaps because Western style is of-the-moment and has increasingly crossed over into international style and music. Isabel Marant’s F/W 2013 collection proves that even across the pond, French women will be sporting Western wear in the coming year. Similarly, upon arriving in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I could not help but notice that the newly-signed cosmic-pop local band Night Moves is fond of collectively wearing Western shirts. Night Moves hardly reveals a straight-forward Americana influence in their music, but Western wear is undeniably charming in this moment and the keyboard player is clearly ready for the plaits.
But back to the braids: Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit (2010) similarly sported two sturdy braids that reflected her tough thirteen-year-old demeanor. One critic argued at the time that braids were quintessential to Steinfeld’s focused and precocious character. Outside and inside the Western genre, Willie Nelson braids have proliferated. Of course, Nelson did not invent the symmetrical, problematically named “Pocahontas” hair style, but he has adopted it and created a stylish symbol of laid-back, timeless American beauty and quirkiness.
Even Snoop Dogg recognizes the iconic significance of Willie Nelson’s hair along with his music after their collaboration. Patti Smith, a musician of a different sort, has sported similar plaits. It is definitely a hairstyle to try and cherish. Like the man himself, the Willie Nelson braids become classic with age. Let’s ignore the fact that he cut his hair off in 2010; Willie’s hair is growing back, and the braids shall reign again!
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