On Rastafarians, dreadlocks, and other types of felted hair

What’s the difference between dreadlocks, locks (locs), sister locks (sisterlocks), and interlocks?

Types of locks

Dreadlocks, locks, sister locks, and interlocks are similar, but are created differently and, in some cases, may have different meanings to the people wearing them. All types of locks are basically felted hair; that is, they consist of intertwined, knotted, or tangled hair that cannot be untangled (with a few exceptions). Therefore, to remove locks of any type, they typically must be cut. Locks, when mature or fully formed, may be airtight.

Braids, on the other hand, can be unraveled and have a crisscross-like pattern running down their length. Although locks can be formed with artificial hair, most locks are real. On the other hand, individual rope-like braids are often created with extensions. (Admittedly, I base these two assertions on observation, without any scientific or other evidence to support them.)


While the terms dreadlocks, dreads, and locks are used interchangeably for all types of hair discussed in this post, technically speaking, dreadlocks are the hairstyle worn by Rastafarians (also called Rastas). Rastafari or Rastafarianism is a religion that is popular in Jamaica, other Caribbean islands, and, from my personal experience, Thailand. (Like the Caribbean islands, Thailand is a tropical beach country; so, perhaps similar weather inspires similar thought.)

The late-great reggae singer, Bob Marley, is probably the most famous Rastafarian. Rastafarians typically:

  • are pescetarian or vegetarian
  • believe in living in harmony with Nature
  • avoid drinking alcohol
  • smoke marijuana in rituals to get closer to Jah (God), and
  • wear their hair in dreadlocks as a symbol of separation from the material world.

Rastafarians also believe that the late Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (reign 1930-1974) was an incarnation of Jah. Although I am not Rastafarian, I believe in some of its principles, particularly leaning toward to a plant-based diet, living in harmony with Nature, and the symbolizing of separation from the material world. Nevertheless, not all Rastas wear dreadlocks. For more information about Rastafarian practices and beliefs, check out this link.

Specifically, dreadlocks are uncultivated, untrained, free-form locks. That is, the person growing them simply stops combing their hair. (Yes, locks of all types can and do get washed! Rastafarians often wash theirs in the ocean.) Over time, dreadlocks grow into large, rope-like structures of varying thicknesses. True dreadlocks are not manipulated in any way. They grow however Jah sees fit. So, you might see a person with a few dreadlocks that are really thick and tree trunk-looking covering most of their head, with perhaps a few thin ones interspersed between.

Nevertheless, people who are not Rastafarian, yet who do not manipulate their locks in any way, are likely to refer to their hair as dreadlocks, dreads, free-form locks, organic locks, or some combination of the previous terms.


Because I am not Rastafarian, I technically have locs (more common spelling: locks). Locks are formed by separating and twisting the rope-like structures, as they grow, into more uniform sections. Generally, such separating and twisting occurs on a frequent or semi-frequent basis, to prevent the locks from coalescing into the tree trunk-like ropes worn by Rastafarians. (When I refer to my own hair, I usually use the loc spelling.)

Sister locks and interlocks

Sister locks are separated rope-like structures formed by repeatedly pulling the end of one sister lock through the base of the same sister lock, until tight and no more rotations can be performed. So, sister locks are formed by an interweaving of sorts. Sister locks are separated into very tiny sections, resulting in 400+ locks (thereby, in my opinion, requiring a significantly larger amount of maintenance than other types). Interlocks are formed in the same way, but are larger (and are even new to me. I discovering them while double-checking some details while writing this post.)

(Also, and I may get bashed for saying this, but due to the level of maintenance often required, sister locks and interlocks, in particular, may be worn by some more for fashion reasons and less for spiritual ones, such as life simplification or rejecting materialism.)

On wearing locks

Every so often, I’ll be asked if the wearing of locks has prevented me from career or other opportunities. Usually, the person asking is interested in locking his/her hair, but feels a certain level of discomfort going against the grain or being different. Hence, locks are often an outward sign of an inner practice; for many, there’s a certain level of letting go when committing to wearing them.

In my experience, locks are only an issue if the person wearing them believes they will be. Such thinking is a figment of the imagination that manifests as reality. If a person is comfortable and confident with his/her locks, others will be too. My locs have served as an ice breaker and conversation starter with curious coworkers, patients, and strangers—and I am happy to educate them about them.

So, if you want to wear your hair locked, do it! Don’t change your hair (or anything else) for an employer. When I was younger, I had the same concerns. I would worry about not getting hired with locks. Today, if a company wouldn’t hire me because I have locks, I wouldn’t want to work for that company!

Final thoughts

Locks of all types are worn all over the world. I saw many, many people with locks in Thailand. In fact, the man with the longest hair in the world was an old Thai man with locks that were almost 5 meters (15 feet, 7 inches) long. Locks are also worn by many of the sadhus (the Hindu counterpart to a monk) and Jains in India for spiritual reasons. Indeed, locks are worn by people of all religions, creeds, races, cultures, and nationalities.

Although the complexity of locks can dive really deep (involving discussions of energy, metaphysics, and fractals), I think the above discussion covers the most common bases. However, if you have a question about locks that I haven’t covered here, please feel free to ask it in the comments. Incidentally, for most people, whatever you call their locks (dreadlocks, dreads, locks, sister locks, or interlocks), it won’t matter. Most of us dreadheads, regardless of type, are an easygoing bunch—as long as you don’t call them braids! 🙂

My thoughts on the legality and smoking of marijuana, as is common in Rastafarianism, will be the subject of another post.

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