When you have long hair, no style is more fun to experiment with than braids. If you think braiding is limited to the standard English style (three strands of equal size, crossed back and forth to form a simple ponytail-style braid), you haven’t explored the possibilities. There are dozens of braid styles—some understated, some complex, all eye-catching.
Braids can be worn by women of all ages, and even those with only chin-length hair can pull them off. They keep your hair neat, off your face when the weather is hot or humid, are perfect if you engage in sports, and can be worn during the day or evening. Some of the most common braids perfectly accessorize both tennis dress and evening gown. Which hairstyle can claim greater versatility?
Once you’ve mastered one style of braid, you’ll have the skill needed to attempt others. For braiding success, follow these tips from Patricia Coen and Joe Maxwell, authors of Beautiful Braids:
Before trying a braid style, read all instructions, and imagine performing them. Braid in your mind before braiding with your hands.
Don’t watch yourself in the mirror. Close your eyes and concentrate. You’ll work intuitively, which will produce a better braid.
Work with damp hair, which is more manageable when you’re braiding.
Don’t use an office-supply–style rubber band to secure a braid, as it promotes hair breakage. Choose proper accessories designed to hold hair: coated bands, clips, barrettes and other ornaments.
Don’t tense up. If you don’t like the result, you can always try again.
As for braid styles, consider the following:
Create a simple English braid, and coil it around your finger. Tuck the end of the braid under the coil, and secure it to the back of your head. This is called an “English braid with chignon.”
The “Dutch braid” is similar to an English braid, but the three strands of hair (equal in size) are crossed under, rather than over, one another.
The classic “French braid” is one of the most sophisticated—and popular—hairstyles ever invented. You start with a center section of hair and divide it into three strands. As you braid, you add new strands gathered from both sides of your head. The finished braid rests flat against your head and is secured at the bottom. Check out Dreamweaver Braiding, an online educational braiding site, for complete directions, or Coen’s and Maxwell’s book for a step-by-step, illustrated guide.
The “invisible French braid” is constructed like its classic namesake, but the hanging braid is folded upward and pinned to your scalp.
The “accent braid”—popular among teenagers—is a single, thin braid that adorns loose hair, positioned on one side of your head. Select three thin strands from one side of your hair and braid them. Secure the braid at the bottom and let it rest against your loose hair.
The “princess braid” was made famous by Carrie Fisher’s Star Wars character, Princess Leia. The style actually dates back to the 14th century, when it was all the rage. You create two English braids—one on each side of your head, pigtail style—and coil them. Affix the coils to your scalp with hairpins.
Cornrows are a trendy style among African-American women, but the very Caucasian Bo Derek immortalized them for women of all ethnicities in the 1979 film 10. Cornrows tend to remain in the hair for a protracted period, due to the amount of time needed to create them. If you want this look, go to an experienced braider or stylist, as braid evenness is vital.
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