On hot afternoons, dirty hair days, and mornings when the alarm goes off late, there’s only one hairstyle that cuts it: the braid. Braids aren’t just for little girls on the playground—given a little product, a sophisticated clasp, and some volume, they’re a chic style that’s a fit for most hair textures and lengths.
If you’ve made it this far in your life without ever mastering the French braid or have been wondering exactly what makes a fishtail different from a lace braid, we’ve got you covered. Below, you’ll find step-by-step instructions for basic braids. Aside from being the building block of almost every hairstyle, these looks are pretty and feminine.
Brush out your hair, make a pin-straight part, and get ready to put those fingers to work. If your hair is very clean or slippery, give it a good coat of dry shampoo beforehand for extra hold.
The three-strand braid is the simplest hairstyle you’ll ever attempt, so don’t panic. Placing your fingers near the nape of your neck, divide your hair into three large section. Cross the left strand over the center, moving it into your right hand. Use your left hand to hold the strand that previously stayed in the middle.
Next, cross the far-right strand over the center strand. Repeat this technique until you have no more hair left, then tie off the braid with an elastic. If you like the way your braid looks, feel free to leave it here. To create the illusion of a thicker braid, use the “pancake” technique to gently tug and loosen each loop of the braid.
Congratulations, you’ve graduated from the three-strand braid. Now, you’re on to the more complicated stuff. Unlike the basic braid, French braids make use of all the hair on the head. To begin, you’ll pick up three small strands of hair from your crown. Repeat the braiding technique you learned above, with one caveat: Every time you cross one side over the center, you’ll add a small piece of hair to the strand.
Although you might have the urge to watch your hands in a mirror, we recommend closing your eyes and feeling by touch. The reverse reflection will probably just confuse you, and we’re all about making the French braid an easy process.
If you can’t master this braid the first time around, don’t worry. It’s a complicated setup, and it will take practice to get it right. When possible, practice on a friend’s hair so that you can easily visualize what the weaving process looks like.
Once you’ve memorized the French braid technique, every other braid is simple. Take, for example, the Dutch braid. Although the voluminous braid seems complicated, it’s really just an inside-out French braid. Plus, it’s perfect for updos.
Start your braid the same way you’d normally begin, with three manageably-sized strands at the crown of the head. Instead of crossing every piece over the center, you’ll be pulling it under. Like you would with a French braid, continue adding hair every time you cross a strand under.
Once you have your Dutch braiding skills on lock, you’ll be surprised how often you use the style. Along the hairline or in pigtails, the Dutch braid is one of our most-loved styles.
By now, you’ve probably seen plenty of fishtail braids on your social media. The style is extremely popular with fashion and hair bloggers because of its delicate-looking strands and flattering shape. Although the name might suggest a plait that’s floppy and just a little aquatic, the style was named for its similarity to tiny fish bones.
To make a fishtail, divide your hair into two at the nape of the neck. Take a thin strand from your left-hand hair bundle, crossing it over to the right hair bundle. Tighten, then repeat with a strand from the right side. Repeat this technique until you’ve reached the end of your hair, then secure the braid and pancake it.
While this style takes a bit more time because it requires so many strands, we find it to be an easier alternative to the French braid.
Inverted Fishtail Braid
You know the drill on this one, especially since you’ve already conquered the Dutch braid. To create an inverted fishtail braid, you’ll want to start with two medium strands of hair at the crown of your head.
Combining the skills you’ve learned from both Dutch braiding and fishtail braiding, cross a small piece of hair from the left-hand strand to the one on the right. Be sure to cross it under the strand, not over. Repeat on the other side.
Here’s where it gets complicated: The next time you take a strand to cross under, you’ll pick up a small piece of hair. Mimic French braiding technique all the way down the back of your head. When you reach the base of the neck, switch to a three-strand braid. Then, pancake your fishtail.
We are very lazy. Halfway through the week, waking up 30 minutes early to style our hair just feels like too much work. When the urge to hit snoozes surfaces, we choose the rope braid. Unlike the styles we’ve already covered, the rope braid barely qualifies as part of the category. Really, it’s just a glorified twist.
Starting at your part, pick up two strands of hair. Twist the front piece over the back, then add more hair to the current front piece and twist again. Repeat this technique all the way down your head.
When you reach your neck and have no more hair to add, the technique changes a little bit. Twist both strands away from each other, then around each other. When you’re all done, go forth and conquer.
At last, we’ve arrived at our final braid. Far from the most complicated style you’ve ever attempted, the lace braid is a fancily nicknamed derivation of the French braid. Instead of adding hair from both sides, you’ll choose one and run with it. This makes the ‘do a smart pick for ladies who’ve been growing out bangs or layers, since this diagonal braid is excellent at pulling hair away from the face.
Start with three strands at your part, crossing the left strand over the center. Follow with the right strand, then repeat the process while adding hair from the side closest to your part. If you’ve done the lace braid well, you should have a curtain-like plait descending in a diagonal from your part.