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What is a French Braid?

By H.L. Roberts
Updated May 21, 2024
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A French braid is literally a twist on the traditional three-strand English braid. With this type of braid, braiding begins with small sections near the crown of the head. More hair is gradually gathered as the braid progresses toward the nape of the neck until it forms a standard three-part braid. The English braid typically begins at the nape of the neck, where hair is divided into three equally sized sections before being twisted together.

Sometimes called a French plait, a French braid is a more complicated process than a standard braid, but it comes with several advantages. Since this braid more evenly distributes the strain on the hair, it typically is more comfortable and less likely to cause breakage than traditional braids. These braids also hold hair more securely in its plait than do standard braids.

French braids lend themselves to several different variations. By dividing the hair into several sections, it is possible to create multiple braids. In a Dutch braid, the sections of hair are braided under each other instead of over each other, creating an inverted braid that stands up from the head. A Grecian braid, also called a fishtail braid, twists the hair into two sections rather than three.

To French braid hair, it is important to begin with hair that has been brushed smooth. Beginning at the hairline with a small section of hair, the hair is then braided by pulling additional sections of hair to join each of the original three sections with each braid. The sections can be kept even by adding the same amount of hair each time; pulling the braid tight also helps create a secure, even braid.

When the braid is finished, it can be secured with an elastic ponytail holder. It can take practice to perfect the skills needed for French braiding. Generally, it is especially difficult to braid one's own hair in this way because the braiding requires an awkward position with arms held high behind the head for an extended period of time.

Small French braids may also be incorporated into other hairstyles, wrapped around the head like a headband, or twisted around the crown of the head. Combining braids in a variety of sizes has become a popular beach style. Celebrities have popularized hair styles by incorporating these braids, including Jessica Alba, Sienna Miller, Lauren Conrad, and Jennifer Aniston.

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Discussion Comments

By bluedolphin — On Mar 20, 2014

I'm getting married this summer and I'm thinking of having a French braid as part of my bridal updo. I have seen some very beautiful designs. The design I like most has a thin, delicate French braid starting at the front half and continuing all the way to the back of the head. The end of the braid is woven into the bun which is a regular bun.

I really like this updo because my wedding dress is simple and I think that having a small French braid in my hair will liven things up a little bit.

Has anyone here worn a French braid for their wedding? What type of a hairstyle did you have?

By stoneMason — On Mar 19, 2014

@turquoise-- I think you just need practice French braid is beautiful but more difficult than an English braid. I think everyone can do this kind of braid on their own hair, but it will take practice.

If you can practice on other people or on a doll, that would actually be great. Once you have the technique down, you can start practicing on your own hear. I'm sure that you will be able to make a perfect French braid in no time.

Also, in the beginning, I suggest taking larger sections of hair since this makes the process easier and shorter. As you get better at French braiding, you can work with smaller sections, creating more sophisticated and intricate French braids. It's important to take it easy until you have gotten to this level however.

There are also hair accessories that you can use to help you do the French braid. I have never used one however, so I'm not sure how well they work. It might be worth looking into though.

By turquoise — On Mar 19, 2014

I think that the French braid is more beautiful than an English braid. It looks more sophisticated and unique. Unfortunately, I'm not very good at making them. I am able to do a French braid but it never looks even and I always end up with sections that are too large or too small. So when I check my hair in the mirror, it's always leaning to one side. I just can't keep it neat.

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