The Ultimate Guide to Hair Braiding

Eunice Lucero | 25 August 2016

You’ll have your hands full with this one.

Even though summer’s coming to a close, it doesn’t look like easy braids are going anywhere anytime soon. Hair accessories may have dominated the game in years past, but nowadays, hair braiding has become the new classic way to spiff up most of our everyday hairstyles.

The sheer amount of looks that can be achieved simply by braiding hair is enough to make your head spin. Which is why, like all enabling hair editors worth their salt, we’ve decided to give a rundown of the top techniques that form the basis of all other braided hairstyles. Call it your guide to how to do braids, or an official end-of-summer gift as we file away one of its hottest trends. Hopefully this is one style that stays out of the archives for seasons to come!

How to Braid: A Glossary of the 10 Most Popular Techniques

hair braiding: three-strand braid
Easy as 1, 2, 3: The three-strand braid is the basis of most all techniques.

1. Regular Three-Strand Braid

When you search for ‘how to do a braid’ one of the basics you have to master is the regular three-strand braid. It involves sectioning hair into three parts, then alternately criss-crossing the left and right sections over the middle section until you reach the end. Sounds complex in theory, but trust us: Once you get the hang of it, your muscle memory will take over in a snap.

hair braiding with a French braid
A clean, perfectly aligned built-in weave is one of the hallmarks of a proper French braid. Photo credit: Dvora

2. French Braid

The French braid is simply a built-in, regular three-strand braid—which means that it starts at your scalp instead of just freestanding on your ponytail. The same technique applies, only this time hair is pinched from either side of the head and incorporated into the main weave as you move downwards. This anchors the braid onto your head, as well as creates that nice, satisfying braid pattern (Done ear-to-ear, it results in a crown braid or “headband” braid.). As with most things French, this method is a chic and practical take on the look. Takes practice since you’ll be braiding the back of your head—a.k.a. blind-braiding—for a bit, so click on our French braid tutorial if you’re still all thumbs.

hair braiding: Dutch pigtails
Dutch braids, or “boxer braids,” have an elevated weave. Photo credit: Dvora

3. Dutch Braid

The Dutch braid is a French braid, but with the side sections crossed under the middle section. This makes the weave bump up in the center of your head, lending it the moniker “banana braids.” Note: They’re also known as the “reverse French,” boxer braids (because they’re so snug, athletes love ‘em) and yup, cornrows. Worn as pigtails—“Double Dutches”—they’ve gained a spike in popularity because of social media and Hollywood celebs showing off their ’90s hair appeal.

hair braiding: underneath braid
Upside-down braids can be done either in a French or Dutch plait.

4. Upside-Down Braid

Not to be confused with the “reverse French” or Dutch braids, the upside-down braid gets its name because it starts at your neck and goes upwards, ending at your crown (*drops mic*). Before you think this is damn near impossible, it’s actually quite easy: Just flip your head over and start French/Dutch braiding at your neckline, tying the ends in a really cool top knot or high pony. Looks awesome in pictures!

hair braiding with the fishtail braid
Fishtail braids make a splash on mermaid-colored hair. Photo credit: Verity Jane Smith

5. Fishtail Braid

The fishtail braid is one of the few braids to not use three sections, or even use the regular three-strand as basis, which makes it tricky for some to learn (but we love it so much, we’ve basically done every fishtail tutorial ever <3). It’s done by splitting hair into just two sections, then pinching a thin strip from the outside of one section and crossing it over to the other. This alternate passing-over of sections will eventually result in a neat herringbone pattern on your hair, which, if you want extra style points, should be pancaked or gently tugged apart for more texture.

hair braiding: waterfall braid
The waterfall braid is stunning on ombré locks—the “break” is perfect for that over-the-cliff look.

6. Waterfall Braid

Delightfully quirky, a waterfall braid is a horizontal French braid with the underside left open, creating a pretty “falling” effect. This means that instead of a linked chain where sections are usually woven from root to tip, new hair from the hairline is incorporated with each criss-cross. Done on the bang area, it’s the top side of the braid that gets fed with new sections as you go along. Check out our waterfall braid tutorial to help you master this look.

hair braiding: mermaid braid
Side to side, but connected by one regular three-strand in the center.

7. Mermaid Braid

Though they do come with fishtails, the references end there—if anything, the mermaid braid is actually just a lazy way of French braiding hair. Less “anchored” onto your scalp, it starts as a normal French, then switches to a regular three-strand for maybe three chain links, then incorporates some hair again as you go down. The name comes from the big fishtail pattern you create as you pinch hair from the sides, which does make quite a splash. Check out or mermaid braid how-to for more tips.

hair braiding: milkmaid braid
Swiss miss: The plaits connect in the middle (tuck the pins behind your braid!).

8. Milkmaid Braid

The milkmaid braid is a look achieved by crossing two regular three-strand braid pigtails across your crown, headband style. This fun, folksy look works best with a middle part and perhaps some bobby pins, to affix each braid onto each other and behind the opposite ear.

hair braiding: halo braid
Fit for queens, angels and sassy divas of all kinds.

9. Halo Braid

This angelic iteration is fast becoming the go-to look for graduations and weddings, as the style leaves room for hats or hair accessories without getting all smushed up. A halo braid is a French braid that goes around the circumference of your head—from partline to nape to back up again, and then switches to a regular three-strand kind as its pinned. The overall look should be a braid that circles your whole head, kind of like, you guessed it, a halo. Looks equally pretty on both good and bad girls though. Click on our halo braid tutorial for a step-by-step.

hair braiding: four-strand braid
Braiding hair using four strands? Weave left to right, and you’ll be fine.

10. Four-Strand Braid

Repeat after us: over, under, over—keep that in mind as you create your four-strand braid, which obviously, can seem like one strand too many as far as braiding hair goes. To start, divide hair into four sections; our four-strand tutorial actually numbers them, with 1 and 4 being the outermost sections. Next, cross section 1 over section 2, then under 3, and over 4, then tighten. Repeat the process using the outermost section for each weave, and braid until the ends. Pancake for texture, and enjoy the unique look of this plait that quite literally had your hands full.

Looking for more braid tutorials? Check out even more in our comprehensive braid section.