While we all know about the versatility of a French braid—you can spot them everywhere from elementary school classrooms to the red carpet—one thing the style is not exactly famous for is its ease of execution. But surprisingly, this hairstyle is much simpler to achieve than it appears.
Don’t let a new braiding technique intimidate you, Byrdies. Below is an easy-to-follow, step-by-step breakdown of a classic French braid.
All of these supplies are optional except for the elastic. Regardless of if you plan to use them or not, I recommend having them nearby so they’re easy to access should you choose to rely on them as you go.
- An elastic band
- Japanese hair pins: these have ridges along the pin that help them stay in the hair without slipping.
- Matte bobby pins: they come in natural hair colors and become invisible in the hair.
- A comb or detangling brush; choose a favorite based on your hair type.
- Dry texture spray or hairspray
Comb the Hair
Comb through dry hair to get rid of any knots or tangles. (Wet hair will shift as it dries so braiding wet hair could yield a less-perfect braid). If you have finer hair that’s prone to tangling, you can use a detangling brush like the Wet Brush ($7) or a Tangle Teezer ($11). I have thicker hair that I’m not used to brushing, so I opted for a wide tooth comb. Starting here will help you grab sections of your hair easily as you braid.
Create Three Sections
You’re going to create three sections: one from the left, one from the center, and one from the right. You can start wherever you’d like. For a tighter, more secure French braid, I’d suggest starting right on top, in the center of your head (just above your forehead). A tighter look won’t have any parting visible.
For a looser French braid (which is what I’ve decided to do here) you can start right above the ears and keep your natural parting as is. It’s easy to grab the side sections above the ear as if you were doing a half-up style. When grabbing hair from the center, try to feel it out and keep it roughly the same size as your side sections.
Left Section Over the Center Section
Begin by taking the left section of your hair and bringing it over the center section. Your left section should now be on top and has taken the spot of your center section.
As you overlap the left above the center, pull that original center section over to the left, almost as if they’re switching places. Once you do this, adjust your hands to a more comfortable grip; you will likely do this naturally, moving your grip on the three sections as you move the hair.
Right Section Over the Center Section
Now, bring your right section over the center piece. Again, pull these sections into their new placement. There’s no need to move the hair around delicately—keep things taut as you go. Every time you pull a side piece over, it becomes your new center section. That being said, your right side should take center stage among your three sections of hair.
Add Hair to the Left Section
Now as you grab that left section of hair, you’re going to add more hair to it from the left side. Essentially, you’re thickening the section before bringing it over the center as you did before. Once the additional hair has been added, repeat what you initially did and carry the entire section over the center strands.
Add Hair to the Right Section
Repeat the same thing here on the right side. Add some hair from the right to your section, thickening it up before carrying it over to the center.
Continue Down to the Nape
Continue to add hair to the left and right side sections before carrying them over. Do this until you’ve worked your way down to the nape of your neck and have run out of hair to add to each side.
Finish Off With a Classic Braid
As you near the bottom of your strands with no further additions to be made to your sections, carry on with a classic three-strand braid. Follow the same principles you’ve been using this entire time: left over center, right over center, repeating back and forth down to your ends.
Secure Your Ends
Secure your ends together leaving somewhere between 1/2″ and 1″ of your ends out. The tighter your braid, the less of your ends you’ll want to leave out and unbraided; for looser braids, leave more ends “undone” and untouched. Hair ties tend to unravel easily, so for that reason I recommend using a small elastic tie. Once you’ve ensured your ends are secure, feel free to go back in and adorn your braid with a scrunchie, barrette, or any of your other favorite accessories.
Since you untangled the hair at the beginning, you might be left with slippery strands which are more prone to falling out of place, especially if you have layers. At this point, I recommend going in with a dry texturizing spray for extra hold. We love Oribe Dry Texturizing Spray ($49).
To loosen things up a bit more, gently pull apart the braid to thicken it up and bring out any face-framing pieces for a more romantic, “undone” vibe. Also, if you brought your braid around one shoulder to tie off your ends, swing your braid around to the other side to give it some equilibrium (ensuring one side isn’t tighter or looser than the other). If any of your layers are sticking out of your braid, use a Japanese hair pin or matte bobby pin to secretly tuck those ends back into your braid.
Once you’ve made all those final tweaks to your French braid, you have the option to mist a soft hold hairspray all over to keep things locked in for the long haul.
If you’re interested in achieving French braid pigtails, create two sections of hair on either side of the head, and repeat all of the above steps on either side.