French Braid 101: Our Definitive Guide

French braids are popular in every part of the world. It’s done by children and adults alike, especially on occasions where they want to style their hair differently than just letting it down.

If there is one thing about French braids that you must know is that it’s not really French at all! Know more about this classic braid and where it actually originated from.

The History of the French Braid

Contrary to popular belief, the French braid did not come from France. In fact, there’s nothing French about it as well. If you trace back the history of French braids, it did not even come from Europe in the first place. So why was it called “French” braid?

The French braid originated in North Africa. The first account where a French braid was seen was in the mountain ranges of Tassili n’Ajjer in Algeria. Here, rock art showed that women were already wearing braids and rows of braids as old as 6,000 years ago.

In another continent, evidence of the French braid can also be found in Greece. In some iconic kouros statues, images of the Celtic warriors and lasses showed that they were donning the French braid just a millennia after the women in Algeria. It’s said that the braids were worn to pay homage to the Sung Dynasty.

Why then was it called French braid? This misnomer can be traced back to 1871 where a short story from Arthur’s Home Magazine used the term “French braid” for the first time in American history.

In this story, a husband tells his wife to “hurry up and put on that new cashmere I sent you, and do up your hair in that new French braid.” Since then, the French braid was called as such.

The theory with attributing it to France is that Paris is known to be the center of style and fashion. Any new hairstyle or fashion trend was assumed to be originating in this part of the globe. Hence, the French braid was associated with the French because it was new to American shores.

How To Make a French Braid

Now that you know the rich history about the French braid (you can now use this as a fact to share with friends), it’s time to learn how to make an actual French braid. Follow this step-by-step guide to create this timeless hairstyle.

Step 1: Prepping your hair

Before anything else, start by removing any lingering hair ties on your hair. Use a padded brush to brush your hair so that you remove all the tangles and smoothen out the frizziness of the hair strands. Depending on how many French braids you’ll make, you might want to part your hair while you are brushing it.

For example, if you are thinking of doing two French braids along each side of your head, then you can already part your hair down the middle to make it easier for you. If you’re just doing one long French braid in the middle, then brush your hair in a different direction from your head.

Step 2: Divide your hair

French braids always start at the tip of your head down to the back of your neck or wherever your hair ends. If you’re going to do a classic French braid, then you should get three thin lumps of hair at the top of your head.

Usually, you get the topmost and middle section of your hair and then divide them into three equal parts. Use your right middle finger to hold the rightmost section (section C), your left middle finger to hold the leftmost section (A), and your index finger and thumb on either hand for the middle section (B)

Step 3: Over and over

For the actual braid, start by putting the section C in between sections A and B. Make sure that section C passes over the two other sections. Then slightly pull the strands so you don’t create lumps. Cross section A over section C.

By this time the arrangement of the sections should be C-A-B. Keep overlapping the rightmost section over the space between the leftmost and middle sections. Then repeat the same thing for the leftmost section.

Step 4: Add hair

Once you finish overlapping all three to make your first stitch, it’s time to add more hair. Get a thin section from the right and combine it with the rightmost section of your hair. Once they’re together, continue overlapping it over the middle section.

Following what you did to the right, gather a thin section of hair from the left and join it with the leftmost section. Tighten your hair and continue adding sections the more you go down your nape.

Step 5: Tie it

Of course, your French braid will be useless if you don’t tie the ends. To make your braid the center of attention, choose a hair tie that is subtle and thin. If you want to accent the bottom part of your braid, then you can also use a ribbon hair tie to finish up the look.

French Braid Hairstyles to Try

Once you get the hang of it, you will want to include a French braid on every hairstyle you’re doing now. Lucky for you, here’s a compilation of the most beautiful styles where a French braid can be incorporated. Check out these 10 French braid hairstyles.

1. Basic French Braid

Even if it’s basic, the basic French braid is something you should know how to do. Not only is it your introduction to doing braids on your own hair, but it’s also a classic look if you don’t want to have your hair flying all over your face.

It’s going to be difficult braiding your hair by yourself, but once you learn it, it’s going to be worth it.

2. Double French Braid

Take your French braids a notch higher by doing two French braids on either side of your head. Although this hairstyle is not appropriate if you want to look more mature and professional, it is the right look if you want to go sporty.

3. French Braid Pigtails

Short hair? No problem! The beauty of French braids is that you can still make them even if you have short to medium-length hair. You can start by gathering hair at the topmost section of your head and work your way down while getting a few sections of hair as you go along.

At the bottom of your head, lock the braid with a hair tie. This way, the rest of your hair is not in a braid and can freely flow down. This is ideal for those who have short hair because the hair strands will keep breaking free if you continue the braid below your neck.

4. Perky Ponytail with French Braid on the Side

Turn a classic ponytail to a stylish one by adding a French braid on the side. You can choose to have it on one or two sides depending on your preference.

Once you’re done with a small French braid, tie your hair to medium height and tie it with a thin elastic band. This way, you can easily hide the hair tie once you get a section of hair to cover it up. Put two bobby pins underneath your ponytail to make it less flat.

5. French Braid Bun

Tired of having boring buns? Step it up a little by adding a French braid. Or better yet, French braid all of your hair and just put it up in a bun. Either way, it gives a twist on an old hairstyle.

6. Messy Braid

Face it, braids can pull and thug at your scalp especially if they’re done too tightly. To avoid getting a headache from the pulling, try this messy braid that looks a lot more natural on anyone’s hair.

A messy braid gives that perfect casual look but it isn’t too messy that will make you look like you didn’t care. Take it from Selena Gomez who loves doing messy braids!

7. Zipper Braid and Top Bun Combo

This hairstyle is one of the most interesting hairstyles you’ll ever be able to make. If you will notice, the French braid here looks a lot like a zipper that goes up to zip the hair in the bottom section of your hair.

Then, it’s topped off by a huge top bun containing the rest of your hair. While this hairstyle might take longer to finish, it’s something to boast about once you nail it.

8. Half Up French Braid

Half up, half downs are one of the most used everyday hairstyles. They are simple to do and they also give you a feminine look with just a few steps. This hairstyle is also one of the most versatile since you can easily incorporate a number of styles in the look. Take a look at how this French braid was easily incorporated into the half-up style.

You can approach this style in two ways. One, you can start with a basic French braid and then just finish off once you reach the middle part of your head. Two, you can use two French braids, one on each side, to be joined together in the middle.

9. Boxer French Braids

Bring out your inner Adriana Lima by donning boxer French braids to the gym. Boxer French braids are a favorite of athletes and gym-goers because it keeps all your hair in place (and literally, ALL your hair).

If you’re going to do an intense workout, you need this to prep yourself well. Besides, you don’t want your hair to end up on your sweaty face.

10. Milkmaid French Braids

Going out to a farm? Look the part by creating milkmaid French braids. This hairstyle can be done on a bun, on the side, or even a crown. However you do it, this style will always look chunky and big across your head. It keeps you clean and fresh throughout the day. Plus, it complements plaid.

11. Elsa-inspired French Braid

Elsa is a kick-ass character in Frozen, but one of the things that girls love about here is her rocking hairstyle. Elsa’s hair is one of the things she’s known for because it’s just so beautiful.

You can recreate her hairstyle by putting your French braid lower than usual – instead of starting at the top, start at the middle part of your head. This way, your bangs can easily flow to your face or you can tease the top part to avoid making it look flat.

12. Beach-Ready French Braid

Beach waves are the most common style to have when you set foot on a beach, but it’s not the most convenient. If you don’t want your hair to be flying around your face, put it up on a French braid.

Here’s the twist, instead of having one huge braid in the middle, have two small ones intertwined in the middle. In fact, you can play with braids – you can have one, two, or even three! Take a look at these beach-ready styles.

13. Accented by Highlights

If you have highlights, here’s the good news – highlights are great on French braids! The highlights give depth to your hair especially when you see different colors accent each section of the braid. This looks even better when light touches those blonde highlights of yours giving a warm look to your head of hair.

14. Small and Subtle Side Braids

Take it from Rihanna to flaunt her subtle side braids. If you want to look your age but still have those cute braids, opt for smaller sections of hair that will be used for the braid. You can also just focus on the side or the hair just above your ear.


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15. Messy Crown of Braids

Look red-carpet ready with this messy French braid crown. This look gives you a more mature appearance, while giving your messy bun a twist. Make it even more natural by curling the small sections of hair that fall at the sides of your face. To finish off the look, place some hairspray.

FAQs on French Braids

Here are some commonly asked questions on creating and maintaining French braids.

1. What is the difference between a French braid and a Dutch braid?

If you put a photo of a Dutch braid and French braid side-by-side, you’ll immediately see the difference. While the French braid becomes “part” of the hair, meaning, it hugs the hair, the Dutch braid stands out. Dutch braids are bulkier and rounder as compared to the French version.

Another major difference between the two is that a Dutch braid puts the rightmost section underneath the middle section instead of going over it. The finished product looks like you were pulling sections of hair underneath the middle part.

2. How do you hold your hair when you French braid?

At first, doing a French braid seems complicated, but the trick here is to use fewer fingers. The more fingers that hold the hair, the more difficult it is going to be figuring out which sections goes over what. Usually, all you need are your middle fingers, index fingers, and thumb. You can use your other two fingers when you pull your hair for a tighter braid.

3. What are some hacks to creating a perfect classic French braid?

When you’re a beginner or you have very unruly hair, keeping your hair down while doing a braid can be a struggle. The best hack to do a French braid is to get the topmost middle section of your hair and to tie it with a thin elastic.

If you have black hair, this elastic has to be black as well. Make sure that it won’t be seen. Once you have it tied, it’s a lot easier to hold the other two sections of your hair knowing that the middle section is already covered.

4. How do you make a double French braid?

A double French braid is like a classic French braid but you have it on both sides of your head. Think about pigtails but made in a French braid. To make this hairstyle, you first have to divide your hair into two sections.

Tie the other section first so it doesn’t mix with the other. Follow the steps in making a French braid on the other section. Once this is done, you can go to the other side, untie it, and follow the same steps.

5. Do you need a hairspray for this braid?

Hairspray is often used to keep your hairstyle in place and to add that gloss and volume to it. Since braids are already intact, you don’t really need to put on hairspray.

However, if you have a lot of tiny hair sprouting everywhere, you can spray 2-3 pumps all over your head. As for the gloss, you can use hairspray or a hair moisturizer to keep it soft and smooth all day.

French braids have evolved to a more sophisticated and versatile style. Gone are the days when you will look like a kid flaunting that braid. Make the most out of this hairstyle by exploring the different looks you can create!

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