By Genevieve LeFranc
After bone dry winter weeks of resorting to messy buns and wool caps to mask lifeless, static-stricken locks, everyone is ready for a new hair look. Temperatures are fluctuating and spring is right around the corner, but I just can’t wait to give my favorite transitional season look a go…..the braid.
While spring and summer provide the moisture to give hair gorgeous volume and texture, winter weather strips your mane of any body or bounce. A braid, however, doesn’t rely on volume to look great, and instantly disguises limp locks in a chic and put-together ’do. It’s quick, easy, and looks effortlessly sexy.
Unlike popular trends like candy-colored skinny jeans or skin-tight minis, braids work for women of all ages—everyone can wear them! Braids are an inclusive trend women can get in on and pull off, no matter age or hair length. I love braids because they can be dressed up or down, transition easily to a workout, are appropriate and practical for work, simple and sexy for a date, and add flair to typical pulled-back styles.
Many women avoid braids due to their juvenile reputation earned by the likes of Pippi Longstocking and Cindy Brady. However, braids are now more edgy and modern and have been elevated to high-glam status by the many celebrities sporting them. For those of us past our awkward youth but bored with ponytails and uptight buns, braids are the perfect way to switch up your hairstyle while remaining age appropriate, stylish, and elegant. Give these various styles a go this spring, and you’ll be in on the latest hair trend hitting the runway and red carpet.
The Messy Side Braid
Probably my favorite braid style, the messy braid is the epitome of effortless, relaxed sexy—this undone style gives off a carefree, sultry vibe. Since the whole idea behind this look is tousled, imperfect bed head, it’s extremely simple and fast to pull off. No need for perfection here—go for a look that’s less Pocahontas perfect and more pulled out, uneven, and partially undone. This look suits thick, long hair, sweeping the hair out of the way without the severity of a pristine updo. Plus, when you take it out you’ll be left with romantic soft waves, a la Boticelli’s Birth of Venus.
First, spritz on a bit of texturizing spray or wax to add some thickness and texture, like Sally Hershberger Genius Spray Wax ($12.50). Next, create a deep side part and sweep your hair to one side. Braid it loosely, beginning just below the ear. Don’t worry about pieces falling out—the looser and messier the better! Once your braid is secured with a hair elastic, gently break up any tightness or tension by using your fingers to massage and separate the braid. If you’re worried about looking like a beach bum, fancy it up! Adding a hair accessory like a sparkly clip or comb makes this messy look instantly elegant for a wedding or formal evening event.
The Milkmaid Braid
Don’t let the name fool you; the milkmaid braid is sweet and feminine, and perfectly romantic for any occasion. Also called the headband braid, the milkmaid is a braid that goes around the crown of your head—the perfect combination of carefree flower child and sophisticated trendsetter. This look requires very long hair, so either resist the salon for the next few months or opt for a braided hair extension that matches your color.
Start by creating two long pigtails, and don’t stress about making a perfect part. Pull out a few face-framing pieces so the look isn’t so perfect, or else you’ll actually look like an old school milkmaid tending to an udder. Braid each pigtail loosely, starting at the ears, and secure with an elastic band approximately 2-3 inches above the ends. For that relaxed, intentionally imperfect look, make sure to gently pull apart the braids with your fingers. Next, lift one of the braids toward the top of your head and place it about an inch back from your forehead. Where the elastic is, attach the braid to your head with bobby pins that match your hair color. Repeat with the other braid, and place it on top of the first braid, making sure to position it so that it hides the first braid’s elastic band. Tuck the end of the second braid under the first and securely fasten with bobby pins. Make sure to add extra bobby pins near your ears, since the hair here is prone to falling out.
The “Lauren Conrad” Braid
This wildly popular trend is probably something your nieces or daughters know all about. This mini “hairline” braid was made famous by Laguna Beach and The Hills reality TV star Lauren Conrad, and has been spotted, ever since, on celebrities from Jennifer Aniston to Jessica Stam. This look is subtle, easy to wear as well as create, and works on nearly any type or length of hair. These little braids are also perfect for sweeping back bothersome bangs, or fringe you’re fighting to grow out of the awkward in-between stage.
Begin by parting your hair to the side and separating about two inches of hair away from your forehead. Tie back the rest of your hair that will not be used for the braid so it’s out of the way. Begin French braiding your bangs or hairline locks downwards until you reach your ear. Next, secure your braid by tucking it behind your ear and pinning into place with several bobby pins. Finish with a quick spritz of hairspray for a little shine and firm hold.
The Accessorized Braid
If you really want to punch up any type of braid, take it a step further by adorning it with accessories. It’s easy and fun to give a simple braid a little extra something with ribbons, strips of fabric, flowers, or bows. My favorite is the ribbon or fabric accessorized braid. This romantic look is perfect in spring and summer when you’re feeling boho chic and a little unique. Divide your hair into three equal sections as you would for a typical braid, and place the length of ribbon or fabric around the middle section. Then, weave the ribbon under and over the right-hand section. Holding the ribbon or fabric firmly, begin to braid normally as you incorporate the ribbon into the braid as you go, trying to keep the ribbon on top so it will actually show. When you reach the end of the braid, secure your hair and ribbon with an elastic band. If need be, trim the end of the ribbon neatly with scissors and tuck the end into the braid.
The Fishtail Braid
Using a fishtail technique to braid your hair is the simplest way to add a subtle spice that people really notice. This braid uses only two sections of hair for braiding, rather than the usual three, with an end result mimicking the scales on a fishtail. Use a fishtail technique for any of the above styles for a chic edge and unexpected twist. Go online for step-by-step guides or video tutorials to master this technique. A quick Google search will yield a wealth of info, but try allure.com for their “Insiders’ Guide: How to Fishtail Braid” article for detailed, step-by-step instructions.