What are Braids?

Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

Braided hair is hair that has been woven together in a way that pulls the hair away from the face. The style is usually worn by women in Western cultures, but became popular among men in the 1980s and 1990s. The hair may be worn in one thick plait, in two worn on either side of the head, or in many small ones all over the head.

A simple braid.
A simple braid.

Hairstyles that incorporate braids go in and out of fashion, but they have been used since ancient times to dress the hair. In order to braid hair, the section of hair is divided into three even parts. These parts are then woven together in an overlapping pattern until all or most of the hair has been dressed. The woven hair is usually held in place by a barrette, elastic band, or other kind of closure.

A man with cornrow braids.
A man with cornrow braids.

There are many different kinds of braided hairstyles. One classic European version is the French braid, in which all of the hair is gathered into a single braid that begins high up on the head, near the crown. Sometimes the end of the plait is tucked up under the rest of the hairstyle so that hair seems to fold in on itself.

A woman with her hair in a braided up-do.
A woman with her hair in a braided up-do.

In hot and tropical regions, it is common for women to wear their hair in numerous braids that are woven quite tightly and are often close to the head, right along the scalp. This hairstyle is sometimes called “cornrows” because the hair are sectioned in long straight lines along the scalp.

One of the benefits of this style is that the hair can be kept long without overheating the wearer. This is because the hair is woven so tightly that it does not create a kind of insulation on the head, and air can get to the scalp. Also, if a person wearing cornrows sweats, the sweat can evaporate from the exposed sections of the scalp. It is common for people wearing cornrows to keep them in for weeks at a time with minimal washing or shampooing of the hair.

In recent years, braids have been used as a way to add extensions into the hair. Extensions can be woven directly into the hair or sewn to thin, tight lines of braids that are placed close to the scalp and hidden under other layers of hair. The extensions may be made of a synthetic material or of human hair that has been previously harvested and prepared for this purpose.

A woman with a French braid.
A woman with a French braid.
Diane Goettel
Diane Goettel

In addition to her work as a freelance writer for wiseGEEK, Diane is the executive editor of Black Lawrence Press, an independent publishing company based in upstate New York. She has also edited several anthologies, the e-newsletter Sapling, and The Adirondack Review. Diane has a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College and an M.A. from Brooklyn College.

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Discussion Comments


@Azuza - I know exactly the kind of braid you're talking about. When I was younger, I never did that on my own. However, one year when I went to the beach, I convinced my mom to let me get a little braid put in at one of those shops where they did the braids with thread. I loved it so much I didn't want to take it out, even when it got all ratty!

I think the kind of braids that are in style definitely change from time to time. For example, I was a teenager in the 1990's, and during that time, putting a few micro braids in your hair was pretty popular.

The micro braid would usually be placed on one side kind of near the front, so it would be seen. Sometimes, we would weave embroidery thread through the braid, or use it to wrap just the bottom section. We would sometimes leave these micro braids in for a few days or a week.


@starrynight - I see women wearing French braids occasionally. However, even if French braids aren't the height of fashion right now, you could still do your hair that way if you wanted to! You could always do it that way and add a twist to it, like putting the bottom part of the braid in a bun or something.


When I was younger, I used to love to French braid my hair. I would do it in one braid down the middle of my head, or two individual braids going down either side of my head. My mom didn't know how to French braid, so when I was about 9 or 10, I learned to do it myself.

However, I don't think I've ever French braided my hair even one time as an adult. It just doesn't seem like a very popular style for adult women in my area to wear. I kind of wish it would come into fashion though!


@oceanswimmer: Braiding hair is fairly simple. Females seem to be the ones that do most of the braiding. However, some guys braid hair very well. Most girls learn to braid as a young child. If you notice, many girls play dress up and braid each others' hair. It isn’t hard to learn at all. I would think that the easiest way to learn is simply by watching someone do it a few times. It’s just a continuous pattern that you have to follow. Once you master it, I guarantee you that it’ll become as easy as any everyday task. Leaning to braid doesn’t take long at all to grasp.

As far as choosing from different styles, I could go on for hours about different ways to braid hair. Braids come in all shapes and sizes. For instance, you can have small braids or big braids. Young girls usually sport both. Most likely, younger kids will wear pig tails, one single braid, or just a lot of random braids throughout their head. Many women French braid their hair to keep it pulled away from their face in a trendy fashion.

Men usually will wear corn rows or dread locks. Dread locks are tricky, though. Dread locks can be obtained naturally or braided. If they are natural then that means it’s just untamed hair that has very seldom been washed or combed. Braids are a fun way to play with your hair while keeping it manageable.


I love braids and I’d like to braid my daughter’s hair from time to time. However, I don’t know how. The only time she wears it braided is when my sister does it.

Also, she wants it done in different styles besides one single braid. How do I learn to braid and are there different types of braids to make?


Braids are actually a lot more popular in today’s time than they used to be. Braids, of all kinds, are commonly worn by young adults, older adults, teens, and children. Braids are also worn by both males and females. Many African American men and women prefer to wear their hair in braids because of their hair type.

However, braids can be for all hair types and all kinds of people. Young girls often wear braids because it not only keeps their hair tangle-free, but they also are stylish and acceptable with whatever attire they choose.

Grown women wear braids, as well. Normally, in Caucasian women, you will see just a single braid down her back or, as the article talked about, the French braid.

Oddly enough, Caucasian mean rarely wear braids.

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