An English braid, also called a basic braid, is the simplest form of three-strand braids. This hairstyle involves gathering the hair to be braided together into one bunch, dividing that bunch into three sections, and alternating moving the sections on the right and left over the middle section. The outer section that was moved becomes the new middle section, and the process continues on the opposite side. English braids typically begin at the nape of the neck, but are commonly modified into a side braid or pigtails. This braiding technique is used in a number of more complex braids and can be considered the basic building block of many hairstyles.
When making an English braid, the outer sections of hair may be braided under or over the middle section without drastically changing the look of the braid. Instructions typically recommend going over the top of the middle section. Some people normally braid over the middle section when braiding other people's hair, but then braid their own hair going under it. This is often the case when people braid their hair with their arms over their head or at an odd angle, as is often necessary when reaching behind one's back to begin the braid at the nape of the neck.
Other three-strand plaits, such as the French braid, are different from English braids in how the hair is gathered at the braid's starting point. While French and Dutch braids gradually incorporate small pieces of hair into the plait, English braids incorporate the entire section of hair to be braided at the beginning. All three-strand braids utilize the basic technique of English braids because there are no other ways to combine three strands into a braid.
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A hair tie is typically used in everyday situations to secure English braids. The ends of the braid can also be folded into the braid itself and secured with a bobby pin. Some people have hair that tapers toward its ends, and these people can braid their hair in such a way that the hair secures itself. In this case, the hair is braided all the way to the tips and the braiding itself holds the hair in place. An English braid need only be as long as the wearer desires, and can be tied off at any point.
The tightness of the braid is determined by the tension at which the hair is held during braiding. If the hair is held taut during the braiding process, the braid will be somewhat firm and remain flat. If the hair is held loosely, the braid will be softer and will round out slightly. By modifying tension, one can change the look and potential uses of the braid. Between hair decorations and slight modifications of technique, English braids can be transformed into an appropriate hairstyle for almost any occasion.