A French braid is literally a twist on the traditional three-strand English braid. With this type of braid, braiding begins with small sections near the crown of the head. More hair is gradually gathered as the braid progresses toward the nape of the neck until it forms a standard three-part braid. The English braid typically begins at the nape of the neck, where hair is divided into three equally sized sections before being twisted together.
Sometimes called a French plait, a French braid is a more complicated process than a standard braid, but it comes with several advantages. Since this braid more evenly distributes the strain on the hair, it typically is more comfortable and less likely to cause breakage than traditional braids. These braids also hold hair more securely in its plait than do standard braids.
French braids lend themselves to several different variations. By dividing the hair into several sections, it is possible to create multiple braids. In a Dutch braid, the sections of hair are braided under each other instead of over each other, creating an inverted braid that stands up from the head. A Grecian braid, also called a fishtail braid, twists the hair into two sections rather than three.
To French braid hair, it is important to begin with hair that has been brushed smooth. Beginning at the hairline with a small section of hair, the hair is then braided by pulling additional sections of hair to join each of the original three sections with each braid. The sections can be kept even by adding the same amount of hair each time; pulling the braid tight also helps create a secure, even braid.
When the braid is finished, it can be secured with an elastic ponytail holder. It can take practice to perfect the skills needed for French braiding. Generally, it is especially difficult to braid one's own hair in this way because the braiding requires an awkward position with arms held high behind the head for an extended period of time.
Small French braids may also be incorporated into other hairstyles, wrapped around the head like a headband, or twisted around the crown of the head. Combining braids in a variety of sizes has become a popular beach style. Celebrities have popularized hair styles by incorporating these braids, including Jessica Alba, Sienna Miller, Lauren Conrad, and Jennifer Aniston.