How to French braid

Here's how to master this classic hairstyle.
Beautiful girl with long red hair, braided with a French braid, in a beauty salon.
Expert hairstylists provide a step-by-step guide and their best tips.Getty Images stock
/ Source: TODAY

One of the most classic hairdos is a French braid — and for good reason. The sleek look is perfect for a day when you want your hair up or don’t have the time to do a blowout. But they can be tricky to perfect, especially if you're attempting the style on yourself. So, TODAY Style tapped two celebrity hairstylists, Ray Christopher and Joseph Bennett, to find out their best tips and tricks on how to French braid hair.

How to do a French braid

Even the pros admit that nailing the look is hard. “The perfect French braid, first and foremost, takes practice,” said Bennett. “It can be difficult to get a clean, well-organized braid all while keeping your arms overhead that long.” But it can be done, and here’s how.

How to prep

Before you can get into any actual braiding, you have to do some prep work. “First, completely brush hair thoroughly to smooth out tangles,” said Christopher, an Emmy Award-winning hairstylist. “Also, you’ll need extra lighting and a rear mirror to ensure the braid is forming correctly and inline.”

According to Bennett, you can make the braid with wet hair if your texture tends to be straight and finer. If you have curly hair, you may need to dry it straight and then use a pomade at the root area for control. “Having the hair well brushed and combed will also keep everything organized,” he said.

Here’s what to do

  1. Begin at the crown of the head and divide hair into three sections that should be relative to how much and how long your hair is. The right hand should hold the right section while the left hand holds the left section. Then use your thumb and another finger to grab the middle section.
  2. To start, take the outside right section and cross it over the middle section. Then take the outside left section and cross it over the middle.
  3. Now, before going back to the other side, incorporate more hair to that section. Take the time to organize the section from root to ends making sure it is even, and no stray strands are getting away.
  4. Once more hair is added to the section, cross it over the middle. Do the same thing on the left side before crossing it back over the middle.
  5. As the braid moves from front to top to the back, incorporate hair in the same way from the temple to the top of ears to the nape. Pull tight along the way to ensure the braid doesn’t become loose.
  6. Secure the end of the braid with a hair tie.

How to French braid your own hair

The process described above is much easier to accomplish on someone else's head. But, what if you want to French braid your own hair?

“It’s really helpful to start braiding a few inches before incorporating the hair that makes it a French braid,” said Bennett, Hilaria Baldwin’s go-to stylist. “This allows you to get the rhythm of it before having to incorporate the hair.”

He said that you could start in the mirror. However, this can sometimes confuse people since everything looks backward, so it may be easier to do it by feel. “Being methodical and patient is key,” added Bennett.

French braid pigtails are a classic style for a reason!Getty Images stock

How to French braid pigtails

French braiding pigtails is very similar to creating one large braid down the center but with a few slight variations. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Start with well brushed or combed hair.
  2. Begin at the crown and part in half. (Using the end of a comb from the forehead to the nape of the neck will ensure an even split.) Grab a clip or a free rubber band to keep one half out of the way while you are working on the other.
  3. Take three sections of hair at the center corner of one half and start the braid.
  4. You’ll begin crossing back and forth all the way down, incorporating hair along the way just as it’s done in a traditional French braid. Secure with a hair tie at the bottom.
  5. Proceed onto the next section and follow the same steps.

Tricks of the trade

Both Christopher and Bennett agree that, first and foremost, that a perfect French braid takes a lot of practice. But there are a couple of important things to remember to make the process a bit easier.

“The perfect French braid requires complete and thorough brushing,” said Christopher. “That is the most important aspect of French braiding; otherwise, it will create a messy look. As you braid and notice dry area spritz a bit of water to make sure the hair attaches to the smooth hair.”

Bennett added, “When braiding, a good conditioner is a must to be sure the hair can be manipulated without tangling. Also, if you are braiding with clean, dry hair and your hair tends to slip away from you, a (lightly used) pomade near the roots can help with control.”

Be sure to avoid using too much product. This can cause all sorts of issues as you want to maintain a smooth texture without a slippery or clumpy texture on the hair.