Learning how to braid your own hair is a breeze for some, but for others—like me—it's a struggle. Whenever I attempt the twists and turns of a fishtail or dutch braid , it ends up looking more like a bird’s nest than something I did on purpose. And I know I’m not the only one with a braid horror story in my history. So, we’ve rounded up braiding tips from two professionals: Sarah Hiscox, author of The Braid Book , and Sarah Potempa, celebrity hairstylist and creator of the Beachwaver . Hint: Just like the perfect winged liner, a neat plait requires practice.
“It’s much easier to get your hair to do what it’s told if you put in some product—not loads, but just a bit. When your hair is just washed, it is very slippery. Plus, the braid will usually last longer if the hair is two to three days old,” says Hiscox. You can use a pomade or hair wax (you might find something suitable in the men’s grooming section) to add some grit to the area you’re trying to braid. Dry shampoo and dry texture spray also work to help get a good grip on hair.
Hiscox argues that the most important step of a stellar braid is a straight part. And you’ll need a rattail or pintail comb to get it just right. Use the long wire end of the tool to part. Then, section off the hair with clips so that the hairs don’t wander back into the parting. So what about the back of the head? Use two mirrors: one stationary and one handheld to see hard-to-reach areas better.
Knotty strands will cause hair to snag and tangle while you attempt to braid. Make sure to detangle all your sections from roots to ends before braiding. And clip away the sections you’re not working on to avoid getting tangles midway through your plait.
Don’t be shy about coaching yourself on how to braid your own hair—especially if you’re a beginner. Celebrity stylist Sarah Potempa calls this a braid mantra. For a classic braid, you might recite something like “left over the middle, right over the middle” as you style.
Start by creating a tight braid, and secure with an elastic. “You can’t start out trying to do a messy braid because then it comes uncontrollable, especially on a dutch braid or a fishtail,” says Hiscox. Once the braid is set, tug the edges and pull them out to make it bigger and add volume. Work your way from the top of the braid down to the ends. Potempa calls this special technique “pancaking” and your braid will double in size.
Potempa uses a few clip-in extensions at the crown of the head and near the nape to get the fat braids so beloved on Instagram.
The finishing touches you put on your braid are all about the look you’re trying to achieve. If you want a sleek, shiny finish, spray the hair around the hairline with hairspray. Then, use the rattail comb to smooth everything back before the spray dries. On the other hand, you can get natural-looking flyaways by using salt spray on your strands. Then, use a blowdryer as a wind machine to get a subtle halo of texture.
“The biggest question we get: How to get longevity out of the braids,” says Hiscox. “You can keep a lot of tighter braids in up to week if you sleep with a silk scarf, a silk pillowcase, or a pair of silk knickers over your head. It stops friction, so it stays neater for longer.”