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Saying “she wore a braid” is as about as descriptive as saying “she has hair.” The blanket term “braid” doesn’t really tell you anything—not the style, not the technique used, not even what it really looks like.
Braids are mostly all based off of the same building block, but each kind take twists and turns (no pun intended) of their own.
Between fishtails, milkmaid braids, French braids and more, there is a lot of lingo to learn. See below for the terms to know, plus corresponding pics, tutorial suggestions and helpful tips.
A Regular Three-Strand Braid
It’s the baseline of braids.
Taking three sections of hair, alternate passing each section to either side over a center strand—think of it like juggling hair.
On a scale of one to 10, we give this guy a two. For the first time, it might make your eyes spin, but you’ll soon find that it’s the simplest way to get your hair out of your face and can be completed in less than a few minutes.
Some beginners tips? To get more control of your tresses, braid second-day hair or dampen your hair before starting the technique. You can also try a braid paste that gives hair more of a pliable texture.
The Fishtail Braid
This look is created by separating your hair into two sections. Take one strand from underneath one of the sections, and passing it over to the other. Repeat this on both sides to get the pattern demonstrated in the picture above.
It helps to tie your hair off in a ponytail first so you can practice with controlled sections of hair. Worn by celebs like Lauren Conrad and Laverne Cox, this braid is meant to be “pancaked” out after created to take on a loose, deconstructed feel.
Watch LC do it for herself on YouTube here.
The French braid is the first braid you’ll probably try that continuously incorporates strands of hair into a three-strand braid.
Each time you pass hair over the center strand, grab more hair and add it in. That’s how you get that patterned appearance where the hair looks like it’s been pulled from the sides. It takes a while to learn how to start a French braid from the crown of the head (without it falling apart), as the sections continuously grow larger, but your best bet is likely watching a video.
The Upside Down Braid
The French braiding technique is used here again, except this time, you’re going to do it so that it starts at the nape of your neck and works its way up. If you’re doing it on yourself, it might be easier to flip your head over completely.
For the pattern to really show, you’ll have to keep the strands taunt while passing them over one another.
The Dutch Braid
The Dutch Braid is basically a French braid, but instead of passing the hair over each strand, you’re doing it underneath. This allows the braid to sit on top of the head, as opposed to weaving in towards the head in an inverted fashion.
It can be used to create a headband braid, pigtails and a single Dutch braid.
The Milkmaid Braid
The absolute easiest way to create a milkmaid braid is to create two regular braid pigtails and pull them up to pin them over the crown of the head like a headband.
Halo braids can be constructed by French braiding and pinning them around your head, but the good ol’ milkmaid is an easier approach to a braided updo for the beginner.
The Four Strand Braid
If twisting three sections of hair (and even adding in new ones, in some cases) wasn’t enough, you’ll be intrigued to know that four and five strand braids exist. Because you’re dealing with a quadrant of tresses, turning to a video is key to see how the hairstylist or real girl passes the sections without tangling them up in some knotted mess. Also, referring to the sections as “1” and “2” and so on can get quickly confusing. Turn to this video by vlogger Bethany Mota for help.
A version of this article was originally published in May 2015.