Learning to French braid is a good investment for your beauty skill war chest. A French braid hair style is only a little harder to create than a regular braid style, and it looks very pretty and sophisticated. Almost like something you would pay a professional salon to do. You don't even need really long hair. You can't do one of these with extremely short hair, but with some practice you can do a nice looking French braid on hair that's not long enough for a regular braid to be worth the trouble.

With a regular braid you start out with all of the hair you plan to include in it. (Sometimes the entire head of hair, sometimes just a small section.) Once you have that, you make the whole thing into a single braid. The biggest difference with a French braid is that you start it with just a small strand of hair and then weave more strands into the braid step by step. This is what makes the style look so much more complex than it really is.

In a regular braid the hair looks kind of like a short piece of rope attached to the head at one end. In a French braid you get a softer look. It still looks a little bit like rope, but it's more than halfway to looking like the hair is woven into a fine piece of cloth. This happens because the pattern follows along the curve of the head.

Just like with a regular braid, you can make more than one French braid in one person's hair. Watch out, though. If you try more than one or two it really does get complicated in a hurry.

The funniest thing about a French braid is that it's much easier to learn how to do one than describe how to do it. I could try to put together some kind of instructions here, but they would probably just be confusing. You'd be better off finding someone who can teach you by showing you. Even a book with good illustrations would be better. One that's great for this and some other styles is Beautiful Braids by Patricia Coen, and it doesn't even cost very much.

The other fun thing about the French braid is how it can affect your female friends. If you get good at making these, your friends might start asking you to teach them how. Some of them might even ask you to help them do their hair on special occasions. Just resist the urge to start charging them for your services and you should be fine.

Here's my attempt to describe how to do a French braid:

Normal braids are made by taking a number of small "ponytails*" that parallel each other for their entire length, and weaving them together. With a French braid, you start with a couple "ponytails", and you also add in new ones as the original ones run out. In other words, a French braid is a braid in which new "ponytails" are introduced as you go along.

For this to work, you need to have the first "ponytails" originate above the later "ponytails" -- in other words, start at the front/top of the scalp and work your way back/down. Try to use all the hair along the way -- loose bits sticking out probably won't look very nice.

Because of the way that they are done, French braids tend to start at the front of the head and move back, clinging closely to the scalp. If you haven't seen one this might sound weird, but trust me, they look good.


*If anyone has a better word than 'ponytail' to describe the bunches of hairs, let me know. Calling them braids seems to be more confusing then helpful.

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