They never fully left, but braids’ popularity on the red carpet and runway has made them a style to be reckoned with
Before this year, French braids conjured up pictures of an antiquated poofy-fronted, power-suited woman, whereas pigtail braids turn the imagination toward tow-headed little girls. But one look at the Spring 2012 runways of labels including Valentino, Lela Rose and Ruffian—and a peek at red-carpet starlets like Charlize Theron and Dianna Agron—and it’s crystal clear the braid’s being reinvented. In this plaited moment, the French has turned into a spiraling braid around the crown like at Valentino, while those pigtails are now being crossed over top the head for a milkmaid aesthetic as seen on Mary Kate Olsen and Zoe Saldana.
“The messy side braid started on the runways two or three years ago and it still hasn’t left!” says New York fashion industry hair stylist Andrew Fitzsimons. “The Hunger Games might have something to do with its longevity.” There is also a flurry of braid bars opening on the East and West coasts, where new takes include a waterfall braid, where some of the hair flows down loose. “I think texture is key in making a style look more modern, effortless and edgy—the great thing being that it can be applied to any type of braid, so you can really customize your look,” adds Fitzsimons.
Fishtails are one of the hottest current iterations; Fitzsimons says they’re surprisingly simple to create. “Take your hair to the side and split it into halves, then take a couple of strands from the back and cross it over to the opposite half in the front,” he says. “Keep alternating this process until you reach the end, and voila!” But the braid guru says his personal favorite is a traditional braid, “simply because it’s so versatile. You can dramatically change its look by adding it to different areas of the head, making it tighter or looser.” At Lela Rose, the side half-braid looks fresh and summery, while Ruffian’s slicked-back plaited pony reads sporty and sophisticated. Go romantic with loose waves and a braid along the hairline (with the end tucked in) or minimal with thin “bohemian” braids strewn throughout the mane.
As for the age of appropriateness when it comes to styles like fishtails and even a high braided bun (a chic style Fitzsimons loves in hot weather), the stylist believes it depends on the person, adding there are enough varieties to experiment with to keep us busy for at least a few more seasons. “I’m a firm believer that you can pull off anything with enough confidence.”