If you’re looking for a protective hairstyle for your natural hair that’s bound to turn heads, look no further than braids. This set-it-and-forget-it style helps keep your tresses protected while also serving up major style. “Protective hairstyles are meant to let your natural hair get a break from environmental factors, heat damage, and frequent washing and detangling, to ensure that your strands can grow and heal,” says hairstylist Annagjid “Kee” Taylor.
Kee suggests styling your hair in a protective style to reduce tangling, shedding, and breakage. The majority of your natural hair will be covered or protected in a braid and you can leave these styles in for weeks at a time.
Before we dive into the different types of braids, let’s talk about their origins with Black hair. Braids for natural Black hair date back thousands of years and are an important part of Black ancestry and history. The style of braid could determine a female’s marital status, age, or tribe. These unique hairstyles were passed down from generation to generation, by women to their daughters, granddaughters, and so on. Braided hairstyles are still a symbol of expression, a connection to culture and ancestry, and more for Black women today.
When it comes to Black braided hairstyles, the creativity is endless. You can opt for classic cornrows, tree braids, jumbo braids, or Senegalese twists. You’lll never run out of ways and ideas to braid your natural hair.
Once you’re set on a style, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got your methods and maintenance down. “I do a cleansing shampoo to make sure the hair is nice and fresh,” says Yusef, a K18 ambassador and celebrity hairstylist. Then I apply a little castor oil to the scalp just to add a little bit more moisture while braiding,” he says. As for how long braids should be kept in, Yusef says it all depends on the style of braids you have. “I think the maximum should be three to four weeks before it’s time to take the braids out and redo them and repeat the same steps.”
Now that you have a couple pre-braiding tips under your belt, it’s time to decide on a style. We turned to some of the most memorable braided styles from our fave celebs for some gorgeous hair inspo. Can you say #hairgoals?
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Zendaya’s ultra-long box braids are the perfect accessory to her red carpet look.
Venus Williams brought back her trademark beaded braids with an assortment of silver-toned beads, giving her trademark look a modern twist with a more modern look and it is stunning.
Waist-length box braids are clearly a trend for 2021, as evidenced again here by Issa Rae, who wore hers with a precise center part.
Tessa Thompson’s top-knot braided bun was the perfect choice for her strapless Christian Siriano gown. The braided strands fall perfectly on her bare shoulders.
Talk about a gorgeous look. Celebrity hairstylist Marcia Hamilton gave Ruth Negga this hairstyle, which consists of braided cornrows and her natural hair styled in a top knot at the front.
RiRi wore sections of different-sized braids to complement her orange gown.
Hairstylist Larry Sims created these gravity-defying loop braids on Danielle Brooks.
A thin piece of gold ribbon weaved in and out gives a goddess-like touch to this blonde braided pony on Tawny Cypress.
If a center part a la Zendaya or Issa Rae isn’t your thing, take a cue from Keke and do a side part with your mini braids.
Zoë Kravitz’s trademark micro braids are swept up in a red carpet-ready updo that plays a bit of a trick on the eyes. From the front it looks like a bun, but is actually more of a chignon style.
Don’t be afraid to add an extra touch of glam to an oversized braid, like the rhinestones embedded in Alexandra Shipp’s chic side ‘do.
Celeste O’Connor nailed it with this look. A series of braids get twisted into thick loops for an unforgettable updo that looks incredible with her playful outfit.
Jodie Turner-Smith’s beautiful locs are secured in sections with thin ribbon. Use a black ribbon like hers for a more subtle look or go for a bolder touch with a brighter color and hair gems.
If you’re looking for a truly statement-making hairstyle, you can’t go wrong with a braided high ponytail.
Yusef created a long, mid-height ponytail on Rihanna that was a total head-turner. This stunning style played with texture and dimension and featured cornrow braids at the crown which gave way to a sleek, straight ponytail. Next, Williams braided individual strands within the ponytail to add to the dimension of the look. The result? A red-carpet-worthy style totally worth recreating.
Looking for an ethereal style? Look no further than Lizzo’s beautiful halo braid, which was a little tousled and totally romantic. The singer is no stranger to switching up her hairstyle and loves showing off new looks—this crown braid was no exception. She started with box braids which she then morphed into this tousled, infinite goddess braid. Not only is it a beautiful protective style that pulls your hair back, but it also adds a feminine twist to any look, making it ideal to wear with everything from jeans to gowns.
Looking for a stylish, showstopping way to wear your hair? Look no further than Zendaya’s Rapunzel-like box braids, which gracefully fall well past her waist. With these thicker braids, hair extensions are typically added to the look for extra length, but if you don’t want to bother with extensions you can still make a statement in stylish box braids.
Ciara’s fishtail braid has her hair swept to one side. Her stylist created a deep side part and kept some top layers of hair out for a stylish, undone look and added volume. While this look is ideal for long hair, you can totally wear a fishtail with shorter hair, too.
Erica Ash opted for a protective hairstyle when she rocked Fulani braids on the red carpet. Her braids featured wooden beads, which were the perfect compliment to her ensemble. Add embellishments to match like Erica for a playful-glam look.
Looking for an intricate yet delicate style? Look no further than micro braids like Zoë Kravitz. Similar to box braids, extensions are often added to create this look. To keep yours as smooth as Zoë’s, spritz a little leave-in conditioner on your braids in the morning to keep for a hit of hydration.
If you’re sick of your box braids and want to switch things up, why not try a braided top knot? Kelly Rowland pulled her box braids into a top knot that’s perfect for day-to-night.
Gabrielle Union is no stranger to showing off just how versatile protective styles can be, taking her braids from her everyday life to the red carpet and rocking them with ease. This braided, waist-length ‘do was no exception and complimented her strapless dress perfectly.
Janelle Monae is the queen of rocking braided pigtails, and her embellished braids were no exception. This flirty, fun style is a sophisticated twist on the pigtail braids you used to wear when you were younger and are a fun look to recreate at home. Monae added to the glam vibe with gold embellishments, which were woven into each braid.
Want braids only at the crown? Look no further than these Albaso braids. These braids hail from Ethiopia and feature large raised cornrows braided over a rolled hair piece with small cornrows at the side or in between. Pure gorgeousness.
Issa Rae’s jumbo, sweeping side braid started at the crown and continued to cascade down in a perfectly polished style that was romantic and fun, all at the same time. Her hair was parted at the side and slicked down to create this dimensional look that’s perfect for special occasions.
Alicia Keys’ cornrow was pulled into an updo with plaits that met at the nape of her neck. A total winning combo for everyday or the red carpet.
Skai Jackson’s braided ponytail was a stylish updo that involved slicking her hair back and fastening it before braiding individual sections to create small braids that cascaded down her back.
Warning: seeing Lupita Nyong’o rock braided bangs will instantly make you want to try braided bangs. While the star is no stranger to wearing her bangs in plaits, her full-on braided look served up retro ‘80s vibes. Her hair was first divided in the front to section off her bangs and then parted in the middle.
Megalyn Echikunwoke sported cornrows which gave way to side-braided Bantu knots—a unique twist on traditional Bantu braids. While many braiding styles also incorporate faux hair, we love how these Bantu knots work for short hair, too.
Amandla Steneberg served up ‘90s vibes with her braided bob, which featured box braids and bleached hair extensions to create this statement look. Her natural hair was woven into small box braids, which were twisted with platinum blond extensions. Next, her stylist, Mariah Yana Leilani, cut her braids into a chin-length bob that’s slightly longer in the front.
Looking for a braided updo that’ll turn heads? Enter: Keke Palmer’s mega pony. Her hair was braided back into cornrows that come together on the top of her head. Braids were wrapped around her ponytail holder to blend with her cascading ponytail.
This long ponytail braid is a simple yet stylish look to recreate. Take a note from Kerry Washington and slick back your hair into a ponytail before sweeping it to one side, over your shoulder. Gently pull horizontally on the sections of the braid to add to the fullness and texture.
Laura Harrier’s waist-length box braids were pulled up into a half-up, half-down hairstyle, which created a beautiful, voluminous look that reminded us of the ‘90s. This is a great way to change up your look while still keeping your box braids in.
Zazie Beetz wore her hair in plaits that wove together to create a braided headband, which gave way to natural curls. We can’t get enough of her romantic updo and crown braid.
Tessa Thompson served up ‘90s vibes with this futuristic look. Her waist-length box braids were topped off with two knots on the top of her head, adding a fun, flirty vibe to her casual look.
Tracee Ellis Ross opted for two French braids in this ethereal look, with hair parted in the middle and two thick braids beginning at the crown.
Marsai Martin’s braided hair incorporated a ribbon woven in to create a crown braid with chic, loose ends.
Jodie Turner-Smith’s box braids were swept to the right in a romantic side part, revealing the shaved side on the left for cool contrast.
Storm Reid’s jumbo side braid was twisted into a chunky fishtail and completed with ring embellishments. When it comes to hair jewelry, take a cue from Reid—and don’t hesitate to add a little glam.
“If you have a sensitive scalp opt for jumbo loose twists/Marley twists, wigs, knotless braids, or a loose bun. All of these styles put less tension on your scalp!” says Kee.
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Zendaya rocked these knotless braids over the summer. If you don’t want to leave them down, opt for a claw clip like this one from Kov Essentials for a chic and quick updo.
Add some glam and accessories to your braided hairstyle by opting for a simple braided ponytail. You can add embellished clips, bobby pins, or even a statement headband.
A cute take on the slicked back model bun. Aside from needing gel to slick down the sides, secure your braid with invisible elastics before pinning it within a bun.
Another great style if you have a sensitive or itchy scalp as its loose. You might find these twist braids are also called rope braids.
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Check out these trendy loose Dutch braids on OBX star Madison Bailey. These look effortless and boho and give an endless summer type of vibe. Perfect as a comfortable style to sleep in and perhaps your next festival hairdo.
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