Braids are a protective style that dates back over 5000 years in African culture. The beauty of braids knows no bounds: The three-strand technique is not only versatile, but offers an opportunity to give our kinks, coils, transitioning, and relaxed hair a break from manipulation. In many cases, giving hair a break can promote hair health and growth. But apart from being practical for textured tresses, braids are also super stylish.
To prove it to you, we rounded up 17 of our favorite braided hairstyles to inspire your next salon visit or even to try at home. These 'dos span all lengths and sizes so you're bound to find something that suits you. Plus, we tapped experts Jada Jenkins and Nikki Nelms, who let us in on a few tips and tricks to getting the most out of your braids.
Meet the Expert
Ahead, see 18 braided styles perfect for natural and relaxed hair.
Chunky braids are a win-win because they typically take less time to install but help stylishly protect natural, transitioning, and relaxed hair. Style with face-framing braids, as seen here, to create a fun riff on '90s tendrils. Consider adding gold accents to up the glam factor.
Braids are versatile and can be worn down or styled into an updo like Laura Harrier's bun here. It's a simple switch-up that's great for summertime since it keeps hair off of your neck. Just beware of tension at the crown of the head and edges, and reach for the Mane Choice Rejuvenation Solution EnhanceMint Scalp Drops ($20) in case you need a little TLC.
Rocking beads on the ends of braids can feel like you're taking a step back into grade school, but truly, we're here for the nostalgia. A collarbone-grazing length is also super stunning, as is some graphic green liner.
Straight-back cornrows are a classic for both long and short styles alike. And while they will protect your hair, they'll also require that you take care of your scalp. In case you're experiencing any tenderness or itchiness, Pattern Beauty's rosemary, peppermint, and lavender-infused Scalp Serum ($25) will bring relief.
Butt-length braids are always a photo-worthy protective style. Saweetie's addition of clear beads and a trendy center parting brings this braided style into a new era. As for those baby hairs? They're on point.
Adding texture to Bantu knots by braiding hair is a simple way to add a new spin to a beloved staple. Just make sure the braided style doesn’t have too much tension to prevent irritating the scalp, Jenkins advises. Nelms agrees: "Be mindful of the amount of tension being applied during the styling process. Any styles that feel uncomfortable during styling need to be adjusted immediately."
Fulani braids are one of the most popular braided styles. They typically involve a mix of cornrows and box braids that can be accessorized with beads. Clear, wooden, bright, or sparkly—the possibilities are endless.
Yellow Box Braids
Brightly hued braids are perfect for summer or brightening your world any time of year. To style, sweeping braids to one side will let you show off their length while also keeping hair out of your face. It's a win-win.
Pop Smoke braids, AKA jumbo feed-in braids, pay homage to the late rapper and are beloved by many. To keep this braided style looking fresh, "Do not forget to cleanse the scalp and keep the hair moisturized," Nelms says. A three-to-five-minute mask—one of her favorites being Sebastian Professional Dark Oil Mask ($19)—is a must.
Trying bold colors or a new cut can feel daunting. However, you can give it a go for six to eight weeks with a protective style without a permanent commitment. Vivid blue color takes this A-line cut to the next level.
If you're seeking a braided style that doesn't require a visit to the salon or hours in the chair, try Tracee Ellis Ross's fun and flirty 'do. Her unique play on plaits can keep your hair protected for up to a week.
The '90s are inspiring us all in everything from fashion to beauty, and rightfully so. This chic bob says it all: Tucked under the chin and with a deep side part, it perfectly frames and complements a round face.
The lyrics of Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" come to mind when we see this style of cornrows. No matter the size of your braids, you'll want to ensure there isn't an abundance of tension or stress on your edges or scalp as these are installed.
Plaits add texture and dimension to your typical space buns and are a cinch to style if you've already got box braids. To maintain this 'do, apply foam styler post-wash and secure the hair in a silk scarf as it dries to help smooth down flyaways.
Storm Reid likes to change up her look, making her the perfect source of hair inspiration. Here, she gives us braids on braids action that's absolutely stunning and demonstrates the versatility in styling box braids. Meanwhile, blonde highlights add further interest and dimension.
Cornrows are a classic, but that doesn't mean you can't add a little spin. Play with braid sizes and lengths if you want to experiment. You can also style into an updo like a braided bun, as seen here.
If you know how to cornrow, then try this halo braid out for size. Not only is it stylish, but it's humidity-proof, too. Still, you can pull out a few face-framing pieces to create a more undone, effortless vibe.
When is a good time to install my braids?
"Braided styles are a classic, low-maintenance style for hair that is relaxed and/or transitioning," Nelms says. However, although braids are a protective style, installing braids after a fresh touch-up can do more harm than good. Chat with your stylist before you schedule your appointment.
How do I prevent frizz on relaxed hair?
When using any cleanser, using the pads of your finger to gently rub your scalp can ensure your scalp gets the cleanse it needs without disrupting your braids. If you see frizz crop up, a foam mousse and silk scarf will be your protective style best friends.
How long should I wait to relax hair after taking out braids?
Generally speaking, at least two weeks, but it's best to consult your hairstylist to find out what's best for you. During that time, you'll want to keep the scalp moisturized and avoid scratching (including combing) which can lead to irritation. Deep conditioning hair so that it regains strength is also important.