As a teenager, I coined Fulani braids "Alicia Keys braids" without any reference to where the beautiful style was created in West Africa by the Fula. In my teens, I had no idea what the term cultural appropriation meant, but I now recognize how important it is to know and respect where beauty rituals come from, even as someone of African descent. Fulani braids are now one of the most popular styles of braiding. You can see them worn on red carpets and magazine covers, which I take such great pride in—mainly because little Black girls growing up during this time see themselves represented more places than ever.
What Are Fulani Braids?
Fulani braids, made popular by the Fulani people of Africa, is a style that usually incorporates the following elements: a cornrow braided down the center of the head, one or a few cornrows braided in the opposite direction toward your face just near the temples, a braid wrapped around the hairline, and often accessories, such as beads.
The late award-winning actress Cicely Tyson was one of the first Black women to wear Fulani braids on red carpets and even on the cover of JET Magazine in the 1960s and '70s. Alicia Keys later made the style popular as she donned them on the cover of her debut album, Songs in A Minor.
Since there are so many looks to choose from, we thought we'd round up 16 of our favorites, spanning everything from simple styles to elaborate updos. Keep scrolling to get a small dose of Fulani braids inspiration before you next head off to see your stylist.
Fulani braids can be worn as short or as long as you desire. Here, Rihanna's braids curve beautifully around her head, providing a stunning component to her glamorous look.
Just be aware that maintaining hair health is integral for any style — even a protective one like this. Colorist Richy Kandasamy, a member of the R+Co Collective and the founder of Rokoko Beauty, advises: "Return to your salon for routine trims." He says that doing this will slowly remove any damaged hair over time, "and that’s a slow process if you have patience."
Updated Traditional Style
Depending on the length of your hair, you may need to add extensions to bring this style to life. Once you're done braiding and pinning your hair up, be sure to add beads and jewels to make it your own. Try Shine 'N Jam Magic Fingers Setting Mousse ($13) to set the look.
Like any braided look, you get to decide how small or large you like Fulani braids, but be prepared for an extended salon visit. Though these aren't quite micro, they are small and will add tension to the scalp, so be sure to care for your edges and scalp post-appointment with an aloe or castor oil-based product. Moisturize with African Pride Moisture Miracle Leave-In Cream with Coconut Oil & Baobab Oil ($5).
Gabrielle Union's cascading braids are the quintessential summer protective style. Washing braids can be a bit of challenge, especially when you want to keep the frizz at bay, but Cantu Apple Cider Vinegar Root Rinse ($9) makes it easy to cleanse the scalp without disrupting your style.
Javana Mundy is the protective style queen, and her back-length Fulani braids are a style out of her playbook that we should all give a try.
Mirian Njoh is giving us mermaid vibes, and we are here for it. Sea tones give these blonde braids a pop of color that screams endless summer. If you want to add color to your actual strands (rather than just using colorful accessories), go for it, says Kandasamy.
"A fun option is to use bright funky or pastel colors," Kandasamy says. "As the length grows, it gets more trendy and as the colors fade with each shampoo, your roots will become more prominent. But when you are going for a fun, funky, urban chick look like this, you can get away with showing some dark roots."
All I can envision is Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" video when I look at Alissa Ashley's braids. The straight-back style will forever be an iconic part of beauty and pop culture.
Side-parted braids offer a stunning opportunity to protect your coils and frame your face. To ensure edges remain in pristine condition, turn to a product like PATTERN Edge Control ($12).
Braids don't always need additional extensions, and Jeanette's simple style is one that could be done in the comfort of your own home if you're a seasoned braider.
As we mentioned, Alicia Keys had an unmatched braid game in the early 2000s, and the above style will add decadence to any look. Beads can be found on at your local beauty supply store and on Etsy.
We love a good braided bob, and Danai Gurira's look for the 2019 Oscars after-party is just that. Fulani braids progress into voluminous ends for a look that truly brings the red carpet drama.
Yara Shahidi's looks give us braid inspiration for days—here, she rocks a curly puff with a beaded Fulani accent.
We've already seen Teyonah Parris once before on this list, but I couldn't leave this style off. The chunky braids here are ideal for someone who wants the Fulani look with a minimal salon time commitment.
Joy Bryant's Fulani braids updo is perfect for the summer heat. But if you have a dry scalp or plan to wear this style for an extended period, you may want to talk to your stylist about proper care (specifically at the crown of the head where the bun sits). Try spritzing on Naturally Africa Tea Tree Oil & Vegetable Protein Braid Moisturizing Spray ($9) over the style whenever you're feeling dry.
Fulani braids are incredibly versatile, and this braided pony confirms that. What makes this look special is the placement of the beads. The black and brown accents make Tynece's melanin pop.