A French braid, or French plait, is a type of braided hairstyle. The French braid includes three sections of hair that are braided together from the crown of the head to the nape of the neck. Variations on this hairstyle include the Dutch braid and the Fishtail braid.
In the simplest form of three-strand braid, all the hair is initially divided into three sections, which are then simultaneously gathered together near the scalp. In contrast, a French braid starts with three small sections of hair near the crown of the head, which are then braided together toward the nape of the neck, gradually adding more hair to each section as it crosses in from the side into the center of the braid structure. The final result incorporates all of the hair into a smoothly woven pattern over the scalp. If the main mass of hair is initially parted into two or more sections along the scalp that are kept separate from one another, multiple French braids may be created, each in its own section. One unique feature about the French braid is that an individual can braid their own hair without the help of others. The difficulty of braiding can depend on the type of hair the individual has, some styles of hair are easier to braid than others. The length of hair also plays a role in the ability to braid; shorter hair can be more of a challenge. Bobby pins can be useful when braiding shorter hair or hair with many different layers to keep all of the hair in the French braid in place. There are many different ways of French braiding that make it unique; a person can braid at a slant, braid into a bun and only braid the bangs are just a few examples.
Compared to the simplest form of hair braid, a French braid has several practical advantages: it can restrain hair from the top of the head that is too short to reach the nape of the neck, and it spreads the weight and tension of the braid across a larger portion of the scalp. Its sleeker appearance is also sometimes viewed as more elegant and sophisticated. However, a French braid is more difficult to construct than a simple braid because of its greater complexity; when performed on one's own hair, it also requires a more prolonged elevation of the hands above the back of the head, and leaves more tangled hair along the scalp when unbraiding.
In this style of braid start on top of the head and braid it till the end of the hair. Braiding in this manner can be done with different braid types but the most popular are the classic type and the fishtail type.
Although called a "French braid", this hairstyle is originated in Paris, France. The braided hairstyle has been used for thousands of years. It was depicted in art from early Greek, Celtic and Sung dynasty periods. This three-strand gathered plait has been depicted in rock art in the Tassili n'Ajjer mountain range in Algeria nearly 6,000 years ago.
The phrase "French braid" appears in an 1871 issue of Arthur's Home Magazine, used in a piece of short fiction that describes it as a new hairstyle ("...do up your hair in that new French braid..."). However, no visual illustrations are provided for that context, making it impossible to tell whether it refers to the same hairstyle described above.
In the French language, the same hairstyle is natively named "tresse française" (french braid), corresponding to its exact translation into the English language ("française" meaning "french", and "tresse" meaning "braid" in the French language).
Variations on this hairstyle include:
- Dutch braid: A Dutch braid (also called an inverted French braid or pineapple braid) is created when the three hair sections are crossed under each other, instead of over. It results in the look of a braid standing up from the rest of the hair, instead of being under the hair.
- Fishtail braid: A fishtail braid resembles a French braid in its smoothly woven appearance, but divides the hair into only two sections instead of three. A small piece of each section is passed over to the other section over and over to form the braid. This style was called the "Grecian braid" in the 19th century. It is not recommended to wash the hair at least two days before fishtail braiding. 
- Variations of this braid are also used to prepare horses' tails for showing, polo and polocrosse.
- Multiple small, separate, parallel French braids are known as cornrows.
- "Braid Guide with Explanations of Braids/French Braid"
- "Why, Exactly, Is It Called a French Braid?". ehairstyles.org.
- March Westland (1871). "Our New Congressman". Arthur's Home Magazine. 37-38: 222–223.
- "Comment faire une tresse française ?". Coupes-cheveux.com.
- Comment faire une tresse française? (How to French Braid) on YouTube
- "Chapter LX.-- The Hair. Part I-- Arrangement. 888. Fillets". Ward and Lock's Home Book: a Domestic Encyclopædia Forming a Companion Volume to "Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management": 538–539. 1882.
- How to Do a Fishtail Braid Retrieved 2015-10-30
- Braiding and Plaiting Your Horse Retrieved 2010-2-20