The earliest known recording of braids being a popularizes style dates back to around 5000 years ago.
Northern African cultures developed close-knit braids as a method of identification, representing wealth, power, and social standing among other. Primarily stylized among young women, comparable modern renditions of these sorts of braids are cornrows - tight and close to the scalp.
While records indicate the earliest examples of this style of hair originating in Africa, possibly with roots older than recorded history, various civilizations around the globe developed their own similar renditions. As the braid developed, spread, or independently emerged, their designs were modified for different cultures and hair types.
It’s because of this that cultures like Greece, Scotland, and North America pre-colonization began with braids that weren’t as tight-knit as their African peers. Contemporaries of box braids and traditional African braids are long braids and French braids. The farther you move from Africa, you might notice, the looser, longer, and more single-woven styles you’ll find.
The Derivation of the Fishtail Braid
There’s no real cultural significance behind the history of the fishtail. The fishtail is a variation of the French braid, which in turn has its roots in Northern Africa before popular adoption in France. Nowadays, the two most popular versions of the French braid are tied between the classic and the fishtail style. For our purposes, we’re going to be walking through how to fishtail braid step by step.
While this style of braid certainly looks a lot more complicated than the classic French braid, due to its apparent use of numerous smaller locks, it’s easier than it seems.
It’s handy to have, if you find you favor French stylings, to help mix up your look on occasion. An added bonus that French braids offer is helping secure your hair closer to the top of your head, since its original design works from your crown to the nape of your neck.
Fishtails don’t necessarily have to follow the traditional French braid styling, however. There several different variations of the fishtail to consider: regular, French, faux, side ponytails, and so on. We’re going to stick with the regular and French versions for the most part.
Steps on How to Fishtail Braid Your Hair
Before you start, you might want to consider gathering up a few supplies. You won’t need much, simply some elastic or hair bands and, depending on what style you’re going with, scissors.
Unlike with other braid styles, though the fishtail can get a bit complicated, you’re still more than capable of styling it on your own. However, if this is your first time and you’re having difficulty, it can’t hurt to have a couple extra hands.
1. Gather Two Sections of Hair
To start off with learning how to fishtail braid your hair, you’re going to want to start with the basics. Get started by splitting your hair into two even sections down the back of your neck. You should have one section in each hand.
2. Left Side Thin Strand
While keeping hold of both halved sections of your hair with your right hand, move over to the left side of the left section and measure out a thin strand. Make sure to take it from the outside of the hair.
After you have control of this strand, cross it over the left half of your hair, pulling up and across. Join this strand up with your right hand’s finger and thumb, then return control of the left half of your hair to its original hand.
3. Tuck and Tug
Once you have a good grip, tuck the thin strand of hair under the right half section. Try to make it tight without hurting. Once you’ve tucked it, it will not become a part of the right half section of your hair entirely. Move your hands up as far as they’ll go up the section and pull gently until the newly combined section is tight.
4. Repeat Step 2 on the Right Side
At this point, you should only have one thin strand crossing between the major two halves of your hair.
Now it’s time to do the same for your right side. While keeping a solid grip on both halves of your hair using your left hand, measure out a thin strand from the outside of the right half. When you have it, cross it over the right half of your hair to join up with the left half section.
When this new strand of hair joins up with the left half section, it should overlap the first strand of hair you crossed over. There should be a noticeable X pattern.
5. Tuck and Tug Again
You should have the thin right strand of hair joined up with the left half already. Once it is, you’ll return control of each half of your hair to their respective hands. Then, gently tug on both halves of the hair so the braids are as tight as they will go without being uncomfortable.
6. Repeat, Repeat, and Repeat
Knowing how to do a fishtail braid isn’t so hard, is it? It’s just a few simple steps that you then have to repeat over and over again.
As a tip, the farther down you progress with the fishtail braid, try to make the strands of hair you measure off the sides of each half thinner and thinner. A good measurement for the beginning of these is about half an inch to start.
7. Finishing It Off
As you alternate between each side of your hair, the braid will steadily taper down. Once you see you’re getting near to the end, stop with about an inch or so of hair left unbraided. You need to tie your hair off at some point, and this is going to be the part to do it. Using either a hair band or elastic bands, tie off the end for a completed braid.
You may want to consider securing your hair with a bobby pin, just so it doesn’t slip out of place. Once you’ve tied it off, you can leave the braid as it is our tousle it a bit to loosen it up.
Keep in mind that you may want to do this with slightly dirty day-old hair. Freshly washed hair is good, but it’s hard to work with when styling.
Steps on How to French Fishtail Braid Your Hair
The French fishtail braid is a little bit more complicated than the regular version. Not to worry, we’re going to walk you through it, and with a little practice it won’t be hard to do at all.
1. Gather Two Sections of Hair
Here’s where the main difference between these two styles lies: you start at the crown of your head. You’ll need to start by gathering a portion of your hair on the top of your head.
From that portion, split that into two halves. That will be your starting point. Make sure to keep the portion centered.
2. Left Side Thin Strand
Now, when you’re measuring out the strands you’ll use, you want to gather them from parts of your hair you’re not already holding in your hands.
Take them from the sides of your head, near but not a part of the halves you’re already holding.
3. Cross and Combine
What you’ll be doing is crossing the strand of hair over the left half section and join it with the right half section. While tucking and tugging is still a part of this, it’s more important just to be sure you have the right form going in.
Once the strand has been crossed and joined with the other half, make sure your hair is still secure and tight.
That’s the main thought process here: mirroring your motions. Once you’ve finished with the left strand, you’ll do the exact same thing with a new right strand.
Try to keep everything as similar as possible, including strand size and distance.
5. Mix It with a Regular Fishtail Step
Now, once you’ve done the French fishtail braid portion, wherein you gather new strands from your head that weren’t a part of your initial central section, you’ll want to pause. From here, using only hair already contained between the two halves of your hair you have already, do a regular fishtail.
Once you’ve done that step once, resume the French fishtail steps starting from step two and repeating. Once you reach step 5, start again.
Switching between the French fishtail for the larger portions and the regular fishtail for smaller helps you keep track of where you are in the braid.
6. Finish It Off
You’ll continue repeating these steps until you have about an inch or so of hair left. All you need to do now is tie it off with a hair band and you’re finished.
Practice Makes Perfect
Though you may have a good grasp on how to make a fishtail braid, you might not make a perfect one starting off. With a little bit of practice and continued study, you’ll be able to handily stylize your hair exactly the way you want it to look.
While these are the main two styles for capturing the essence of a fishtail braid, there are still more versions as we mentioned before. You can have one hanging off the side of your head, tightly wound against your temple, or multiple fishtail braids across your head.
With a little experimentation, you’re sure to find the perfect fit for you.