Braids Are the New Blowout in Cool Twist That's Hot For Late Summer

By Serena Solomon on August 13, 2014 7:39am 

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 Braids can hold their own for several days against the sticky hummdity of New York City.
Braids for a Brief Style Change
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NEW YORK CITY — Even the best hair blowouts can't stand up to the humidity of a New York City summer.

As an alternative, a growing number of salons are offering braids as a way to have a new look for a few days.

Salons say clients are sporting everything from a side section of tight cornrows to something more whimsical, like a fish tail braid or an intricate design that has braids crisscrossing all around the head.

Whether from a lack of time or a lack of styling skills, Leah McSweeney said her hair usually ends up in a ponytail or a bun. A special occasion might mean a blowout.

But she recently had her long blond hair wrapped up in two thick braids that fell on either side of her head. 

"It's really empowering," said McSweeney, 31, who is a mother and the owner of the New York City-based clothing brand Married to the Mob. "It takes you from bad bitch to bad ass bitch."

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The trend has been gaining speed in recent years, helped along by movies such as "The Hunger Games" and TV show "Game of Thrones," in which characters wore numerous styles of braids.

This summer, the popularity of braids has exploded, according to hair stylist Gina Guercia who points to celebrities like actress Jessica Alba and reality TV's Kendall Jenner, who have recently plaited their locks.

"It's unique. It's a little bit of an attention getter," said Guercia, who works at New York City-based salon and product line Oscar Blandi. "The craziest thing is they are for every day, but you are seeing them on the runway, on the red carpet. You are seeing it everywhere."

Frank's Chop Shop, a barbershop on the Lower East Side, recently added braiding to its service menu. Graphic designer-turned-professional braider Jamie Balbuena, 27, braids a handful of heads there each night from 8 p.m. until midnight.

 Hair stylist Gina Guercia braids the hair of Jen Ramos, an Upper East Sider who runs the lifestyle and art blog Made by Girl.
Hair stylist Gina Guercia braids the hair of Jen Ramos, an Upper East Sider who runs the lifestyle and art blog Made by Girl.
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Made by Girl

While cornrows and braiding have always been "a staple" of the African-American community, anyone with a bent for fashion has been coming in for braids, according to Balbuena, who braided McSweeney's hair.

A decade ago, singer Alicia Keys inspired a generation to get "skinny, intricate designs," but today's clients are after "thicker and bolder braids," said Balbuena.

"I think that [clients] like it because it's quick and they can get all their hair out of their face for a few days," she said.

A look like McSweeney's two braids costs about $40, depending on hair length, and it takes Balbuena just 30 minutes to complete.

At Butterfly Studio Salon in the Flatiron District, hair stylist Dana Tizzio has about five clients each week who get braids.

"Some people are going to the beach and they don’t want to deal with their hair," said Tizzio. "It’s hot, so they like to keep it off their neck."

Depending on the type of hair, braids can last four or five days, the stylists said. Wrapping your head in a bandana at night can keep them from fraying, as does using a moisturizing hair cream to keep taut hair from breaking.

Oscar Blandi, the line of products Guercia represents, recently released Braid Paste, a texturizing cream that makes braiding easier and gives the result a fuller look.

Braids can also improve hair health, as it means less need for styling with heated tools like curling irons. It's harder to tell if your hair is dirty when it's in a braid, so having one might also keep shampoo at bay for a few more days, according to Guercia.

Jen Ramos, an Upper East Sider who runs the lifestyle and art blog Made by Girl, pondered shaving a side section of her head earlier this year. Instead, she had two tight braids woven in, a look known as a faux side shave.

"It's cool to have the braid and then you get your hair back. It's not permanent," Ramos said.

With the help of Guercia and the vast numbers of instructional videos on YouTube, Ramos now braids her own hair.

While salons offer up a quick hit hairstyle change, the do-it-yourself community has populated Instagram and Pinterest with braids, egging each other on with increasingly wild designs.

Mastering the basics of a three-strand braid — it can create either an outward cornrow braid or an inward French braid, depending on how you weave it — is all it takes for someone to start working on their own hair, according to Guercia, who is self-taught.

"I think people are scared of them and they seem complicated," she said, "but once you watch a video and practice a little bit, you will be surprised how easy it is."

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