Summer Braids

Last summer, you couldn't stroll through an outdoor concert, scour a flea market, or simply sip a cocktail on the patio of your favourite watering hole without espying milkmaid braids. The Heidi-inspired style-favoured by head-turners like Nicole Richie, Rachel Bilson, and Sienna Miller-spread instantaneously, until it seemed like nearly every hipster with hair had these crowning braids. While the plaited-and-pinned up 'do remains a fashion-world favourite (just check out Chanel's fall ad campaign for reference), we'd like to focus on the next wave of woven hairstyles. Whether it's a modified French, à la Diane Kruger, or an undone fishtail, per Mary-Kate Olsen, there definitely a few fantastic styles worth emulating!

We'll give you the behind-the-scenes info on several celebrity-endorsed looks, but first, we'd like to note that the braids shown into today's layout are actually somewhat easy to achieve! That said, if you're not particularly dexterous in the hair-styling department, do start with something relatively simple: the fishtail. In addition to being relatively uncomplicated, it also happens to be our favourite style, especially when done in an imprecise way, such as the relaxed version Mary-Kate Olsen wore to Proenza Schouler's S/S 09 show. Instead of pulling all of her hair into the fishtail, Olsen kept things casual by leaving her front layers loose; we love the contrast of the untamed pieces with the structured braid. Olsen was ahead of the game with her narrow, multi-strand look (which was created by Rolando Beauchamp, who is one of Bumble and bumble's key talents and a runway/editorial superstar), but of course, she's not the only one wearing this style. Fellow fashion-darling Diane Kruger sported a hybrid double-French-turned-fishtail at the Cannes Film Festival. By wearing her hair in this informal and earthy braid, Kruger tempers the formality of her black strapless vintage Chanel dress and achieves a well-balanced afternoon ensemble.

In addition to these sea-inspired variations, we also appreciate the next generation of Gallic braids-French fusion, if you will-seen on Drew Barrymore and Lauren Conrad. While promoting Grey Gardens Barrymore wore her hair in a wrapped braid that started in the more traditional French-style at her crown, then transformed into a gorgeous braided pinwheel in the back. Hair maestro Giannandrea created the relaxed-yet-ornamental look by first brushing dry shampoo through Barrymore's hair; he typically favours Oscar Blandi's Pronto Dry Shampoo ($19) or Bumble and bumble's Hair Powder ($35). The dry shampoo is crucial: it gives hair the right texture for braids (overly clean hair is tricky to work with) and also imparts it with a lovely, slightly matte look. Using his fingers, Giannandrea created a relatively deep, semi-precise side part, then wove a French braid parallel along Barrymore's hairline. He suggests starting your plait with large sections of hair and keeping the braid relatively loose, as this is a more fashionable and less Big Love-like look. Once the crown was completed, Giannandrea created a gorgeous circular spiral of smaller braids on the back of Barrrymore's head. Again, the braids were slightly imperfect and casually pinned up, which gives the hair a more modern vibe and contrasts nicely with the romantic front.

If your abilities are too amateur to take on such a nuanced braid, you might want to try Lauren Conrad's simpler style instead. Seen above at a book signing for her novel, LA Candy, in Los Angeles, Conrad autographed copies with her long locks pulled back in two French braids, which culminate in a voluminous bun at the nape of her neck. Created by Christine Symonds at Warren Tricomi Salon (323.651.4545), Conrad's hairstyle blends bohemian ease with youthful elegance and is worth attempting at home.

Whatever style appeals to you, we suggest that you check out a few basic technique tips, courtesy of Scotty Cunha and Mara Rozek, in the LA Times' handy how-to slideshow. The Ande Lecompte Salon (310.273.4100) stylists break down both French and fishtail braids in a step-by-step tutorial that is sure to help even the most plait-challenged people figure out this sweet summer look.

Runway Image, from firstVIEW; Photo of Diane Kruger, from Bauer Griffin; Photo of Drew Barrymore, from INF; Photo of Lauren Conrad, from Getty; Photo of Mary Kate Olsen, from Splash.