Mirror, Mirror: New twists on braids are popular
The waterfall, the fishtail, and the cage aren't twist-your-stomach-into-knots amusement park rides but the widely popular braids beauticians are using to twist easy-breezy, end-of-summer hair into chic, loose updos.
What looks like detailed latticework also is cascading down backs - think of Jennifer Lawrence's strong-willed Katniss in The Hunger Games.
"All the girls are coming in and asking for braids," said stylist Maria DeGideo as she fluidly wrapped Christina Cowley's shoulder-length auburn hair around and through her fingers at Lafayette Hill's Heaven & Earth Salon.
In a few minutes, DeGideo, with the help of an assistant, fashioned a braid that draped across the back of Cowley's head, tresses falling gently underneath. This one, the summer's most popular, is called the waterfall.
"They started coming in right around prom and were asking, 'Do you do the waterfall? What about the fishtail?,' DeGideo said. "It hasn't let up all summer."
Braids make a comeback every few years. Sometimes they are the smaller cornrows - no more than a half-inch in width - like those worn by rappers and basketball players before making their way onto the catwalk and Kim Kardashian.
And then there are micro-box braids. These teeny-tiny braids, most popular with black women looking for easy hair-care options, never seem to go out of style.
But 2012's look has a softer, more whimsical feel, and it's being adopted by women of all races, whether their long hair is natural or weaved-in. These dos are the perfect accessory to the bohemian look, what I like to think of as the maxi dress' best friend.
While it's OK to wear just one braid, many of the newest braid looks incorporate a few styles into one: Maybe you have a little bit of fishtail - a winding braid that resembles the scales of a fish - a dash of waterfall, and part French braid, creating a completely original, artsy vibe.
"No one will have this exact braid," said 16-year-old Allison Plessett, pointing to her three loose cornrows ending in a fishtail. "I feel so unique."
We started to see the new braids emerge on the 2011 red carpet. The French braids Jessica Alba wore that swirled into a low bun on the nape of her neck made a particular splash.
After Katniss Everdeen made us all envious of the braid that traveled around her head in a perfect diagonal, we saw plaits become even more popular. Actresses Sara Rue, Selena Gomez, and the lovelorn Kristen Stewart have been spotted with braids piled high or fashioned into tight buns at the nape of the neck.
And earlier this month, Rihanna teared up to Oprah wearing a floral, mint-green maxi dress and a soft braid across the top of her forehead like a headband. That's called the milkmaid.
Braids "just make my hair look so pretty," said Marissa Knittel, 16, who had her blond hair fashioned into a high ponytail that was one part overhand braid, one part underhand.
Celebrities may be driving the trend, but YouTube is the go-to spot for fashionistas wanting to learn how to do it themselves, whether they're seeking basic cornrows or French braids, or the more new-age plaits like the waterfall and the cage braid, which looks like a braid behind bars, or, when pinned up, resembles a lobster.
"The waterfall was the braid of the summer and the cage braid will be the braid of the fall," said Lisa Eberly Kasmen, owner of Heaven & Earth. Kasmen said about 15 girls, mostly teens, have been coming to the salon each week this season paying between $20 and $50 for braids.
"Some days the girls would come in and ask for a braid and we have to go back and spend a few minutes watching it done on YouTube," DeGideo said.
Braids, popular on Pinterest and Tumblr, too, are another part of the DIY fashion trend that encourages kids to express their individuality. Maybe you're in a fishtail mood. Or perhaps you're an Edwardian girl - two Laura Ingalls-style braids.
And now - add this to weave bars, blowout bars, and makeup bars - salons are adding in-and-out braid service. Will a standard wash, blowout, and style ever be in vogue again?
The John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman in New York opened a braid bar last summer where a stylist will do a French braid for $45. And there are braid bars in Chicago and Los Angeles as well. Kevin Gatto is opening a braid bar next week in his eco-friendly Verde Salon in Collingswood. This summer, stylists have been teaching a monthly braiding workshop at a nearby adult learning center; French braids and fishtails are on the syllabus.
When I was a young girl, my friends gathered in the summer on our front stoops to braid one another's hair. It took about 20 minutes to get two cornrows - or French twists - into my thick, pool-weary mane. Money never changed hands, but sometimes I'd have to give up a pack of Now & Laters, a bag of Wise potato chips, or let the braider go first in Double Dutch.
Perhaps the stoop should reopen for business.
Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.