This is my official introduction to my braiding series. I thought about just launching into instructions on how to do each of the braids, but when planning their instructions I found it increasingly necessary to give an overview of each type of braid, how they work, and why we do them, especially for those who are completely knew to the idea of doing these types of braids.
The image above illustrates, from left to right, the French braid, the Dutch braid (or inverted French braid), and the cornrow. One of the biggest problems I had when learning how to cornrow was understanding what the heck made it any different from the Dutch braid. In fact, I think my many first attempts at doing cornrows were just Dutch braids, or a combination of the two.
First up is the French braid. As you can see from above, a French braid is braided overhand. If you don't know what that means, just imagine yourself turning two double-dutch jump ropes with each hand turning in circles towards each other. The sections of hair are laid on top of one another as more hair is added down the braid.
A benefit of doing the French braid is that it keeps the hair nicely detangled, out of the face, and helps distribute the weight of the hair along the path of the braid, rather than having all of the hair pull in one area, as it would in a ponytail. As can be seen from the photo above, the hair is added from the sides toward the middle and sort of braided over the middle section of hair.
Yet another look at how the hair in the center of the braid actually never gets pulled into the braid, itself. Most of the French braid is formed from hair on the sides that are wrapped over the hair in the middle. If you want to learn how to French braid, please see my post "How to French Braid."
Next up is the Dutch braid. This braid is formed almost exactly the same was as the French braid, except for one major difference: The hair is braided underhanded. So if we go back to our jump rope analogy, imagine turning that double-dutch rope in circles moving away from each other.
As you can see above, the Dutch braid also does not include the hair in the middle of the braid in the braid, itself. The Dutch braid is a more defined braid, but it also only sits on top of the middle part of the hair. Please see the post "How to Dutch Braid," if you're looking for instructions on how to do so.
Last up is the cornrow. It does look remarkably similar to the Dutch braid, although you can see that the braid, itself, appears thicker than the Dutch braid. It is also braided underhanded just like the Dutch braid, but instead of braiding over the middle section of the hair, the cornrow includes the middles section. This is why cornrows, if formed with the same amount of hair as a Dutch braid, will appear thicker than a Dutch braid.
Just to clarify, there is another difference between the Dutch braid and the cornrow, which comes down to which section you add the hair to when braiding, but I will discuss that later when I give individual instructions. However, if you already know how to do one or other other, with the Dutch braid the hair is added to an outer section and with the cornrow the hair is added to the middle section of hair while braiding.
Cornrows are a preferred braid for 4a/4b hair because they do include all of the hair in the braid itself, unlike the French braid and the Dutch braid. This helps keep hair both detangled and moisturized better than the other two braids.
However, because all of the hair is included in a cornrow, they are often done on a smaller scale (i.e., many of them over just a one or two, as when wearing French or Dutch braids) to keep them from getting to thick and too fuzzy. The smaller the cornrow, the longer it will last and the longer (generally speaking) it will stay smooth-looking. If you want instructions on cornrowing, check out "How to Cornrow."
So there you have it. My personal explanation of the three types of braids. Probably more information than anyone cares to know, but hey, I'm a details person. That's how I roll.