Banishing Bad Hair Days since 1997!™

Dressy Hair Styles - Part #1 The Classic Updo - French Twist


Image of Karen Marie Shelton's Hair

This article covers dressy hair styles such as the French Twist which is a classic updo.

It's in response to all the email I receive from people of all ages who want to try something different with their hair for dressy hair events such as homecoming, Prom, the Christmas Holidays or for weddings.

They want to wear their hair up in a new twist or updo or they want to add special touches such as flowers or hair accessories. Sometimes they just want to try something completely new.

I can relate. I usually wear my hip length naturally thick, wavy hair down in a "nothing special" loose look and I do get moments where I yearn for a cool "updo" or something new. Especially for a formal party, wedding or other dressy hair events.

Recently I spent a couple of hours with my hairstylist experimenting with some updos, braids and new looks.

Part of my motivation was to play with some hair accessories from and get some great photos. Another part of my motivation was to check out some new styles.

The Classic Formal Do - The French Twist

Image of Karen Marie Shelton

One of the very first hairstyles my hairstylist Shelley tried on my hair was the classic French Twist. She explained that the French Twist style can be worn by just about anyone with medium to super long hair.

If you have your heart set on wearing a Twist and have short hair, you can always "cheat" a little and pin on home hair and use your own hair to cover the "add-on" twist.

The Twist can be dressed up or down, worn high or flat, adorned with flowers, hair jewelry, pearls or curls and can be modified to look good with just about any face shape.

It's a wonderful style for instantly dressing up a wedding or a formal event.

I hadn't really thought about the modification part, but Shelley pointed out you can add or subtract a wide assortment of bangs, side curls, tendrils, parts, coils or twists to slim a round face, give height to a long face, show off a slender face or camouflage any other shape.

Of course she was right. The French Twist is a classic style. Which is what prompted me to include lots of photos of a range of different types of French Twists. I

I've selected a wide range of modifications which can be used to create different looks. Where possible I am giving complete credit to the photos that I have selected.

Basic French Twist Versus Complicated Twists

(From 388 Hairstyles)

Model wearing a classic French Twist

I've always found it difficult to explain to anyone how to do a French Twist.

If you have never down a French Twist on yourself, I strongly recommend that you have a friend or stylist do the first couple of Twists for you.

Watch closely and then when you feel comfortable, you can practice doing the Twist on your own hair.

There is the basic French Twist which is a simple hair updo twist. With some practice and visualization and a good mirror, anyone with medium to long hair can do a Twist to their own hair.

There is also the very complicated types of French Twists where the hair is divided into multiple sections and many different types of pins and swirls and curls are added.

I've never been able to pull one of these off by myself. Maybe you will be able to, but generally it is best to have a friend or hairstylist help you with the more complicated updos. At least until you get the hang of it.

Instructions For Do-It-Yourself French Twist

The following instructions are inspired by "Beautiful Braids: The Step-by-Step Guide to Braiding Styles for Every Occasion and All Ages by Patricia Coen and Joe Maxwell." This book was originally published in 1984 and is the book that I used to learn how to do my own French twist. It was recently re-released.

Follow the steps below to create your French Twist:

  • Comb or brush your hair smoothly back from your forehead.
  • Gather your hair into a ponytail with a base halfway between your crown and nape and slightly to the left of center. Don’t anchor it.
  • Twist the ponytail all the way around twice, in a clockwise direction. This holds the base of the hair closer to your head and gives you a firm anchor to work against.
  • Hold the base of the ponytail in your left hand. With your right, hold its end up, pointing toward the ceiling.
  • With your right hand, fold the end of the ponytail, about the top third, down towards the nape of your neck.
  • Fold the entire ponytail down under itself, towards your nape so that is it less than half as long as it was.
  • Curl the folded ponytail in your left hand. There should be a slight hollow between the ponytail and your scalp.
  • With your right hand, begin to gently push the upper right hand portion of the folded ponytail down into the hollow.
  • Continue pushing the hair underneath your left hand into the hollow so that the folded ponytail is slowly rolling inside the hollow.
  • The twist is complete when you can’t push any additional hair into the hollow and the folded ponytail has become a tight roll.
  • Create a seam by tucking in bobby pins along the line formed where the right hand edge of the roll meets your scalp starting at the bottom.
  • Place bobby pins all along the seam up to the top of the roll, concealing them just under the roll.
  • Begin to push the upper portion of the ponytail over into the space with the other hand, so that the folded part is slowly rolling over into it.
  • When you have pushed all the hair in, secure with hairgrips along the seam formed by the join, starting at the bottom. Conceal the grips by pushing them right underneath the roll.

Basic Twist Instructions From 388 Great Hairstyles

Margit Rudiger & Renate von Sampson provide some wonderful examples of French Twists on page 78-79 of their stunning book of 388 Great Hairstyles.

They also provide some instructions that are short and sweet and to the point. I have included their instructions for people who like to cut to the chase.

Note: The sample below is directly from the book and is designed to be a casual French Twist for thick or naturally wavy hair.

  • Brush hair up to the crown. With your left hand, hold hair

    Model wearing a classic French Twist

    together one-third up the length.

  • Turn all hair under near the scalp around the middle finger of the right hand.
  • Turn the ends underneath on themselves into a roll and pin. Pin the roll through the center to your head with a long clip, from top down. Hold with hairpins.

How To Tease Your Hair For Fullness

The bigger you want your French Twist to be, the more volume you need to build into the look. There are several ways to get the height.

If you don't have colored or bleached hair you can use a volume building shampoo and volume building conditioner like the Phyto Volume Building System.

A volume building setting gel would help as well. Once you have towel dried your hair to remove most of the moisture use a blow dryer with a round brush to dry your hair with as much fullness as possible. Try Phytodefrisant if your hair is wavy or curly to remove any kinks and get a smooth straight look.

You can even throw in a few very large hot rollers and build in even more fullness.

If this seems like too much trouble, you can carefully tease or backcomb your hair to the fullness that you want.

Tease your hair only on special occasions or else you may damage your hair. Teasing or "backcombing" will create lots of volume.

Remember to be gentle as possible to avoid damaging the hair.

  • Separate hair into approximately 1 inch sections
  • Spritz each section lightly with a good setting gel
  • Starting from the middle of each section, gently back-comb the hair towards the roots.
  • With wide tooth comb, smooth hair into place
  • Spritz with hairspray to hold firmly in place

French Twist With Draped Bangs

This look is designed to be a large, full on top, vertical French Twist created to achieve a very classic up look.

Wide draped bangs and a single tendril on each cheek makes this a beautiful sexy look that can slenderize a round face, show off an oval face, add height and balance to a long face and soften a square face.

This look would work with just about any face shape.

The hair shown in Figures 1 & 2 was specifically created by Mariano Roche. These styles are shown on pages 48 - 49 of the book, "A Long Hair Collection" from the Pivot Point Design Forum collection .

The beautiful model has medium thick, shoulder length hair all in one length. The hair was first washed and air dried using a round brush to give as much volume as possible.

The front of the hair was sectioned from the back, ear to ear. A key point to note is that the hair was fixed in 4 major sections.

The back of the hair that forms the twist consisted of the right and left sides. The front of the hair was also divided and fixed in two separate sections: the right side and the left side.

A diagonal side part is sub sectioned from the front of the hair to the back of the hair.

The hair was backcombed or teased all over. To get the height in the front, all of the hair in the crown area was heavily teased.

The right side of the hair was smoothed over the left and secured with bobby pins along a slight diagonal. A good holding spray was used to hold the hair in place.

The left side was smoothed over to the right. The ends were turned to form a vertical roll. The roll was secured tightly with bobby pins and hairpins. The hair was twisted to give an upward movement at the nape of the neck which helped to keep the nape closer to the head and the crown a lot fuller.

Styling Notes

This is not a French Twist style I could ever easily do by myself. I had to have my stylist to it for me.

If you decide that you want to try your hand at this style here are some helpful hints:

  1. The key to the height of this style was the fact that the hair is first divided into front and back sections and then divided again into left and right parts.
  2. Use large pins or clips to section off the parts of the hair that you are not currently working with to keep everything clean and neat.
  3. A lot of heavy teasing is required to give the height. The more volume you can get in your hair from shampoo, setting gel and a round brush, the better the height.
  4. Some people like Ivana Trump "cheat" and get instant fullness with a hair rat. These can be purchased at most beauty supply stores. I have even heard that some people use clean balled up nylons for the same effect. This eliminates the need for a lot of teasing.
  5. A good hair spray is essential.
  6. When you use hair spray, make sure to aim the spray directly at the parts of the hair that need the most hold.
  7. Good bobby pins and hair pins the same color as your hair is required. Have plenty on hand.
  8. Use a control product like a wax, gel or stick (like Phytolisse or similar) to smooth down any loose hairs and add shine.
  9. Have a stylist do this for you first and then try it at home.
  10. Practice, practice, practice.

Sexy, Playful French Twist With Sweeping Side

This twist is a very sexy and playful version of the traditional look. It is shown on page 79 of the 388 Great Hairstyles book.

While the Twist is high and very smooth, a very large piece of hair has been playfully pulled free from the updo and lightly curls down around the front of the face.

This beautiful updo would look smashing in a short glittery party dress. For Christmas it would look beautiful adorned with tiny sprigs of holly or a glittery red ruby crystal pin.

To create this look make sure to tease the hair at the crown very well. Before twisting the hair into the updo, let one thick lock of hair fall loosely across the side of the face.

Use a curling iron to add a very soft curl at the bottom of the lock of hair.

This look works especially well with bangs that are worn soft and texturized or straight and shiny.

Casual, Messy Twists

A French Twist can be softened to work beautifully in a casual setting. The French Twist shown here was taken from the book 388 Great Hairstyles.

This more casual version of the Roll simply has the ends protrude at the top of the crown after the hair is turned under.

The lower part of the French Roll needs to be pinned tightly to support the hair that is pulled out at the top to form the extra loop or protrusion.

Be sure to have plenty of pins to form a solid foundation. To hold the base, be sure to use a good hairspray.

New Woman magazine for December 1998 displayed this wonderful "French Twist For The 90s" in the Beauty/Hair column by Albertina Rizzo.

The Twist was actually done by Rosario Acquita, Artistic Director of the Kim Lepine Salon in New York City.

The French Twist is created with the idea that several strands will be twisted out and away from the main French Roll. The loose strands are pinned around the Twist to give it a messy, freeform look.

This messy French Twist is a version of the popular messy and undone buns that are still hot in many hair circles. This Twist works great in a casual setting.

It is recommend that this Twist be done on thick and wavy hair. Highlights look smashing with the twisted messy loose strands.

Dressed Up Twists

I could probably write an entire article on how to dress up the French Twist.

Depending on the time of the year just let your imagination run wild. You can add Evergreen, tiny Christmas ornaments, glittery clips or anything else that you desire to a beautiful Twist.

The following photo is taken from Patrick Cameron's Book - Dressing Long Hair Patrick adorned a beautiful full French Twist with some greenery that celebrates Fall or nature.

I personally love to add different types, colors and styles of hairsticks depending on the event and my mood.

The first photo shows me with a classic smooth French Twist that has been adorned with the Hair Sticks.

The sticks looked stunning with a beautiful blue jacket and dress that I wore.

My favorite hair sticks are by Mei Fa. I've been buying them for years and they are stunning and will last a lifetime.

Hair sticks never go out of style and can be used in so many different ways.

Image of Karen Marie Shelton

This photo gives you a better view of the French Twist with the sticks.

Many people ask me how I use the stick to hold up my hair. I don’t. I always use a lot of bobby pins to tighten down the updo and then after I have used the appropriate amount of hairspray I carefully arrange the sticks or jewelry in my hair.

I usually don’t get the sticks in the way I want them the first time and often will play with them until I achieve just the right look.

Special Hair Sticks & Barrettes

The following two Twists were taken from page 17 of The American Woman Special Complete Hair & Beauty Guide for 1997.

Unfortunately the photos were only available in black and white, I liked the look of the hair sticks and the long French Twist hair barrette so much that I decided to go ahead and include these photos in this article.

The French Twist to the right actually uses three different hair sticks and some special ribbon to adorn the back of the updo.

This beautiful French Twist (left) is adorned with one long barrette or French twist clip. You will often find the long clips at places like's Marketplace.

Every once in awhile I will find a beautiful long clip that I can use in a similar way in the fashion accessory area of the local clothing store.

Business French Twist

The French Twist can instantly transform hair into classy "business" looks. Many executive women will put their hair into a smooth French Twist.

Women with hair that’s shoulder-length or longer can get it out of the way at the office and retain a very polished, professional image by wearing it up.

This French Twist from the Hair Boutique Gallery shows a precise French twist that can make the transition easily from day to evening in a snap.

The look can instantly be softened up by pulling out some additional tendrils on the sides, and at the Nape of the neck and using a portable curling iron to add a romantic look.

Another option is to take part of the French Twist down and go with the Half Up/Half Down French Twist that is displayed in Hair Boutique Gallery photo 263T.

Half Up/Half Down French Twist

This style is the ultimate romantic look that combines the elegance of the French Twist "updo" with the soft romantic looks of flowing hair. The one curled tendril from the top of the crown adds a sexy touch.

While hair that is medium length to longer looks best in this style, you can "cheat" with some large electric curlers that can give you instant volume, lift and curl.

Classic Bridal French Twist

Every time I open a Bride’s magazine I see multiple variations of the French Twist. This is because the hairstyle is so versatile it can work with just about any type of wedding gown, headpiece or style.

The French Twist can be modified to look great on the Bride, the attendants or the mothers of the wedding couple.

I recently attended a wedding where the Bride, all of her attendants and her mother all had variations of the same French Twist. The result was stunning.

The photo shown here is an example of a classic Bridal French Twist. This example of a perfect Bridal Twist was taken from the July/August 1994 Bridal Guide.

Hair was created by Angel Torres. Hair color was done by Michelle Becking.

Classic Bridesmaid Twist With Flowers

This photo of the bridesmaid with a soft round French Twist was taken from the December 1998/January 1999 Bride’s magazine. The bridesmaid was part of a WTOO advertisement.

What struck me the most about this photo was the way that delicate sprigs of flowers were pinned strategically around the French Twist. The flowers give the dress the appropriate wedding feel.

Celebrity French Twists

Kirstie Alley wore a classic "big" French Twist her first season on television in Veronica’s Closet.

The red highlights in the bangs and at the crown turn Kirstie’s classic twist into a glamorous updo.

The highlights also have the advantage of adding a slimming quality to the face and attracts attention to Kirstie’s beautiful eyes.

The new temporary mascaras would be an excellent tool to try on a twist. Try painting some highlights around the bangs, temples and crown of your hair to jazz up your updo.

Jerry Hall (Mrs. Mick Jagger) often appears with her long locks rolled up into a classic Twist.

Jerry (shown here in the August 11, 1998 issue of the National Examiner) usually appears with sweeping bangs to soften the updo. Sometimes she will have a few strands pulled from the top of the twist and looped around the top of her crown to hide the opening of the twist.

The added loop of hair at the top of the French Twist gives the hairstyle an added touch of elegance.

Jerry doesn’t need to worry about having enough volume for her hair. Her normal hair is long and full and works nicely in the Twist updo.

As the photos demonstrates, Jerry’s twist looks fabulous with a gorgeous evening gown, beautiful jewelry and shiny blonde hair.


If you only master one updo in your entire life and it is the French Twist, you are basically set forever.

The French Twist is one of the most basic updos. A good basic Twist can be the foundation for a dressy updo adorned with flowers, jeweled hair sticks, or seasonal trinkets. The Twist can also be worn sleek and clean for a business look or messy and bold for more casual encounters.

I am sure that I did not find all the examples of French Twist versions that are out there. The way things go, I will definitely find another 10-15 the minutes this article is published.

This article on the French Twists is just the first in a long series of articles on Dressy Hairstyles. I can console myself with the idea that I can play catch up at the end of this series of articles.

If you happen to find any great French Twists that I forgot this time around, let me know and we can revisit this classic again down the road.

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Thank you for visiting us at The HairBoutique Blog and for leaving your comments. They are very much appreciated. We apologize in advance but must remove any direct advertisements or solicitations.

- Revised Publication Date: 08/08/11

If you want to talk more about this or other hair care articles on or anywhere else, please post a message on's Hair Talk Forums.

All of Karen’s styles for this article were created by Shelley Pryor.

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Please follow us on Twitter at: I look forward to meeting new people from all walks of Twitter and learning from their Tweets.

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