By: Jacqueline Williams, Contributor
Ladies, we’ve all been in the situation where we’re at the salon and want box braids, but don’t know what size to request. We reluctantly tell our stylist a box braid size, but 30 minutes later, we take a braid from the back of our head and realize it’s not the size we wanted. Then, we begin the awkward conversation on re-clarifying our desired box braid size, and what to do with the 20 or so braids our braider has already done (keep them in, girl––you still got a long way to go).
When you get box braids, have your stylist do the very first braid in the *front* so you can see it and verify that it’s the size you want. Don’t let her go too far in without checking. It’ll save you time and a room filled with tension.
Box braids are a timeless, low-maintenance hairstyle you can wear year-round. They protect your natural hair from harsh weather conditions (we’re in the midst of a climate emergency after all), and are versatile enough for updos, buns, pigtails, faux hawks, or whatever style you’re feeling that day.
But there’s a lot of confusion on box braid sizes. What’s the difference between thin and small braids? How “chunky” are jumbo braids?
We all know size matters. Using the right box braid standards will help stylists give you more accurate information on how long the braiding process will take, how much it’ll cost, and prevent you from walking out of the salon disappointed.
So, we’ve laid out everything you need to know on box braid sizes––their pros and cons and the inside scoop to make sure your braids come out fabulous.
[Oh by the way 👋🏾, if you’re thinking about getting a protective style, our short film, Pretty Shouldn’t Hurt, is a must-watch. Also learn all about safe protective styling here.]
Micro Box Braids
Thin braids, a.k.a. micro braids are delicate, teeny-tiny singles, popularized in the 90s (think: Brandy in The Boy Is Mine). Thin braids can last up to three months, which out of all the braid sizes, is the longest time without having to go back to the salon––a gift in and of itself. Because of the smaller parting sections, you have more access to your scalp, allowing you to wash and moisturize your hair more thoroughly. Thin braids are also small enough to resemble your hair strands, perfectly complimenting more natural styling options.
The downside: these braids usually take between 9 – 12 hours or more and multiple braiders working on your head simultaneously to finish the look. A salon may split this time between 2 – 3 days, depending on their schedule. Because thin braids are so small and tightly woven, there’s a lot of tension on the edges of your hair, which, if not properly cared for, can thin and damage your hairline, causing traction alopecia. They’re also a pain to remove––several hours of unbraiding and detangling. Make sure you have a good show ready to binge-watch.
Thin braiding services usually start at $150 and can go up to $450*, a relatively reasonable price given how long the braids take to install. This price doesn’t include the hair you need, which will be between 4 – 5 packs of pre-stretched braiding hair for mid-back length.
[Alternatively you may want to go the crochet box braid route: No Cornrow Crochets: Do Your Box Braids This Way]
Small Box Braids
Small box braids are classy, practical, and can effortlessly highlight your facial features. These singles are about half the width of a pencil are larger than thin braids, so there’s less tension on your hair and scalp. If you have unprocessed hair, smaller box braids tend to grip and hold your hair in more tightly, so your natural hair won’t come out of the braid. They’re great for updos since more braids = more intricate styling. Because you’re able to put these braids into a bun or high ponytail easily, they’re a perfect choice if you hit the gym or work out frequently.
While small braids may have less tension on your scalp than micro braids, there’s still some strain that may thin your hairline if not installed or maintained correctly. They also take between 7 – 8 hours to install, a full workday, and a considerable time commitment.
Small box braids cost between $140 – $300* and the style can last up to two and a half months––an excellent option for you if you’re always on-the-go.
[Let’s make braids fun, how about: 20 Looks That Will Make You Rethink Unicorn Braids]
Medium Box Braids
Medium size box braids were put in the spotlight by the flawless Janet Jackson in the movie, Poetic Justice. Although she rocked them waist-length, medium size box braids look beautiful short or long and in all sorts of colors. There’s a lot of confusion about the size of medium box braids, but they’re usually around 10mm, the same width of a standard No. 2 pencil.
Medium box braids are easier and faster to install than thin and small size plaits. You still have several parted hair sections for similar attention-grabbing, versatile looks. Medium braids are also an ideal size for length retention. They don’t cause as much tension at your roots, and have enough parts so you can maintain a clean scalp.
This braiding option is similar in price to the smaller box braid sizes, costing between $125 – $265* but doesn’t last as long; usually about two and a half months. However, they will save you time–installation usually takes 5 – 7 hours. Use 9 – 11 single packs of pre-stretched braiding hair for mid-back length or simply get this pre-bundled pack from the Yeluchi line.
[You might also find this useful: Knotless Box Braids: What You Need to Know and this: Zoe Kravitz and The Goddess Box Braids Trend]
Large Box Braids
Large box braids offer a chic no-fuss braiding option that will make you stand out (in a good way!). Roughly the size of a marker, these statement braids are easy to do at home. DIYing allows you to save money, and change up your hair more frequently if you don’t want to keep the same look longer than a couple of months. If you don’t have a lot of time to get your hair done, large box braids only take 3-6 hours, significantly less than the smaller sizes.
With large parting sections, your scalp isn’t as accessible to clean and moisturize. These braids also don’t last as long, usually between 6 – 8 weeks. Big box braids typically cost $85 – $225*, and we recommend that you purchase 8 – 10 single packs of pre-stretched braiding hair for mid-back length or get this pre-bundled pack from the Yeluchi line.
Jumbo Box Braids
Sported by fashion icons like Teyana Taylor and Rihanna, jumbo braids provide the chunkiest, boldest look of the bunch. These standout plaits are about the size of two markers together. They use the most hair in your braid sections, allowing for a shorter braiding process––you only have to sit in the chair for 45 minutes – 3 hours. They’re easy to DIY, so you can change up your hairstyle often. They are incredibly low-maintenance because you have fewer braids to take care of and style. And these braids are trendy, stylish, and can level up any outfit.
Super-sized braids don’t last as long–-only up to 6 weeks. Again, you don’t have as much access to your scalp, so taking care of your natural hair may be difficult. And with fewer braids, there aren’t as many ways to style them. You should consider purchasing 7- 8 packs for mid-length jumbo braids and expect to pay between $65 – $175* for the braiding service.
A Note About The Size of Your Parts
Unsure how to take care of your braids? We’ve got tips on what you need to keep your braids looking fresh.
Box braids never go out of style. Now that you know the right box braid sizes, you can choose the braids (and parting!) that work best for you and the look you’re trying to achieve.
P.S. Looking for a hair braider that will come to your home? Check out Yeluchi.
*Prices were based on a small sample of braiders and salons in Oakland, New York City, and Atlanta.