Everyone loves a good braided hairstyle. Which is why we were psyched to spend a few hours at the John Barrett Braid Bar with hairstylist and braid expert Halli Bivona. To get us in the holiday-party spirit, Bivona created a gorgeously messy fishtail braid that was the perfect mix of feminine, casual and trendy.

“The Barrett philosophy is that we should always notice your face rather than your hair,” John Barrett himself explained to us. “So I think that this is just a beautiful embellishment for yourself.” He adds: “I always believe it should never be too structured. So if you do it yourself and it looks kind of imperfect or messed up, that’s even better.”

To rock this messy fishtail, Bivona recommends pairing it with a high neck dress, or anything that has lace on it. “This is a look that works well if you’re feeling a bit sweeter,” she adds, which means it also goes great with very feminine styles like florals and pastels.

Ready to give it a go? Bivona breaks down how to get this perfectly imperfect messy braid:

Step 1

Step 1: Add extra texture to your hair using either a dry texturizing spray or hairspray. “Sometimes if it’s already day-old hair, it’ll have that grit and texture on its own,” Bivona says. But if your hair lacks texture to begin with, anything that adds texture will give you a better base for the braid. Bivona recommends Shu Uemura Art of Hair Sheer Lacquer or Texture Wave.

Step 2

Step 2: Use a 1.5-inch barrel curling iron to curl your whole head, 2-inch sections at a time. “That’s going to give you some volume and really loose texture that really gives the braid its messiness,” says Bivona. Don’t focus on making the curls too uniform—it’s actually better to make the sections a little uneven since this look is all about looking perfectly imperfect. If you have naturally wavy or curly hair, wrap a curling iron (without using the clamp) or wand around the hair following its natural bend to simply enhance and define it.Step 3: Spray again with hairspray or texturizing spray. Flip your head over and tousle your hair to add, again, more texture and volume. A trick to getting the most out of your hairspray: “Go in and scrunch the hair while the spray is still damp,” Bivona suggests, “because that’s going to add an extra kink.”

Step 4

Step 4: The next step is to tease your hair at the root. “The key is just getting as much texture into your hair as possible,” Bivona notes, so just focus on teasing right at the base to provide the most volume. Use a fine-toothed comb or a teasing brush. To tease: Put the comb in at the midway point, and then push down, packing hair tightly. Then go into that knot that you just created and push down again. “That’s what’s going to create a nice tight tease.”

Step 5

Step 5: Push all of your hair over to one side—if you have a side part, gather hair on the opposite side. Gathering hair from the back, twist it all right behind the ear and secure with bobby pins. A fun extra detail, this also acts as an anchor for the whole braid.

Step 7

Step 7: Now you’re ready to braid! Split your hair into two big sections. With your index fingers, take a small (1/4-1/2-inch) section from underneath on both sides, and loop over to create an X in between the big sections. Continue doing this until you’ve created a fishtail braid all the way down, stopping when you have an inch or two left. Again, keep things a little on the messy side. “A lot of times with the fishtail braid, the key is to be perfect, but since this is in essence a messy braid, you don’t want the sections perfect,” says Bivona.

Step 8

Step 8: Secure with a small clear elastic band. Leave a small section out in the back and wrap that around the clear elastic after you’ve tied the ends to cover it. Move the knot up and down to make sure it’s cmpletely covered.

Step 9
Step 9: Mess it up more. Pull the braid apart a bit, letting small pieces fall out. If you have layers, pieces will naturally poke out and add to the undone look. Finish off with more hairspray and a few spritzes of a shine spray (she loves Shu Uemera Art of Hair Essence Absolue) to add a little extra oomph.