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Salon 'braid bars' offer a quick twist to a long-lasting trend

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CHICAGO - A staple of the stylish grade-school set, braids have moved from the playground to the red carpet and now, local salons.

Salons from Los Angeles to New York and cities in between are weaving "braid bars" into their services, offering special menus of different braid styles for a fixed price.

Danielle Maddox, 25, a Chicago personal trainer, made an appointment at the Braid Bar at Maxine salon for a look to transition from work to a date night with her boyfriend. Stylist Cliff Freeman, who incorporates techniques from crochet and knitting classes into braids, twisted Maddox's hair into three French braids for a polished, finished look.

"It's nice to have a cute, low-maintenance style I can have for a couple days," Maddox said. "I can sleep on it."

Owner Maxine Kroll started offering the service in June after clients kept asking for braids. She transformed the retail area inside the salon's front door with a sleek white table and silver sign for her "bar."

Small containers on the table are filled with bobby pins, hair clips and rubber bands and sit next to hair spray and combs. A menu offers cord braids, French braids, waterfall braids and herringbone or fishtail braids.

Each service is $30, and clients are out of the chair in 30 minutes or less. The goal is to make a braid a fashion accessory, like a woman's shoes or purse, Kroll said.

"We can't escape it," she said. "It's in fashion. It's in Hollywood. It's in every magazine. There's going to be a braid in everything we look at for a while."

Starlets like Rihanna, Blake Lively, Jessica Alba, Lea Michele and Scarlett Johansson have been spotted recently sporting braids. Perhaps the most influential trendsetter, however, is "The Hunger Games'" fictional heroine Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence, who wears her hair in an intricate side braid throughout the film that was a huge springtime hit.

About a half-dozen dedicated stylists do between 40 and 50 braids a week at John Barrett Salon in New York. The salon opened its braid bar in June 2011 and offers a menu with nine braids. At first stylists at John Barrett thought the braid was just a fleeting trend or easy summer style, but then it blew up, salon spokeswoman Jenna Goldate said.

"Now we're really seeing it everywhere," Goldate said. "Everybody started to wear braids in more modern and different ways. It's not your traditional braid. It's a modern take on it."

Ivy Salon in Greenville, S.C., launched its braid bar the opening weekend of "The Hunger Games" in March. "The kickoff really and truly was 'The Hunger Games,' the Katniss braid, but I think that was just a rejuvenation of interest in braids," salon director Jayma Carter said. "It's taken off."

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