Gabrielle Union Is The Queen Of Chic Protective Hairstyles — Consider This Proof

Box braids, spring twists, and everything in between.

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Gabrielle Union box braids half-up bun

Gabrielle Union has been a beauty icon from the instant she found teen stardom in the ‘90s, but there’s one particular area in which she really shines — glamorous hairstyles. It’s hard to keep up with the star’s never-ending parade of chic looks, which, more often than not, include some variation on a classic protective style. The actor and entrepreneur seems to be particularly fond of all-timers like cornrows and box braids, but she always finds a new way to put her own unique spin on them. Union’s protective hairstyles are not only a testament to her timeless sense of style, but serve as a constant source of inspiration.

Protective hairstyles are both an age-old method for shielding natural hair from damage and an ideal, wearable conduit for self-expression. “The importance and significance of protective styles can be dated far back to our ancestors,” Naeemah Lafond, celebrity and editorial hairstylist, told TZR. “The braids, twists, weaves, and wigs we wear hold as much cultural, social, and personal significance now as they did then. It’s more than a hairstyle, it’s a statement, one that says that we are free to express ourselves, embrace our culture, and wear our crowns as we see fit.”

Union has never shied away from an opportunity to express herself with an array of creative protective hairstyles, whether she’s strolling the beach or posing on the red carpet. Ahead, get a look at some of her best looks — so far — and get ready to soak up the inspiration.

Braids Ponytail


Union is a standout at every event she attends, but she arrived at the Burberry Spring/Summer 2024 show looking next-level. Her long, waist-length ponytail splits into a trio of thick braids, all equally sleek and shiny.

Half-Up Braids Bun


For a chic twist on box braids, Union stunned in this half-up bun. Though this photo was taken before she slipped into her sleek black gown, the style was for her friend’s wedding in which she was a bridesmaid. The wrapped-around bun is so sleek and polished, while the loose curls through her ends are bouncy and fun.

Braid-Wrapped Updo


Sculptural, structured, and very sultry with a few long curls grazing her cheekbones, Union’s sky-high bun is one of the most casually cool styles in her arsenal. Look carefully and you’ll notice her box braids were sectioned out and carefully wrapped around each other.

Bantu Knots


Simple, chic, and easy on the hair, Bantu Knots are a forever celebrity favorite for a reason. Union’s version features three loosely-coiled large knots concentrated across the front of her head — all the better for sleeping comfortably — perched above perfectly-arched brows.

Fulani Braids

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Look closer at Union’s glossy Fulani braids — do you see what she’s woven into the trademark front pieces? That’s a tiny leather cord wrapped around them that add so much extra shine, dimension, and texture. Even a simple hair accessory can make this major of an impact when incorporated so seamlessly.

Extra-Long Feed-In Braids

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Union had no choice but to bring her A-game while in Milan for Fashion Week, and her extra-long feed-in braids certainly delivered. The two jumbo pigtail braids — made from combining several individual straight-back braids — fell to the star’s mid-thigh, successfully amping up the drama of her midriff-baring ensemble.

Classic Box Braids


Leave it to Union to make simple box braids look like something completely new. These vacation photos are further proof that you can never go wrong with this classic protective style — so ethereal and elegant.

Spring Twists

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Union has worn her new spring twists so many ways already but these half-up space buns are such a playful variation on the flowing protective style. Just a day later, she transformed them again with a sporty ponytail to throw out a ceremonial first pitch.


Box Braid Bun Hybrid


When it comes to dramatic ponytails, Union’s sky-high braided pony in Paris is undoubtedly one of the best the world has ever seen. The style was secured at the top of her head and wrapped with hair-tie-concealing bits of braid for a combo ponytail-bun effect that’s ultra-chic.

Jumbo Braids


These jumbo braids are not only so pretty and feminine, but they can easily be taken from casual to glam — or, in the case of these enviable private jet selfies, both. Crucially, her strong, healthy edges are so artfully swooped that they add an entirely new dimension to the classic look.

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