From a cultural statement, to associations with ‘female innocence’ – and later, its repurposing as a feminist weapon – the ponytail has over time developed a whole host of different meanings. Its complex and often, contradictory symbolism is perhaps why it continues to remain such a popular hairstyle.
The tight ponytail dates all the way back to the pre-17th century with the Manchu people. They wore what was known as a ‘queue’ – in other words, the hair on top of their head was grown long and tied into a long tail at the back, whilst the hair at the front of the scalp was shaved off. Under Manchu rule, the Han Chinese men were forced to adopt this hairstyle as a sign of their subordination to Manchu culture.
The power pony for one, championed by Madonna during her Blonde Ambition tour back in 1990, played with people’s understanding of female sexuality, power and gender. The simple measure of pulling hair away from the face was in itself symbolic: fashion now included practicality into its appeal.
Fast forward to present day and high ponytails have become somewhat ubiquitous across popular culture. Far from its 50s, 60s ‘girly’ and unkept connotations, the noughties and tens have proven the ponytail is as much about practicality as it is haute couture. Note, Naomi Campbell walking the Versace and Chanel shows and more recently, Beyonce’s tower high pony at the Met.