The Ponytail and Its History
Clinical Herbalist Reviewed on January 8, 2019 by Paulina Nelega, RH
Posted in Hair Care
Both women and men with long hair know the feeling of needing to get their hair off their face and quickly securing it into a ponytail with a hair tie.
In case you’re not familiar, a ponytail is a style in which hair is pulled back on the head and tied tightly with a hair tie. The ponytail can sit high on the head or low, near the nape of the neck. The style gets its name from its resemblance to the tail of a horse, or pony.
Although many people rock ultra-modern ponytails today, the ponytail is not a recent style by any means. In fact, the style has a rich history dating back thousands of years, although the name has not been around as long.
Ponytails throughout history
It is not well-known when the ponytail first originated, but we can see examples of the ponytail in art dating as far back as 1600 B.C.E. in Greek and Roman culture.
Moving throughout history, the ponytail remained a staple hairstyle for both men and women well into the 17th century. During this time, the male Manchu people located in Northeast China commonly wore a ponytail in a signature style—the hair at the top of the head would be grown out long and placed in a ponytail (and sometimes braided), while the front and sides were shaved.
Into the 18th century, it was extremely common to see European men—particularly military men—donning a “queue,” or ponytail, at the nape of their necks. Around 1800, the standards shifted, and men began shaving their hair shorter.
Around the same time, ponytails were actually uncommon for women. The hairstyle was deemed childish, so ponytails were typically only seen on young girls until the 20th century.
The ponytail went out of style in the western world until the 1950s, when Barbie and girly-girl fashion re-popularized the ‘do. By the 1960s, girls and women alike were donning high ponytails everywhere. It was also around this time that the word “ponytail” was truly recognized in everyday language.
From then on, ponytails were seen in modern fashion everywhere—mostly for women. Pop stars like Madonna popularized the ultra-high pony (one set at the very top of your head), and women around the globe began throwing back their hair for both formal events and everyday casual looks.
The modern ponytail
Today, you can see ponytails on both the red carpet and in the gym. The way ponytails are styled truly gives them the appropriate aesthetic for each event. Celebrities rock long, luxurious ponytails on stage or at galas, while busy women toss their hair up in messy ponytails to keep the hair off their face while still looking cute and put-together.
Men, too, have begun wearing ponytails again. The recent fad of long hair for men and the “man bun” have normalized high and low ponytails on men, where they would have been odd-looking 20 years ago.
Styling your perfect ponytail
Since ponytails are still all the rage, try out some of these gorgeous ponytail styles this year.
- Ultra-sleek: One of the most popular ponytail styles this year was the ultra-modern, ultra-sleek ponytail worn by so many A-list celebrities. To achieve the look, blow dry or straighten your hair (don’t forget heat protectant!) and comb your hair back into a tight, high ponytail. Make sure all your hairs are flat and you don’t have fly-aways by spritzing some hairspray onto a comb and running it over your scalp.
- Messy and loose: If you’re pressed for time and on-the-go, add some sea salt spray for texture and let your locks air dry. Then, flip your hair upside down and pull your hair back into a ponytail, finger-combing the strands back while leaving the ponytail loose. Once the ponytail is secured, gently pull on some of the strands at the top to make it even looser and pull some strands down to frame your face.
- Wrapped: If you can’t stand the look of a hair tie or want to take your ponytail to the next level, wrap your ponytail with a small section of hair. When pulling your hair up, leave a small section of hair loose just beneath the hair tie. Then, wrap that section of hair around the hair tie and secure the loose end with a bobby pin.
Although ponytails are super cute and easy to style, remember to let your hair hang loose and breathe a few days a week, as well. Regular ponytail wearing can cause hair to break, especially if the hair tie is too tight, resulting in frizz and fly-aways. Additionally, if you’re constantly pulling your hair back tightly, you might put yourself at risk for traction alopecia, or hair loss caused by excessive force on the hair follicle.
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Paulina Nelega, RH, has been in private practice as a Clinical Herbalist for over 15 years. She has developed and taught courses in herbal medicine, and her articles on health have appeared in numerous publications. She is very passionate about the healing power of nature. Ask Dr. Jan