A ponytail is a unisex style of wearing long hair where the hair is pulled straight back and bound near the scalp with a band or beret, letting the hair fall, resembling the tail of a pony. It is an attractive and functional hairstyle that keeps the hair out of the face during daily activities, sports, and in other circumstances where having long hair is temporarily inconvenient. It is also an extremely versatile hairstyle and can be elegant, making different fashion statements depending on where it is banded at the scalp.
Generally a standard ponytail is secured just above the nape of the neck for women, and at or below the nape for men, but this is not a hard and fast rule. It has also been fashionable for women with extremely long hair to band the hair much lower near the shoulders or shoulder blades.
An extremely high ponytail stands out from the back of the head and is associated with a more youthful statement, popular among elementary girls including cheerleaders, band and drill team members. The tail can also be banded off to one side for a more whimsical look. If the hair is parted down the back, two ponytails can be made, one on each side, high at the head. In very small children, parents often curl the tails, giving rise to the name pigtails.
The ponytail has also been worn by men throughout history in periods when long hair was either in fashion or was simply the norm. In Colonial times when men wore elaborate powdered wigs, the wigs often culminated in a ponytail or braid. More recently in the 1960s ponytails were popular among hippies in the U.S. as long hair became a political statement of rebellion against the conservative ruling class that birthed the unpopular Vietnam war and fueled class distinctions in the heated civil rights movement.
Today, professional men who prefer long hair will often wear a ponytail at work to assume a more clean-cut look. It is also commonplace in the health care and food industries as a way to keep the hair back and out of the way. When handling small children or babies who might pull at the hair, when riding in a convertible or boat, or when doing any type of work that requires bending over such as construction, ponytails are often the hairstyle of choice for people with long hair.
While women can wear a ponytail to a formal occasion, it is usually considered more casual fashion statement and might not be the best choice, though it is acceptable for men in a formal setting. A black-tie event might call for a woman to wear something more elegant, such as a French twist, bun, or wrapped braid, though a ponytail can also be acceptable depending on the overall effect.
A braid is basically a ponytail that has been divided into two or more tails that are interwoven to form one thick tail. The advantage of a braid is that it is neater and will keep the hair more contained. It will also keep it from tangling in windy conditions, and can be easier for activities like swimming or skiing where a ponytail might swing over the shoulder and temporarily interfere with vision.