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A ponytail is a simple hairstyle for long or mid-length hair, commonly employed for its convenience and ease of styling. In its basic form, a ponytail is created by pulling some or all of an individual’s hair into a bunch, which is then secured close to the skull with a barrette, “scrunchie”, or other implement, a process which for the experienced takes but seconds. The hair is thus bound in a form that resembles an equine tail, inspiring the name, and does not interfere with vision or other activities. As curly hair can tangle when pulled together and may not hang “right”, ponytails may be easier to affect with straight hair, though anyone with hair of sufficient length should be able to wear one, figuring out what works best for them.

The ponytail is usually secured at the back of the head, somewhere between the base and crown of the skull, and the choice of location affects the overall appearance. Ponytails high on the head bounce and swing more easily when moving, and are considered more “sporty” and youthful. Lower ponytails, or ponytails with enough hair that weight and inertia become significant factors, tend to lie still more, and are often seen as more adult and “serious”. Of course, other placements are possible – the “pigtail” style, with two ponytails on either side of the head, is common among young girls, and a single asymmetrical ponytail on the side of the head was briefly popular in America in the 1980s. Unusual styles tend to be associated with youthfulness and individuality. The ponytail also serves as the basis of more advanced styles like the English and French braids, which take more time and care to create and maintain, but can give off an air of refinement or exoticism.

In much of the western world in the recent past, the practice among the upper classes, and thus the fashion “ideal”, was for men’s hair to be worn short and women’s hair long. As such, the style is (decreasingly) often considered a specifically female fashion. (This is not, of course, a universal conception, as the “queue” style common among Chinese males in the Qing Dynasty demonstrates.) This has not prevented men with shoulder-length or longer hair from taking advantage of the utility of a ponytail, but the relatively recent shift in hair lengths, mostly conducted along generational lines, leaves the male ponytail with significant age-related connotations. A man in or before his early thirties with a ponytail is increasingly considered unremarkable, but older men sporting the style are frequently considered to be asserting some sort of claim on youthfulness, and judged on how well it synchs with the rest of their personality. Older men who have retained the playfulness, independence, and vigor of youth can usually wear a ponytail to good effect, and the figure of the friendly old hippie with a graying ponytail is familiar to many. On the other side of the coin, a man with a ponytail who otherwise comes off as somber, self-absorbed, “sold out” or excessively professional (even in creative professions like advertising or entertainment) will frequently be thought of as unhip, trying too hard, incapable of coming to terms with his aging, and may be dismissed as going through a midlife crisis. Many consider the wearing of ponytails by balding men as especially pathetic.

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