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What is a Pigtail?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A pigtail is a hair style which is commonly worn by young girls or by women who are trying to achieve a “cute” look which suggests youth and innocence. Historically, the pigtail was actually originally worn by men as a practicality, to keep long hair out of the way during routine tasks, but over time, it has come to be associated specifically with women. As a result, pigtails on men sometimes seem jarring or unexpected, except in certain cultural contexts.

The original pigtail was actually a twisted chunk of tobacco, which resembled the stiff and curled tail of a pig. In 1753, soldiers and sailors began referring to long plaits as pigtails, and the hairstyle was even adopted as part of the official uniform on some ships and in some armed forces. The pigtail was classically a single plait worn down the back, and it was also known as a queue. Some queues had ends which were “clubbed” by tucking the extra hair back in to create a smooth end without protruding strands of hair, and the hair might be oiled before braiding to ensure that the braid stayed tight.

The original pigtail was actually just a twisted bunch of tobacco.
The original pigtail was actually just a twisted bunch of tobacco.

Over time, people began to refer to braids on young girls as “pigtails.” Classically, children's pigtails included two plaits, one on either side of the head. The tightness of the braiding would cause the braid to stand out slightly from the head, increasing the resemblance to the tail of a pig. The queue was also associated with many parts of China, and some Native American tribes.

The traditional pigtail style is very easy to create, although it does take some practice. Skilled braiders can even put pigtails in their own hair, relying on their coordination to keep the tension high so that the braids do not become loose. Pigtails may also be dressed up slightly by being prepared as French or fishtail braid styles, to make them more visually interesting. People can also braid in ribbons, strands of beads, and other ornaments.

Some people mistakenly refer to bunches of hair secured with an elastic as “pigtails.” Properly, this unbraided hairstyle is a ponytail or bunch, not a pigtail, because no plaiting is involved. Unlike a true pigtail, it tends to be slightly less practical, because it does not tuck the hair up tightly so that it cannot get in the way. Instead, the hair falls freely from the ponytail, where it may tangle readily and fall into the face, posing an annoyance.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a BeautyAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


@tolleranza - I think you should! As far as style goes, I think certain outfits and settings go better with pigtails than others, but who knows where you wear your pigtails and how you wear your pigtails might just be the next trend!

I used to wear bun-like pigtails at the halfway point on my head and I loved it (I let the rest of my shoulder length hair hang). I had never seen anybody else wear pigtails like that, and was a little unsure at first about them, but I ended up receiving compliments for them.

I might be naive, but I think people always appreciate if you are trying to take care of your appearance and if you are trying something new.


Do you think there is ever an age when you should not wear pigtails? I know you should do whatever you like and whatever makes you feel comfortable, but I am horrible with fashion and style and I thought I should take it as a cue that no one my age was wearing pigtails any longer for any occasion.


I have found that braided pigtails are an easy, no-fuss look for the pool and it has it functional aspect to of not getting tangled as my long hair sometimes does in the pool.

Then there is the added bonus of the fact they look great with a wide brim straw hats (which in my opinion don't ever go out of style).

And to finally top off my love of the pigtail braids is that when you take them out you have a nice curly tousled look to your hair.


When I went to the drive-through at my favorite fast food restaurant, the lady that hands out the food was wearing pigtails. They looked really cool on her. I believe that her hair was naturally curly, because you could see a wavy texture throughout her braids.

She had made two french braid pigtails close to her head. She then looped the ends back up toward the braids and secured them somehow, perhaps with bobby pins.

I thought it was a great idea for her to wear her hair like this to keep it out of people’s food. It’s a great alternative to hair nets.


Though I like to make my hair wavy by wearing pigtails overnight, I find that if I braid them while my hair is very damp, they will never dry. Because of this, I blow-dry my hair almost totally. Then, I add a bit of mousse to it.

Next, I make three french braids. I braid the two on the sides of my head first, making sure to aim them back behind my ears so that I can sleep on them comfortably. Then, I braid the third one down the back of my head. Because I have separated the hair into three equal chunks, the bulk of the back braid is low enough to let me lay comfortably on it.

I find that making french braid pigtails works better than straight pigtails for making waves. This is because it involves all the hair, right up to the scalp.


I have a male friend with waist-length hair who likes to wear a pigtail. His is reminiscent of the ones worn long ago by soldiers. He wears his hair like that because he paints houses for a living, and this style keeps him from getting paint in his hair.

His hair is brown interspersed with silver streaks, which makes for an interesting braid. He gathers it in an elastic as if to make a ponytail, but then he braids the length of it all the way to the ends and secures it with another elastic.


Pigtails are convenient to wear while working outdoors in the heat. I like to put my hair in pigtails in the summer while I weed the garden. I do it a certain way so that the wind cannot pull pieces of my hair out of the braids.

Starting on the right side of my head, I gather three small chunks of hair. The first piece is the one right next to my face where bangs would be if I had any. The second and third are on the crown.

With these small chunks, I work my way downward and toward the back of my head, french braiding as I go. I end up with a pigtail that fits snugly behind my ear and extends to my shoulders. When I’m done with the right side, I do an identical one on the left.


I remember the hardest part about getting your hair to look good in pigtails, is to get the part straight. This is a lot easier if you have someone else do it for you, but with practice, you can get a straight part.

I have very straight hair and often wanted some wave to my hair. Many times I would braid my hair in pigtails while it was still damp and let it dry that way.

When I removed the pigtails, I would have a nice wave to my hair.


When I am going on a motorcycle trip, I still like to wear my hair in pigtails. This is the best way I have found to keep it from blowing in my face and eyes.

It doesn't take long to braid the sections of hair and keep them out of the way. If I want to take a bit longer, I will sometimes do a French braid. But the quickest and easiest way is to divide each section in three parts and make a quick braid.

This is the only time I will wear my hair in pigtails anymore, but remember wearing it like this a lot when I was growing up.


As a young girl, I remember standing still as my mother carefully parted my hair and then braided each section into a pigtail. This probably did not take as long as it seemed to while I was standing there waiting for her to finish.

Many times she would finish with a ribbon tied around the bottom of each pigtail. It was a nice way to keep my long hair out of my face and from getting tangled.


@ceilingcat - Pigtails sound like they would be all right for waitressing, especially since it sounds like you were younger at the time.

I really think pigtails are kind of inappropriate for an adult woman though. They just make the woman look like she's trying too hard to be "cute" if you know what I mean. There are plenty of flattering updo's and other styles that keep the hair out of the way. Let's just leave the pigtails for young girls!


When I was a waitress I used to wear my hair in pigtails sometimes. We were required to put our hair up and I would get tired of just putting it up in a ponytail.

At that time, my hair was very long so I had a lot of hair to work with. Sometimes I would do regular pigtails, other time I would do french braids. I actually did try out the fish tail style a few times, but I was never able to get the hang of it!


One of the things I love using pigtails for is a way to make my hair go wavy naturally. I usually put pigtails in before bed while my hair is still damp from the shower and let them dry overnight.

When I wake up and free my hair from the pigtails the hair comes out in large waves. With a bit of styling and brushing you can really get that sexy bedhead look that a lot of celebrities have been sporting.

A good idea if you have really wet hair is to put a towel down on your pillow before you sleep. This will keep you from getting your bedding damp and making mold appear.


For those who enjoy exercising true pigtails can be a perfect way to style your hair before a long workout. While a ponytail is much faster, I find it doesn't really keep your hair out of the way entirely, and sweat also seems to get on your hair.

With proper plaited pigtails I feel like your hair is much more secure and is better kept away from the sweat on your neck. Plus, there is the bonus of pigtails looking nicer and more put together. Anyone can bunch their hair up with an elastic, but the plaited braids really show that you care about your appearance, even when working out.

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    • The original pigtail was actually just a twisted bunch of tobacco.
      By: Klaus Eppele
      The original pigtail was actually just a twisted bunch of tobacco.