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.
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.