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What is a Rattail?

James Franklin
James Franklin

A rattail is a hairstyle in which a lock of hair is left longer in the back, extending near or below the collar. First popularized in the mid-1980s, the rattail went out of fashion by the 1990s. Still, it has lingered in pop culture and has long been associated with stereotypes of poor, white North Americans.

Some cultural observers classify the rattail as a type of mullet. Both hairstyles are often closely trimmed at the top and sides of the head. The mullet, however, features long hair throughout the lower back of the head that extends like a hairy curtain toward the collar. The rattail is a more slender, discrete growth of hair, usually sprouting from the middle of the back of the head amid hair that has been cut much shorter.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

In the 1980s, rattail wearers used the hairstyle to express themselves with surprising diversity. Many dyed their rat tails different colors to make the long locks more prominent, and others curled, braided or wove them into dreadlocks. Some even augmented their rat tails with weaves to make them longer.

At its height of popularity, the rattail transcended racial and cultural boundaries. Skateboarders often wore them, as did punks who sometimes shaved their heads except for long, aggressive rat tails. The style even took root — briefly -— in hip-hop culture following the 1988 Eddie Murphy movie “Coming to America,” in which the comedian played an African prince whose rattail is part of his national and cultural identity.

As it faded from style, the rattail became more synonymous with poor whites. An example of this is a 1998 episode of “The Simpsons” entitled “Bart Carney,” in which the Simpson family runs afoul of a conniving carnival worker and his bumpkin son, who has a prominent rattail. An Internet search of rattail will produce numerous mocking tributes with words such as “redneck” and “poor white trash” featured with pictures of the infamous hairstyle.

Although it has become much rarer, the rattail has continued to make unexpected appearances in pop culture. In the “Star Wars” prequels, young Jedi apprentices sported rattails that distinguished them from other children who did not enjoy special connection with the mystical Force. Rattails are sometimes seen on Japanese Manga characters drawn with more bizarre and outré hairstyles. Basketball player Alando Tucker grew a rattail while playing for the Phoenix Suns, but he noted that he did so only because he lost a bet.

Discussion Comments


@perdido: That's a sad story, mostly because it shows how stupid people can be just because of some hair. If they can't accept someone just because of their hair, why would you want to be friends with them anyway?


My brother and most of his friends were skateboard dudes, and most of them had a rattail. I always wondered if they thought the girls would think they were cool, or if they just liked that look.

None of them seemed to keep a girlfriend for very long, so I don't think it was something the girls liked very well. I know I never dated a guy that had a rattail.

There also seems to be some kind of attitude that often goes along with this style. It always depends on who is wearing it and the reason they have a rattail, but there just seems to be a different attitude that goes along with it.

Does anybody else think this is true, or am I just imagining it?


I still see men wearing rattails from time to time. We belong to a motorcycle club, and there are several men who have had rattails for many years.

One guy finally cut his off and had his hair cut into a nice style. The next time I saw him I hardly recognized him. It gave him such a different look, and I thought he was much more handsome than he was when wearing a rattail.

For men who have had rattails for a long time, it must be similar to a woman who has had long hair all of her life. It can be a major event to cut it and change your look that drastically.

Most of the time the results are really great, and they wonder what took them so long to finally make the change.


I never liked the rattail look - whether it was male or female. I can see why girls who wore rattails were given a hard time. I never understood why they chose to wear their hair in a way that set them so much apart from everyone else.

My brother thought these were pretty cool and wore one for a few years. When we got in a fight about something, I was always tempted to sneak in his room while he was sleeping and cut off his rattail.

I never did it, but was tempted to many times. When we were older, I mentioned this to him once and he started laughing. If I had really done it when we were kids, he wouldn't have been laughing.

Now he just shakes his head and wonders why he thought wearing a rattail was so cool.


@seag47 – Your man's rattail, though complicated, sounds better than my brother's was back in the day. We all begged him not to do it, but he totally shaved all the other hair off his head and kept one little tail.

It looked really odd. To make it even more conspicuous, he wrapped it in rattail ribbon. So, in addition to having out of place hair coming out the back of his bald head, he had colorful ribbon to draw even more attention to it.

He was in a band, and he felt like it gave him a sense of identity. He thought that being a musician meant you had to stand out with your hairstyle, and in that, he succeeded.


I remember dating a guy with a rattail many years ago. He kept the top part of his hair about a half inch tall and spiky, and he kept the area from his ears down shaven so close that you could only see a bit of stubble.

The rattail jutted out from the midst of this close shaven area. It was thicker than just a few strands, so he kept it in a ponytail.

Thinking back on it, his hair seemed really confused. It didn't have a cohesiveness to it at all. At the time, though, I thought it was so cool and he seemed so stylish.


I thought it was really ugly when a girl would have a rattail. My best friend had just transferred to my school from one in a neighboring county, and she made the mistake of having her hair cut short with a rattail before coming to her new school.

It looked terrible. It took away her femininity, and many of the kids couldn't tell if she was a boy or a girl, because we were in middle school.

She didn't make many friends, and everyone always remembered her as the girl with the rattail. I think if she had come in with a normal hair style, she could have avoided this and lived a pretty normal school life.


I was growing up in the 80s, and I never liked this hairstyle. I didn't think it was cool or stylish at all, though several boys in my grade were sporting it.

They thought they were awesome. It was funny how the rattail gave them some sort of heightened confidence. Many of them even got a little cocky once they got the hairdo.

Most of them had their rattails cut off within a year or so. This trend just seemed destined for failure. Even the kids who loved it didn't hang onto their rattails for very long. When something is so stylized, it usually fades fast.


@ElizaBennett - Oh my goodness, I had forgotten about those rattails they wore! The late 80s/early 90s sure were a classy era, weren't they? NKOTB still tour, I think, or at least some of them do. Maybe a nostalgia thing? Or maybe they have new nine-year-old fans? I remember every girl in my third grade had her own favorite (mine was Donny Wahlberg).

For my money, here's the best thing about the rattail hairstyle: it is easy to just cut it off!


Oh, this brings back memories! My little brother used to wear one of these in the mid- to late 80s. And, of course, there were the New Kids on the Block. I can't remember if they all had rattails, or just one or two of them. I actually had a New Kid on the Block doll - I think it was Joe. Years later, I found it when I was cleaning up for a yard sale. It was the rattail that clued me in that I was looking at an NKOTB, not Ken doll!

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