It was once a symbol of protest. The student revolution of the ’60s included beaded necklaces, batik kurtas, peace medallions – and the way men grew their hair long, tying it up in a ponytail.
Adman Prahlad Kakkar lived through this phase. "I went for it because it was a sign of rebellion, a way of being different." Now however, Kakkar observes, it’s a casual thing to do – even in corporate setups. But is the ponytail a mass craze? Hardly, say experts. There’s a specific personality associated with the ponytail. So who is the man who wears one, and what makes the ponytail so alluring?
If Kakkar’s ponytail was considered a sign of rebellion, the statement that Shoubhik Das, a PhD student in English Literature at Jawarharlal Nehru University, Delhi, is making is about masculinity. “There’s an association of strength and valour to it, and that’s why I decided to have it,” he says. “It also goes with my personality: my field of study, my work, and the fact that I ride a bike.” That is hardly surprising: history has never been short of long-haired men.
The cropped look for men is a relatively recent phenomenon. But today, the idea that a man might have a ponytail makes the man very ‘creative’ indeed. You can never really refer to male ponytails as a trend – for the simple reason that the look works only with a certain personality. Not always with the way a man looks, but with his identity.
Since it’s associated with creativity these days, the ponytail is usually seen on men in advertising and media – or in some field of entertainment. Musician Abhay Sopori says it wasn’t something he did consciously. “I just didn’t cut my hair for a while. People had mentioned that a ponytail or long hair would suit me, and when I tried it out – it did,” he says. But not every man can carry off a ponytail, says stylist and Brunch columnist Yatan Ahluwalia. That’s because the shape of the face, strength of the jaw, size of the nose and ears and so on, matter.
“You have to see that it goes with who you are,” says Shoubhik Das. “Long hair doesn’t suit everybody, not even all women. There are women, just as there are men, who look better with short hair.”
Perhaps Shoubhik is right, because these days, we rarely see men with lean builds wearing a ponytail. It’s the heavy, muscular face that’s accentuated, with the hair thrown behind into a tiny bun. But fashion designer Rocky S thinks ponytails on men look attractive and stylish if cared for correctly. “Long hair can be highly noticeable, and sought after – especially if you are in the fashion industry where people are open to experimenting with their looks,” he explains.
But the ponytail’s not just reserved for men who are into rock and roll, adds the designer. “It can also be appropriate for an office setting. It may look edgy or seen as fashion forward,” Rocky says.
That suits Riju, a professional in the urban development and NGO sector. For him, long hair is a sensual experience. “It smells and feels great after you wash it,” he explains. “It started with simple laziness in getting a haircut and now I’ve fallen in love with my long hair.”
But given the kind of work he does, Riju’s ponytail can make life difficult. Especially since he travels to small towns where people still find it ‘alien’.
“This happens even in Delhi. In localities like old Delhi, there are a lot of heads turning,” observes Riju. “So I might need to trim it. Looking alien when I’m interacting with people from different communities and backgrounds may become a difficulty in my job.”
Definitely, long hair is out of the question in certain industries where the short and cropped look suggests greater efficiency and integrity. Some industries are open to the idea, though, says Gopal Vijayaraghavan, a 27-year-old managing engineer who works with Yahoo! in Bangalore. “The tech industry is growing to accept the look much more today, and I face no problems with my ponytail,” he says. “I believe that things are changing.”
Bollywood hasn’t been short on the ponytail look. Here are some stars who’ve experimented with their hair. The idea of a ponytail caught singer and composer Leslie Lewis’s fancy while he was in London.
“I was working with Hariharan in Colonial Cousins then, and spotted this trend while I was there,” he says. “Choosing to have a ponytail has nothing to do with your work or with trying to make a style statement; it’s just something that goes with your individuality.”
Actor Shah Rukh Khan had a ponytail in the film Paheli – and also wore one for real two or three years ago. Actor Aamir Khan’s hair was profuse when he filmed The Rising. Actors Arjun Rampal, Salman Khan and Hrithik Roshan followed, all for their films.
Hr vs hair
If you want a ponytail, you’d better check your company’s dress code first, says HR professional Aparna Verma.“The ponytail is a strict no-no in the financial, banking and investment banking sectors,” she explains.
“The look is seen as hugely individualistic, and the financial sector does not endorse that. I don’t think someone would be able to trust you in terms of money if you carry that kind of look.”
In the FMCG sector, where Verma works, she says it’s more relaxed. “But even traditional organisations in the FMCG sector feel it’s important to keep a certain image.” In the media and advertising sectors, it is almost a statement. “You’ve got to look creative there.”