A ponytail is a style of arranging hair that resembles the tail of a pony. It gets its name from its resemblance to the undocked tail of a horse or pony. A single ponytail is most commonly gathered at the center back of the head or the base of the neck. Depending on fashions, it may also be worn toward one side of the head (over one ear), or on the very top of the head (allowing the hair to fall down the back or one side of the head).
Historically in the Western world, the ponytail has been considered a very informal hairstyle for grown women, who were expected to maintain more elaborate or less visible coiffures. During the Georgian period, for example, an Englishwoman might consider a ponytail to be suitable for the boudoir, but not for going about in public. Today, women commonly wear their hair in ponytails in informal or office situations, but are still likely to choose a more elaborate style for a formal occasion.
However, ponytails have always been popular with school-aged girls for the style's ease, as a young girl can tie back her own hair long before she has learned how to plait it. A ponytail also displays the flowing hair that has been traditionally associated with youth, especially in eras when married women were expected to completely cover their hair or at least wear it "up" in a chignon or similar formation.
In the second half of the 18th century, most men in Europe and North America wore their hair long and tied back into what we would now describe as a ponytail, although it was sometimes gathered into a silk bag rather than allowed to hang freely. At that time, it was commonly known by the French word for "tail", queue. The hairstyle was mandatory in all European armies until the early 1800s, after most civilians had stopped wearing queues. The British Army was the first to dispense with it, and by the end of the Napoleonic Wars most armies had changed their regulations to make short hair compulsory.
During the 19th century and much of the 20th, Western men continued to wear their hair much shorter than women, making male ponytails impossible. In the 1960s, long hair returned as a fashion trend for young men, some of whom wore it in ponytails instead of in the loose, flowing style favored by most hippies.
In the late 1980s, a short ponytail was seen as an edgy, "in-your-face" look for men who wanted to stand out from the crowd while keeping most of their hair flat and functional. Steven Seagal's ponytail in "Marked for Death" is an example of such. Men who wear their hair long, or sometimes in mullets, now frequently tie it back into a ponytail, but avoid the top- or side-of-the-head variants.