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A pop culture timeline of pigtails

From Britney’s ‘... Baby One More Time’, to Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad, we celebrate the childlike hairdo people love to hate

Beauty trends are constantly evolving: brows have got bushier, nails are longer, and hair clips have switched from childlike to cool kitsch. But there’s one aesthetic that hasn’t even slightly altered: pigtails. Not chic twin-ponytails that elegantly fall below your shoulder like a young Brigitte Bardot, we’re referring to the high bunches that poke out either side of your head like human ariel cables, AKA the hairstyle that’s adorable on toddlers.

Pigtails got their name centuries ago when people decided that a twist of tobacco resembled a pig’s tail, then soldiers and sailors began wearing a similar-looking hairstyle. Et voilà. Nowadays, few grown men style symmetrical ponytails, or women either. Because being an adult is very serious business, and hair sticking out both sides of your head apparently isn’t.

Society allocated them to children and it’s firmly stayed that way. In television, bunches consistently characterise kids – Angelica Pickles in Rugrats, Bubbles from The Powerpuff Girls, Sailor Moon, or Boo from Monsters Inc. However, thanks to the (high-key twisted) beauty ideal of infantilising women, the hairstyle has consequently generated a realm of iconic pop culture moments. 

Whether you’re disconcerted by an adult donning high pigtails, or the cutesy aesthetic is stamped on your memory like no other, bold bunches have helped girls-next-door gain stardom and reality stars hog headlines. We’re here to talk you through why and how since the 90s.

BABY SPICE, SPICE GIRLS (1995-2000)

In the mid-90s, a British girl band spiced up everyone’s lives serving five slices of female identity: Baby, Ginger, Scary, Sporty, and Posh. Youngest member Emma Bunton became Baby Spice aged 19, armed with blonde bunches. 

She embodied the ultimate girly-girl, twiddling her pigtails and swirling lollipops to Spice Girls’ sugary sweet pop songs, dressed in sequin babydoll dresses and clumsy platform shoes. The lyrics were far from dippy though, infused with girl power, proving pigtails can be feminist too.

But at the 2018 reunion, 43-year-old Bunton let her locks loose, ditching her trademark hairstyle. Bunches were for baby Bunton only, RIP.

BRITNEY SPEARS IN “... BABY ONE MORE TIME” (1998)

Sweet American 16-year-old Britney Spears released “... Baby One More Time” in 1997, then a year later her music video followed and made MTV history. Set in a school, Britney crafted her bubblegum pop persona with a tiny school skirt, tied-up shirt and cherry-red lip gloss. Her hairdo? High braided pigtails tied with pink fluffy scrunchies and ribbons.

She can take credit for reinforcing the problematic notion of the ‘sexy schoolgirl’, inspiring a domino effect of school music videos, and countless fancy dress costumes replicating her bunches. If you have a generic slutty school uniform, once you add high bunches, everyone knows you’re Britney.

FOOK MI AND FOOK YU, AUSTIN POWERS IN GOLDMEMBER (2002)

Austin Powers movies were famously soaked in sex. The third film’s cameo of Asian twins Fook Mi and Fook Yu wasn’t seen as offensive but instead iconic by the Asian-American actors, despite them being totally sexualised and stereotyped. With their matching super-cropped schoolgirl uniforms, Austin Powers-printed backpacks and high, streaked ponytails accessorised with pink fur-ball scrunchies, they emulated a twisted teenage fantasy. 

The bunches trigger sex-obsessed Powers to say things like: “You’re going the right way for a smacked bottom” and “Do you kiss your mother with that mouth” – camp, pervy humour to make you wince. But then again, it is just the most ridiculous movie of all time; we can move on.

PLAYBOY BUNNY KENDRA WILKINSON, THE GIRLS NEXT DOOR (2004-2009)

Playboy’s The Girls Next Door was a 00s guilty pleasure. Textbook attractive bunny girls were filmed living in Hef’s mansion home full of baby pink and platinum blonde hair. Kendra Wilkinson featured on the series’ debut alongside Holly Madison and Bridget Marquardt, and she sure loved pigtails. 

The hairdo accurately accessorised Wilkinson’s playmate character: adorable and innocently unintimidating, AKA AKA the perfect playgirl. When she found her hubby Hank Baskett in 2009 and took off her bunny ears, her playful pigtails got taken down a notch too. The higher your age, the lower your pigtails.

HARLEY QUINN, SUICIDE SQUAD (2016)

Female villains in comic books are basically fictional sex symbols, flaunting trademark bold beauty looks exuding loose sexuality. In Suicide Squad, Harley Quinn’s signature is her bubblegum blue and candy-floss pink high bunches, paired with a ’Daddy’s Girl’ tee, red lips and sparkling sequin hotpants. It’s not the steely appearance you’d envision on a serial murderer.

Films commonly style the most evil characters with innocent appearances, halting our natural instinct to believe everything beautiful is good. Hollywood bombshell Margot Robbie fiercely executes, “a whole lot of pretty and a whole lot of crazy” as Harley Quinn, assisted by the power of pert pigtails. 

Standalone film Birds of Prey has the villain as the lead and is released in February 2020. This time Quinn’s bunches are shorter, maybe she’s gotten crazier...

ANGIE BOWIE, CELEBRITY BIG BROTHER UK, SERIES 17 (2016)

An open marriage with David Bowie hinted at Angie Bowie’s eccentricity, but her appearance on Celebrity Big Brother confirmed it when the 66-year-old committed to high twin pigtails – on that iconic series where Tiffany Pollard mistakenly thought David Gest had died when Bowie sadly passed. 

Bowie sometimes went glam with chic black ribbons and however she wore them, bunches consistently characterised her kooky vibe for the short time she lasted in CBB, before quitting due to illness. 

Sometimes her hairbands didn’t even match either, because when you’re wearing pigtails 60 years after society’s wear-by date, you probably don’t care what other people think anyway. You do you, Ange.

KATE GARRAWAY, I’M A CELEBRITY GET ME OUT OF HERE, SERIES 19 (2019)

Kate Garraway usually models a pristine blow dry perched next to Ben Shepherd when presenting Good Morning Britain. So when she arrived on I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here and tied her hair into wonky pigtails to jump off a boat – a look which instantly became her go-to hairstyle – the nation descended into confused chaos. 

Some people obsessed over 52-year-old Garraway’s adorable appearance, other people fucking hated it and just wanted the sleek hairstyle that they always relied on to start the day right back. But as the series progressed, she became a sweet, genuine mum to the camp, so everyone eventually accepted the look that resembled a child after a long day at school. Good job, Garraway.