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Coquette hair Kristen bateman bows ribbons
Courtesy of Kristen Bateman

Coquette hair: Why ‘girly’ pigtails are everywhere right now

Girlish hair like pigtails, bows and braids are having a resurgence, as people embrace – and challenge – traditional ideas of femininity

Coquette hair is literally everywhere you look. On TikTok and on the streets, people have been sporting bows of all types and grungy pigtails in their hair. The trend has been popularised by the ubiquitous #balletcore trend, but even Chanel gave the models in its AW22 couture show big bows (a look they’ve been touching on since the 90s) while messy pigtails appeared at Dior SS23 with sickly sweet babydoll dresses. It’s also been seen on the red carpet where Elle Fanning, Joey King and Dove Cameron dipped their toes into the aesthetic. And, at least here in New York, you can’t walk down the street without seeing someone in pigtails or bows. Designers like Simone Rocha and Sandy Liang are also shepherding these styles, as they both look at fashion through a new kind of female gaze. 

Some argue that these hairstyles signal a reclamation of the hyper-feminine. “I’m at a stage in my life where I dress completely for myself and I don’t really care how I’m perceived,” explains the model Camri Hewie, who celebrates all things pink and recently sculpted bows into her own hair. Though she’s been wearing hairstyles that could be conceived as coquette for years, she’s also noticed an uptick in these kinds of styles: “For so long femininity has been looked down upon and seen as frivolous, and now we’re all coming together to embrace those parts of ourselves. We’re dressing in a way our younger selves would appreciate,” she adds.

“There’s something hyper-feminine and beautiful about wearing bows in my hair now,” adds the maximalist fashion stylist Sara Camposarcone. “I often match the vibe of the hair, with an outfit of pink, pearls and lace, so I don’t doubt people would perceive me differently than if I wore an all-black outfit. But I am a girly girl at heart and I can’t resist wearing things that make me feel pretty and empowered, while embracing my femininity at the same time.” Likewise, the artist Taylor Quitara, who adopted pigtails and bows as a part of her everyday style, says: “At first I was a bit uneasy about pigtails and bows as they can be perceived as super ‘girly’ and my personal style leans more in the direction of pop-punk with a dash or dark academia, but in actuality, they just elevated my looks into another style almost like a dark coquette.”

Interestingly, hair bows have never been as gendered as they are in 2023. Hair historian Rachael Gibson cites The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s set of Sumerian hair ribbons made of gold from 2600-2500 BC, but also says that “most ancient societies would have used fabrics to tie back or decorate the hair – so it’s hard to put a precise date on when we first start seeing them. They were worn a lot by men too, with the Lovelock trend in the 16th century – and even in the military, where the wig was popular in the 18th century finished off with a bow.”

However, Gibson notes that “the hair on either side of the head version” (what we now know as pigtails) would have been seen as a “children’s hairstyle” throughout most of history. And while some may be quick to call the look infantilising, in 2023, the reference feels more like a celebration of the nostalgia of embracing girlhood for oneself, more than anything else. There will always be men who make comments and try to twist the look into being about something else, but when isn’t that the case?

“I’d say in the 1950s, when we started to see teen fashion evolve into its own thing rather than just dressing like a mini-me of your parents, we started to see more fun, youthful styles coming through in beauty,” adds Gibson. “By the 1960s women were wearing their hair longer and looser which is when we started seeing those real classic Brigitte Bardot pigtails, then in the 1970s it became part of the hippy look.” She credits the legendary Prada Spring 2010 show as being one of the most influential comebacks of the style in contemporary fashion: “Guido created those matte, textured bunches which felt like a super grungy version of something that had just been reduced to something very cutesy and Lolita-ish.”

In stark opposition to coquette hair are other trends that conceivably appeal less to ornamentation – like the clean girl aesthetic or even sad girl make-up. “I think for a while, being a mainstream ‘cool girl’ meant you’re someone who rejected and even mocked their own femininity,” explains Antonella, the creator behind the popular coquette subculture fan account Dollclub on TikTok and Instagram. She considers bows, ribbons, pigtails and braids – all intrinsically girly by nature – to be coquette hair. 

“It was popular to say ‘I’m not a basic bitch’ or ‘I’m one of the boys’ used mainly in an effort by some women to appeal to men at the expense of oneself; of femininity. I have friends who openly say they forced themselves to not like something as simple as the colour pink because it felt embarrassing. However, there has been a recent resurgence in reclaiming femininity, [and] the concept shouldn’t be seen as shameful, silly, or weak. You can like ribbons and bows while being a strong and cool person.”

For Camposarcone, wearing bows is also about appealing to her inner child and nostalgia: “I do feel more girly wearing bows in my hair, and I think that comes from my childhood, when my mother would braid my hair with bows when I was a young girl,” she says. Hewie agrees: “I honestly think that a lot of people are just trying to heal their inner child through fashion,” she explains. “I’ve noticed with the prominence of the coquette and balletcore trends that there’s been a surge in adults going back to ballet class. I think partaking in an activity that falls into those aesthetics is very healing for many individuals.”

There’s undoubtedly a sort of conscious ostentatiousness that comes with wearing a hairstyle that’s more girly, be it pigtails, braids woven with ribbons or a massive bow. And at a time when a lot of high fashion brands are trading maximalism for stark minimalism and stealth wealth, coquette hair feels like the perfect rebellion.

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