Beware Matt Damon’s Middle-Aged Ponytail
The actor’s luxuriant ponytail has sparked interest in that tied-back hairstyle for men—but it takes dedication and commitment, and can very easily go wrong.
It is, to be sure, a devastating prospect to all of us agog at the shiny pictures of it, but Losi, hair
stylist and groomer to many a male celebrity, is sure that Matt Damon’s ponytail is, in fact, hair extensions.
The ponytail has for so long been supplanted by the beard—as men’s favored mode of hair expression—that to see one bursting from the back of Damon’s head was a jolt.
And it revived memories: of David Beckham (flyaway ponytail, and sometimes he had two; one lower, and one upper), Leonardo Di Caprio (tight, abrupt ponytail), and Colin Farrell (scrappy, sexy).
The middle-aged ponytail—Damon is 44—is a risky business. Does it look like a last-ditch attempt at youth, or—at an age where convention may well surround you—is growing a ponytail a man’s attempt to rebel against children’s bedtimes, and mortgage payments? It’s cheaper than a motorbike, at least.
The middle-aged ponytail can, far from making you look young and cool, make you look quite opposite. Instead of looking sleek it can so easily look straggly, and instead of looking hip it can look more, well, desperate.
Extensions, Losi, the famed stylist at Martial Vivot in New York City says, can be the only explanation for how thick Damon’s hair is on the side and how it’s still luscious and wavy in the ponytail at the back.
Losi—she prefers no surname—has tended the tresses of celebrities including Kevin Spacey, Liam Neeson, Zachary Quinto, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Tom Hanks, and so knows a bit about star-powered hair.
“Whenever celebrities have a ponytail, it’s not so much a style choice as usually for a role,” Losi adds, which may make sense as Damon shocked the world with the visual revelation of his curly bunches at a press beano for his latest mystery thriller, The Great Wall, a Chinese-American co-production set around the Great Wall of China.
Hugh Jackman sported extensions and a ponytail in Van Helsing, she notes, which makes me think a male ponytail can win or lose based on the face it’s paired with.
Jackman is a handsome man but, like Gavin Rossdale, his features are too heavy and pronounced for a dainty bit of back-hair styling. Jude Law’s top-knot looked as attractive as a terrified rat about to dive off a ship, but his louche unkemptness made the look cohere; the same for Matthew McConnaughey’s, Shia LaBeouf’s, and Orlando Bloom’s.
The Daily Mail weirdly called Damon’s an “effeminate do,” and Twitter immediately psyched itself up into apoplexy, albeit a mainly positive one.
But extensions or not, this is a proper ponytail: not a top-knot, or sleek man-bun, but a proper, luxuriant tail.
It even has its own Twitter account, with the tagline, ‘Wherever Matt Damon goes I go, #longhairdontcare.
It was, as Vanity Fair surmised, “so thick,” and indeed it is next to DiCaprio’s tight top-knot, which—like many a male ponytail—looked far too close to desperation; all the months of growing of all that hair and its squeezing into a band and for what—a little sprouting which looks pathetic contrasted against the luxuriant growth behind it.
The best, like Chris Hemsworth’s and Charlie Hunnam’s, go sleekly back into a precise short, butch, springy endpoint.
Male ponytails can go disastrously wrong: Johnny Depp sported a clownish scrunchy top-knot.
Losi has styled Gyllenhaal’s long hair, and he doesn’t like ponytails, she tells me, and this may be very sensible because—as she points out—growing a ponytail can be, even if you start out with two inches of hair, a 10-month, patience-testing commitment. She has also styled Jared Leto’s ponytail, a much-looser affair, for awards’ shows.
“You have to keep the sides of your hair very long, or you end up with what I call ‘dog ears,’” she laughs. “Long hair needs more work than short hair. You need product to keep your hair smoothed back against your head.”
So, if you grow your hair hoping the ponytail will make you look roguish and scrappy, you may end primping for dear life to keep the damn thing in good condition.
You could just keep your hair long, and tuck it behind your ears, Losi says.
The cooler ponytail option is what Losi calls “the nub”—not as elaborate as Damon’s ponytail, but a shorter whorl of hair, “pulled back Samurai style, half a ponytail” in the back of a head. The best celebrity head for a ponytail, she says, is Brad Pitt’s, “perfect and round, he make it looks debonair.”
Actually, in profile, his ponytail is so finely silken and sun-kissed it looks like his ex Jennifer Aniston’s.
Through the 10 months of growing your ponytail, you still need to visit a hairdresser, especially to keep the sides under control.
“Once you’ve reached nirvana,” says Losi, “only wash it once a week, keep it a little dirty to give it texture, and keep the sides back and down and tucked behind your ears. Curly hair is a problem, because the sides go bushy. Grey hair can be too coarse and crinkly. You need to keep the ponytail moisturized too.”
It sounds like a time-consuming minefield, and best experimented on hair in one’s teens and twenties. Still, if you are a middle-aged man, with a sudden ponytail desire spurred by Damon and his ilk, you have one thing on your side above the whippersnappers: staying power.
“The thing a ponytail really requires is patience and dedication,” Losi says. “You need to really want to do this. You can’t give up at four weeks. You need to see it through.”
And so what the middle-aged rebel may find, 10 months down the line—tying their hair back into that perfect bunch—is that the ponytail isn’t an expression of cool at all, but just another chore.