Before the huge twist, a ponytail nearly stole the show on Succession

Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season four episode of Succession, Connor’s Wedding.

At Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration in 2017, Michelle Obama was the epitome of her “when they go low, we go high” mantra. The Obamas, as the outgoing First Family, stood dignified, respectfully, stoically. Except for the former First Lady’s hair, which spoke volumes.

In wearing her hair in a loose up-do, variously described as a ponytail or “messy bun”, a la Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, Michelle Obama was thought to be sending the ultimate message of quiet resistance: follicle you.

Shiv’s (Sarah Snook) messy ponytail is filled with messages in the latest episode of Succession.

“She looked flawless as always. She also looked fed up and ready to go,” Brittney Cooper wrote of Obama’s “thrown-together ponytail-bun combination” for The Christian Century.

As much as clothes, hair can be a signifier of power, or an attitude to an event that conveys power. Which is why, for all the dissection of that death in the latest episode of Succession, there has been a lot of attention paid to the character of Siobhan “Shiv” Roy (played by Australian Sarah Snook), specifically her hair.

In the episode, titled “Connor’s Wedding”, we first see Shiv arrive at the titular event in a black suit (how funereal!), oversized sunglasses and a casual, knobbly ponytail. Of course, her $7000 Tom Ford jacket, complete with a gold padlock, conveys plenty of messaging in itself – about marriage, her family, her place in it. Still, given she’s never going to show her lack of interest in the wedding by turning up in her activewear, she does the hairstyle equivalent, complete with a hair-tie that looks as if it were purchased from Duane Reade (a US version of Priceline) for 50 cents, or filched from a hotel bathroom amenity kit.

Michelle Obama (right) sported a ‘casual’ hairdo at Donald Trump’s Presidential inauguration in 2017.Credit: AP

And while it looks as though Shiv, or someone on her payroll, has subtly teased the front to create some height (more symbolism about her place in the family pecking order?), the back reeks of post-spin class energy. This is not the carefully contrived relaxed ’do sported by many a star on the red carpet, or even the “power pony” that’s become synonymous with musicians Beyonce and Ariana Grande, or Madonna in her Blonde Ambition era; Shiv is peak messy girl.

Power ponies (from left) … Ariana Grande, Madonna and Beyonce.Credit: Getty

Melbourne-based personal stylist Lucy Owens agrees that there is a ponytail spectrum, and Shiv’s appears to sit squarely at the “I don’t have a lot of time for this” end.

“When we think about the level of power and prestige [of a person], we think it will be represented in a look – when we think about a ponytail, it would be stylish, more controlled, [but] there’s nothing really chic about this kind of ponytail,” she says.

Phoebe Simmonds, owner of The Blow blow-dry salons, agrees, and says women have always used their hair to express themselves. “A low-maintenance, off-duty ponytail could in a way be seen as the ultimate power move and signalling equal footing with [Shiv’s] male counterparts,” Simmonds says. “She’s busy, she’s important, and for this day or this instance, she doesn’t have time to spend hours at the salon, so she’s putting in as much effort as a man … which is not much at all.”

From left: Julia Gillard, Hillary Clinton and Boris Johnson have all faced scrutiny for their hairstyles, but some argue it’s still a gendered topic.Credit: AP/Getty

Owens says hair plays an important and “obvious” role in a person’s overall image. “It’s like clothing – it can be playful, fun, dramatic, sleek, severe – it really does work in exactly the same way,” she says. “We can interpret messages from the way our hair is styled, and we can say something to the outside world as well, about who we are.”

But when it comes to hair and power, Owens says society’s attitudes can still be incredibly gendered. Take Boris Johnson, whose trademark floppy hairstyle worked in both positive (he’s a man of the people) and negative (he’s slovenly) ways.

Owens says a female politician in Johnson’s position would have been more closely scrutinised. “Whether that’s fair or not, it’s the way it is in the world,” she says.

The attention played to women in power’s hair has been highlighted by Julia Gillard, whose hair was a constant topic of discussion during her time in parliament, while Hillary Clinton has bemoaned the public and media obsession with her hair throughout her career, leading the former Secretary of State to once joke that her memoir could have been called “The scrunchie chronicles”.

Owens says while it’s true people in power can sometimes seemingly have more freedom to present themselves how they want, the same can’t be said for those climbing the ladder, aka the Toms and Gregs of the world.

“[Image] can play a really important role in how you are perceived, and more importantly how you feel about yourself,” she says.

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