Why is Ponyboy's hair so important to him in The Outsiders?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When it comes to a teenager's hair, things really haven't changed much during the past fifty years. Different styles come and go, but The Beatles-inspired popularity of long hair for teen boys is very much a part of both the Socs and greasers. During his narration, Pony never fails to admire the hair of the various gang members. The Socs prefer a Beatles look, while the greasers think Elvis Presley is "tuff." Steve Randle has "greasy hair he keeps combed in complicated swirls." Two-Bit Mathews is "very proud of his long rusty-colored sideburns." Dally hates haircuts, like all of the greasers, keeping his hair long and oil-free, "almost white it was so blond." Johnny has shaggy black bangs, "heavily greased and combed to the side..." Soda's hair is "long and silky and straight." Disdaining the mop-top fashion, only Darry wears his hair short with "a cowlick in back." Hair is important to all of the boys, and Pony is no exception: He talks about his hair in the very first paragraph of the novel. Pony's hair is

... longer than a lot of boys wear theirs, squared off in back and long at the front and sides...  (Chapter 1)

So, when Johnny breaks the news to Pony that they will have to cut their hair at their hideout on Jay Mountain,

My hand flew to my hair. "No, Johnny, not my hair!"  (Chapter 5)

Pony is extremely proud of his inherited hair, "long and silky, just like Soda's...," and he thinks it makes him look "tuff." But most importantly, long hair is not restricted to the rich. The greasers couldn't afford "Corvairs of madras shirts, but we could have hair." But he wonders about the kind of world in which he lives

... where all I have to be proud of is a reputation for being a hood, and greasy hair?  (Chapter 9)

Ponyboy's hair is an outward symbol of a rebellious streak, and it serves as a reminder to all who see it that he is a greaser.

Our hair labeled us as greasers, too--it was our trademark. The one thing we were proud of.  (Chapter 5)