We did an article on this! FightWrite: On Hair Pulling
You want a hairstyle that keeps the long hair tightly bound (skin tight) so that no opponent can get a good grip. A loose ponytail isn’t good enough. Modern “conventional” wisdom likes to assume that only girls are wussy enough to pull each others’ hair or that it’s “cheap”. It’s actually not true. Regardless of what is right or fair, both men and women will yank someone else around by their hair in a fight. The reason is that the hair is full of nerve endings, when yanked on their cause pain, and a good solid grip on someone’s head means that you can control where they go in a fight.
A character with long hair is going to need to keep their hair bound up and out of the way, or their opponent will snatch it and yank. The longer and looser the hair, the easier this is.
A ponytail, a loose braid, and even a loose bun will allow another character to simply walk up behind the character and take a hold of them, or grab it during a fight when they get in close enough. There’s no practical reason to ignore the hair, so most don’t.
So what type of hairstyle would that be? The only thing I can think of (that would leave little to no room for hair pulling) is a really tight, complicated braid that kinda winds around your skull, all fancy-like.
….clearly I don’t work with hair very much.
In the article, I mention a female cop who used to bind her hair skin-tight to her skull in a braid, then pin it to the back of her head. Not a wrap around, just a coil. Any hairstyle like that will work, so long as you make sure it’s tight and close to the skull so that they can’t get a good grip even on the hair that’s bound up. Now, the hair will loosen over time as you’re fighting. So, it’s something the character is going to have to watch out for as the fight progresses.
I’ve seen Tamora Pierce use a braid with barbed wire in it for Beka Cooper. I don’t know how practical that actually is but it seems to work?
I’m going to go with that’s not a good idea. It is one that sounds good on the surface, but it comes with a host of problems that don’t really make it worth it.
1) You have to thread the barbed wire into your hair and take it out, even if you use thick gloves you run the risk of nicking both the back of your neck, destroying your clothes, and harming your scalp. You’d also need someone else to put it in.
2) The hair will get tangled in the barbed wire, pull on it, and make it a bitch to take out at the end of the day. The barbed wire can hook into your clothes, the skin on the back of your neck, someone else’s clothes as you’re patrolling on a busy street, random objects you brush up against, catching on wooden walls and doorways, and just about anything else you can think of.
3) It’s probably just going to end up hurting the character more in the long run. The same is true to pins or needles. You don’t want to be wearing something that’s as likely to hurt you as it is to hurt the people your fighting.
Barbed wire is less than 150 years old, so I don’t buy that people did it historically. The best idea is to look into how Manchurian warriors (and other cultures that had similar traditions) did it, because the queue was important to their cultural traditions. The best solution is simply to tie it tightly and then hide it under a hat or a helmet so that your opponent has to go through something else to get to the hair, which makes it a less appealing target. A short ponytail, for example, can be pinned up under a cap.