- This article is about the hairstyle popular in the Fire Nation and Earth Kingdom. For the similar hairstyle used in the Water Tribes, see warrior's wolf tail.
A top-knot is a common hairstyle in the world, in which the hair is gathered into a small bun, or "knot", at the top of the head. Most commonly seen in the Earth Kingdom and the Fire Nation, top-knots are worn by men and women of all classes, though individual styles can vary significantly.
Many male Earth Kingdom citizens wear top-knots, most commonly in the countryside or in smaller towns and cities. Top-knots in the Earth Kingdom are generally much larger than those worn in the Fire Nation, are more rounded in shape, and are typically worn with an unadorned ring; this ring may be a simple cloth tie or a metal band, depending on the status of the wearer, and include green and gold coloration.
The main exception to this trend are high-ranking generals of the Earth Kingdom, who wear highly decorated clothing to show their position, including large, elaborate top-knot rings. Some other dignified and important people, such as Master Yu, Lao Beifong, and some of the guests at Bosco's party in Ba Sing Se, also wore top-knot ornaments.
In the Fire Nation, top-knots are generally smaller and thinner than their Earth Kingdom counterparts. Lower and middle class citizens appear to wear plain top-knots, tied with a strip of red material or adorned with a tiny, flame-shaped decorative piece. Nobles and other important people may have more elaborate or heavily decorated headpieces. The two most recognizable pieces are the ones used by the Crown Prince and the Fire Lord, both of which require a top-knot in order to be worn.
The top-knot is a sign of honor in the Fire Nation. Hei-Ran cut off her top-knot to signify her dishonor, performing the ritual before Kyoshi, Rangi, and Fire Lord Zoryu. Before lopping off her top-knot with a knife, she explained that it was for not recognizing the true Avatar, for not protecting Kelsang, for letting Zoryu dishonor their nation, and not being worthy of her daughter's esteem. She told Rangi that the honor of their family was in her hands, and explained to Kyoshi that an honorless target would not need to be avenged; thus if Yun killed her, there would be no threat of war.
After becoming fugitives, Zuko and Iroh cut off their top-knots and threw them into a creek to symbolize their rejection of their homeland and the beginning of their true exile. However, Iroh readopted his trademark top-knot following his escape from prison, and Zuko wore his on formal occasions after returning to the royal palace. Before his defection from the Fire Nation army, the firebending master Jeong Jeong also wore a top-knot, as shown on his wanted poster.
- For centuries, top-knots were a traditional hairstyle in many East Asian countries, including China, Korea, and Japan.
- The cutting off of a person's top-knot was a significant event in traditional Japanese culture. The removal of one's top-knot, as voluntarily performed by Zuko, Iroh, and Hei-Ran, was considered a renouncement of title, social status, and pride.
- Top-knots are less common in the larger cities of the Earth Kingdom compared to the towns or countryside, with other hairstyles and ornaments favored: In Omashu, men wear small green turbans, while in Ba Sing Se they generally shave the front portion of their heads and don queues, or long plaits, down their backs.