It was simply majestic; glossy blonde strands curled against their neck in a tangle of hair that shone in the warm afternoon light. Harsh shorn sides were reflected in the mirror, and shorter tendrils curled across their forehead and under their ears. The hairdresser flitted around snipping and cutting at random intervals, perfecting the imperfect style–an extraordinary piece of mullet craftsmanship.
The polarising ‘business in the front, party in the back’ style has been a source of ridicule and fierce contention since it first took hold in the 80s. Embraced by celebrities such as David Bowie, who adopted the androgynous cut for his ‘Ziggy Stardust’ persona, the unorthodox style was a celebration of individuality and an act of rebellion against conventional style tropes of the past.
Love it or hate it, the mullet made a modern comeback in 2020 during COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions. Isolated and bored of tedious online routines, people across the globe welcomed a hair rebellion. The mullet pandemic was widespread, with new strains seen daily–from the skullet to the blown-out mullet–encouraged by celebrities, fashion labels, influencers and social media trends. TikTok, the fastest growing social media platform in the last decade, now has over 3 billion people consuming #mullet videos daily. The knowledge that the risqué and low-maintenance style could be safely trialled at home (and fixed if need be) gave individuals the confidence to try the new look. TikTok trends such as the one-minute mullet started a wave of DIY–albeit choppy–mullets.
However, the mullet is much more than a trending hairstyle that has come back in vogue; it is a medium for self-expression in a time of extreme isolation. According to Melbourne stylist Laura Spinney, people in lockdowns ‘are always trying to reinvent themselves’ and express themselves through hair, an opportunity the modern mullet presents.
The mullet’s promotion of positivity and inclusivity was lost after the style went out of trend in the 90s. Abandoned and ridiculed by those that had embraced the freedom that came with sporting a mullet, the ‘party in the back’ was cut short once again. Coined in 1994 by the Beastie Boys’ song, ‘Mullet Head’, the cut came to be associated with ‘unfavourable’ individuals in society–a bogan hairstyle. Since then, a welcoming space for the mullet community has formed through the mutual struggles of COVID-19 and an accepting global mindset. Adversity has bred creativity and, in this case, the mullet hairstyle.
Demi Lovato–who recently came out as nonbinary–has shown off their own short, jet black mullet at the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Awards, alongside other mullet-wearing queer celebrities, such as Miley Cyrus, Kristen Stewart and Troye Sivan. The gender-duality of the mullet and its ability to cross gender, race, class, age and status barriers is why it is so appealing to a younger demographic. Laura Spinney in Melbourne has adopted a genderless price structure to address the rise in androgynous hairstyles, creating a safe and inclusive space for their clientele. When asked about the changes, they reasoned that ‘it didn’t make sense for me to charge based on the gender I think they fit the most… People are trying to avoid that stigma or struggling with their own identities, so why would I single-handedly make it even more confusing for them?’
In queer subcultures, the mullet is an expression of identity that transcends typical gender norms. According to Caroline Rigby, creator of @30buckmullets on Instagram, ‘mullets can sit on a spectrum, or even simultaneously feel “femme” or “masc”, softer or harder… [allowing] a lot of room for expression’. Used by the queer community as a self-identifier in the 80s, ‘queer coding’ was a way to connect with the LGBTQI+ community and avoid rampant homophobia and transphobia. Nowadays, it’s a way to build connections.
Willa Paskin, the host of The History of the Mullet podcast, argues that the general sentiment in the community is that the mullet is a classless and disgusting style; ‘which is exactly what the subcultures who have embraced the mullet – electropunk kids, self-aware rednecks, fashionistas, queer people – like about it; the way it thumbs its nose at mainstream respectability’.
Once a fashion faux pas, punchline and symbol of the middle-class, the mullet is now a high-fashion opportunity and runway look staple for brands, such as Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci, Off-White and Yves Saint Laurent. Whilst the mullet was initially born out of a desire to give a giant middle finger to typical beauty and gender standards, its existence in mainstream beauty has not detracted from its power. It has evolved to become a symbol of self-confidence, self-expression and self-love for the individuals and communities who have adopted the bold look.
I watch strands of hair slowly float to the floor–it needs more cut off than I had first thought. As the hairdresser turns the mirror around, my pulse taps out a fast tempo. Shrieking, my sister turns around in the chair, fluffing the ends of her new mullet.
‘I love it! You should get one too,’ she urges, clapping her hands excitedly.
Fiddling with the ends of my own hair, I smile, ‘maybe next lockdown’.