17 things you need to know about mullets

A guide to potentially the most controversial and misunderstood haircut of modern times.

by James Anderson
19 September 2019, 10:29am

From the early 70s, the mullet has been (to say the least) a highly controversial hairdo. It either provokes ridicule, or is deemed the pinnacle of cool, depending on your perspective. Short at the front, long at the back, it’s a gender fluid look that’s been rocked by David Bowie, Cher, numerous professional football players, DJs, TV presenters, actors, models, and, probably, your mum or dad at some point.

The mullet commands attention, demands commitment and has dramatically flitted in and out of fashion across the decades. And now it seems, we're in the midst of a mullet resurgence. So here's everything you need to know about the dark times ahead.

1. There are various historical theories about the origins of the mullet. Some experts claim there’s proof that young Roman men, way back in the 6th Century, grew their hair long all over except for at the front, which was deliberately trimmed short, because they thought it made them look well ‘ard! However, Alan Henderson, who wrote the 2007 book, Mullet Madness!: The Haircut That's Business Up Front and a Party in the Back, reckons ancient civilisations in Syria and Mesopotamia adopted early incarnations of the distinctive hairdo purely for practical reasons -- to keep their necks warm in chilly weather and their eyes free from the obstruction of a fringe.

2. Long before the mullet hairstyle had been recognised as a style statement around the world, the expression ‘mullet head’ was used in the US in a derogatory way, since at least the 19th Century, to imply someone was thick!

3. For some slightly vague reason, residents of the town of Kurri Kurri in Australia think that mullets were originally pioneered there. In recognition of this, their annual Mullet Fest brings together all manner of mullet enthusiasts and awards prizes for specialist mullet categories including ‘Extreme’, ‘Vintage’, ‘Everyday’ and, er, ‘Grubby’.

4. Many music and fashion experts reckon David Bowie’s early-1970s proto-Glam Rock personae, Ziggy Stardust, was the first fashionable mullet trailblazer, thanks to his iconic and purposefully androgynous orange-dyed spikey-on-top and long-at-the-back hairdo. This was confirmed by the legendary rock journalist Barney Hoskyns, who declares in his book The Mullet: Hairstyle of the Gods, that Bowie’s crowning glory at the time is, "The only cool mullet there’s ever been."

5. Professional footballers are long-renowned for embracing ‘directional’ haircuts, with various degrees of success. Back in the 70s -- following on from the aforementioned David Bowie’s trailblazing tresses -- all manner of high profile ball-kickers took to the mullet look. Liverpool player Kevin Keegan sported a unique perm-meets-mullet combo which, incredible as it might seem, was tres on-trend at the time.

6. The 80s were packed full of mullets in the worlds of pop and TV -- check out Limahl, the lead singer of Kajagoogoo, for example, whose two-tone version demonstrated the versatility of the mullet, though must have required a high level of hair maintenance.

Meanwhile, cheery 80s radio DJ and TV VJ Pat Sharp really owned the look. Mullets weren’t male-only, of course, with pop icons such as Cher proving her coiffed credentials in the early part of the decade. Not to mention rock goddess, Joan Jett, who traversed the 70s and 80s with her delightfully dishevelled take on the style.

7. More mullet action was found upon the head of Miley Cyrus’s dad, Billy Ray Cyrus, the country music star better known these days for taking the old town road. His hair during the 90s was a source of wonder and bemusement to many.

8. Even the cartoon character Superman was not immune to the appeal of a mullet makeover, heroically fighting crime from his 1993 mullet debut onwards, without ever getting so much as a hair out of place.

9. Old skool punky New York rappers The Beastie Boys famously paid tongue-in-cheek homage to the mullet in their shouty 1994 track, "Mullet Head", which firmly asserted: “Cut the sides, don't touch the back!” and was later featured on the soundtrack of the 1995 teen rom-com Clueless.

10. Mullets enjoyed an ironic yet high-fashion resurgence during the mid to late-90s in east London’s at-the-time extremely run-down Hoxton and Shoreditch, when various trend-setting-but-skint fashion designers, stylists and photographers set up camp there in the neighbourhood’s many semi-derelict buildings. i-D credits the super-stylist and former Alexander McQueen-collaborator, Katy England, in particular, with kick-starting the underground mullet movement of that era. At 3:38 seconds in to this fascinating 1997 BBC doc about McQueen, shot in his east London studio, you can catch Katy’s mullet in all its stylish 90s splendour.

Image via Instagram

11. In the late-90s and early 00s, some diehards were still promoting the merits of mullets, not least trash culture-loving fashion designer Jeremy Scott, currently the Creative Director at Moschino, who rocked the look proudly back in 2002, as he posted in an Instagram throwback.

12. Not everyone dug mullets, though. In 2010, the government in Iran banned mullets for men, citing the offending hairdo as a "Western cultural invasion”. Anyone found flouting the rule could be fined and ordered to have their locks promptly snipped. Harsh!

13. In 2015, Ali Mosslmani, nicknamed Ziggy, tried to sue various Australian newspapers who had published photos -- taken by his friend -- of his extreme mullet. The photos duly went viral and prompted endless memes which mocked the poor lad’s directional thatch, hence his determination to get compensation. The case was eventually settled out of court in 2018.

14. London-based super-hairstylist John Vial has worked on the runway shows of designers including Gareth Pugh and Charles Jeffrey. In 2016 he and the hair colourist, Tracey Hayes, memorably created these amazing mullet-inspired looks for the artist and kooky-hairstyle-legend Julie Verhoeven.

15. During the past decade, female celebs such as singer-turned-designer, Rihanna notably worked a mullet, for an appearance at New York Fashion Week in 2013. Likewise, the actress and singer, Zendaya, wowed everyone at the 2016 Grammys with hers.

16. More recently, Instagram artist and It Girl Princess Gollum has given the classic mullet a jet-black and goth-spook update, while DJ Mademoiselle Yulia has adapted her locks to the contemporary ‘step mullet’ style now being touted by style-savvy girls around the world and hyped up as the latest hair trend everywhere from The Guardian to Teen Vogue. London’s very own nightclub queen, the DJ and writer Princess Julia, is as reliably ahead of the curve as ever, with her unique tousled twist on the neo-mullet.

17. Bully boy Billy Hargrove, the Stranger Things character played by 24 year-old actor Dacre Montgomery, has not only become a major star for his dramatic skills, but also the in-your-face mullet he sports in the ongoing series. Montgomery revealed to 7news.com that it takes – gulp! - five hours in hair and make-up to get Billy’s retro hairdo looking just-so. He also accurately described his character’s mullet as "an extraordinary piece of craftmanship".

This article originally appeared on i-D UK.