Business in the front and party in the back. Yes, the mullet has returned. While critics have hoped the style will remain part of a regrettable past, the mullet is experiencing a comeback in fluorescent colors and dramatic lengths. What was once considered a dark spot in the history of popular culture, the hairstyle now graces the pages of Vogue and catwalks of major designers. Whether we like it or not, the mullet is here to stay for those brave enough to wear it.
The mullet seems to have emerged within the music world of the 1970s. As a precursor to giant 1980’s volumized hair, the 70’s rendition of the mullet perhaps expressed a forward-looking sensibility, a way to achieve volume on top of the head without masses of hairspray. David Bowie adopted the hairstyle in the early 1970s to capture his futuristic, androgynous character, Ziggy Stardust. The redheaded spaceman was a bizarre and shocking subversion of gender for its time. This sense of androgyny can be seen in a photograph of Paul and Linda McCartney donning matching mullets in 1973, proving that the hairstyle could easily cross gender lines. The 1970s iteration of the mullet perhaps reflected an idealistic, progressive style that could be worn by people of all genders which provided volume and long waves at the same time. It was a step towards the endless volume and curl of the 1980s, but still reflected the shaggy locks of the counterculture of the 1960s. In the 1980’s however, the hairstyle was cemented as a symbol of bad fashion. From country singer Billy Ray Cyrus’s adoption of the hairdo to the Joe Dirt films from the early 2000’s, the hairstyle has long been synonymous with white trash, the antithesis of fashion.
Despite the sordid past of the mullet, this hairstyle has recently been seen on high fashion catwalks, magazine pages, and it-girls across the world. Marc Jacobs has particularly been interested in bringing the mullet back. In his autumn 2013 fashion show, he outfitted all of his models in in textured, uniform mullets. Anna Sui did something similar in her autumn 2019 show, in which all of her models wore spiky, technicolor mullet wigs. Gucci has also been rigorous in rounding up personalities and musicians who have mullets for their advertising campaigns, like Dani Miller and Amy Taylor who both wear mullets as frontwomen of punk bands, Surfbort and Amyl and the Sniffers, respectively.
Early in the semester, our class considered the definitions of fashion, and discussed the work of Joanne Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach Higgens who wrote that dress can be considered “an assemblage of body modifications and/or supplements displayed by a person in communicating with other human beings” (15). In this sense, clothing, tattoos, piercings, and even mullets are considered fashion, and those who adopt the these elements communicate something to the world in doing so. But what exactly does the mullet communicate?
As silky, shiny beach waves and blunt bobs have become fashionable in recent years, the mullet is a rebellion against orthodox styles. The mullet does not make much sense as a practical hairdo, as the flowing layers in the back of the head need to grow long while the shortness atop of the hairdo needs constant trimming. The backs of mullets often become infamously thin “rat tails” while the front stands up strait. It doesn’t make a lot of sense as a hairstyle, but this certainly appeals to people who want to push against the beauty standards and trends of the fashion world. Suitable for any gender, the mullet is a subversion of gendered beauty standards that separates men and women by their hair. It is both male and female. When we see a mullet we conjure up memories of David Bowie and Billy Ray Cyrus, but above all, I think the mullet is a rebellion against fashion and a celebration of “bad taste.”
Arden Fanning Andrews, “Mullets and Shags, Oh My! The Anti-Blowout Movement Taking Over NYFW’s Runways” in Vogue, February 13, 2019. https://www.vogue.com/article/mullets-shags-hair-fall-2019-new-york-fashion-week
Joanne Eicher and Mary Ellen Roach-Higgins, “Definition and classification of Dress: Implications for Analysis of Gender Roles” in Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning, (London: Berg, 1992). 8-28.