A Brief History
This business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back style has been around way before it was popularized by actors and rock stars in the 1980’s. According to some historians, the mullet has been around since at least Ancient Greece, where the style was as much for function as it was for fashion. Cropped hair around the face with longer locks in the back allowed for both visibility and a protective layer of hair for your neck. Homer even described a haircut that sounds eerily familiar in The Iliad: “their forelocks cropped, hair grown long at the backs.”The Greeks weren’t the only ones sporting the mullet, though. There is evidence that Neanderthals and our oldest ancestors would wear this ‘do, as well.
The relative ease of maintaining it makes it possible to keep up even without the existence of barbershops and hair salons, and the practicality makes it perhaps one of the oldest haircuts in human history.Some Native American tribes, both historically and more recently, have included the mullet with other traditional hairstyles. In many tribes, long hair is representative of a strong cultural identity. It is connected to values of family and community, and there are multiple rituals surrounding the upkeep of long hair. The preferred style for displaying long locks is most commonly braids – often two or three – but cuts closer the Mohawks and mullets have not been uncommon, either.
Mullets have been present in and out through our entire history as a species, in different parts of the world. It wasn’t until the 1970’s when the mullet starting rising to modern mainstream fame, though, reaching its peak in the 80’s when everyone from George Clooney to Metallica’s James Hetfield sported one. It tended to be popular with white dudes who played rock music or hockey, incredibly cool and trendy for a while. The hairstyle didn’t actually have the name “mullet” until 1994, though, when the Beastie Boys released a song called “Mullet Head.” Not long after the name mullet was christened, the hairdo was on its way out.
By the time the Beastie Boys gave the style its name, it had begun to slide from the trendy mainstream position it had been sitting comfortably at to a more countercultural phenomenon.
The peak of mullets ended in the early 1990’s, but the style has never completely faded from relevance. Instead, it slipped from the good graces of the masses and became iconic in various subcultures: everyone from country music stars and lesbians, to hockey players and Native Americans. Jennifer Arnold even created a documentary about the haircut in 2002 titled American Mullet (which you can find on Amazon Prime if you’re curious).
In more recent years, the mullet was actually banned in Iran, for being considered too much of a “western hairstyle”. No matter what you think of it, the mullet has become enough of a staple of the American aesthetic that it’s been placed in that categorization along with spiked hair, ponytails, and long hair in general.
Will the mullet ever rise once more the its former glory in the 80’s? Maybe not, but it has certainly cemented itself as an iconic haircut from the past, and an important style to this day for many groups of people.
Ten Iconic Mullets
- David Bowie: No list of mullets can be complete without David Bowie’s classic bright orange cut. This style was a part of his Ziggy Stardust persona, and he still sticks with many people as one of the biggest contributors to the mullet rising in popularity once he started wearing one in the 70s.
- Paul McCartney: The Beatles cycled through multiple iconic hairstyles throughout their time as a band, and the mullet had its moment to shine, as well. Paul McCartney wore the style throughout the 70s and into the 80s.
- Patrick Swayze: Perhaps most known for his dirty dancing, Patrick Swayze rocked his way through the 80’s and 90’s with a mullet, stealing (or breaking) the hearts of everyone in the country. Even despite (or perhaps because of) that classic mullet style.
- Billy Ray Cyrus: Nothing will beat this achy breaky mullet of the early 90’s, but in recent years, Billy Ray Cyrus has brought a shorter version of the style back. You can’t think “mullet” and “cheesy country pop music” without also thinking Billy Ray.
- John Stamos: Spending the 90’s as cool Uncle Jesse on Full House certainly didn’t stop John Stamos from sporting the look. In fact, that mullet may be one of the most memorable fashion choices from the entire show.
- Ben Franklin: Yes, that Ben Franklin. According to some, his bald-on-the-top, long-at-the-back style was one form of the mullet. Or, to be more precise, a “skullet.”
- Mel Gibson: Did you know that Mel Gibson used to have a mullet? He sported a rather flowy one throughout almost the entire Lethal Weapons franchise and throughout the 80’s.
- Wayne Gretzky: Maybe not the biggest or the baddest mullet in the history of hockey, but Gretzky has easily one of the most recognizable names in the sport, even to those who don’t watch. The hockey mullet is its own subgenre of the style, perpetuated along with the “flow” hairstyle, and the fact that teams will go entire playoff seasons not shaving their beards, and, often, not cutting their hair. The result tends to be something akin to a mullet. Gretzky’s classic mullet lasted through the 80’s and deep into the 90’s, long after most other notable figures had abandoned the ‘do.
- Joan Jett: One of the first notable ladies to rock the mullet, Joan Jett was sporting the look back in the 70’s with Paul McCartney and David Bowie. And rocking out while doing so.
- Richard Dean Anderson: Known for his role as MacGyver in the show MacGyver, Anderson sported a mullet as he played the classic character throughout the 80s. He may have left the biggest cultural impact with the term “MacGyvering,” and the concept of fixing something with whatever you’ve got on hand at the moment, but don’t let that completely overshadow this classic mullet.
The Mullet in 2020
It’s 2020, and the question everyone must now ask is: is the mullet coming back in style? Some may argue that it was never in style, while others will insist that it never went out of style. Ask the general public or a hair stylist, though, and they will probably be inclined to tell you that yes, the mullet is coming back. In January this year, men’s fashion blogs across the internet all declared the same thing: 2020 would be the year for the mullet. Beginning as a counter-culture hair style that was just getting its footing in the world of fashion once again, this year has proved to be the perfect time for the resurgence of the mullet.
With hair salons being closed for multiple months in the first half of 2020, many people took on the dreaded task of facing down a home-brewed haircut. For some this manifested in a mullet style: either out of appreciation for the cut, or, perhaps, out of necessity. Get the hair off your face without worrying about trimming the back of your head where you can’t see. Like our ancestors before us, we must acknowledge the mullet for what it truly is: a practical haircut.
The sudden lack of access to salons isn’t the only reason mullets are coming back, though. There have been whispers of the style in the mainstream over the last few years, and this was simply the boil-over point. In the second half of the past decade, we’d seen a steady increase of mullet action once again amongst the most famous of us. Ironically, a lot of the most notable celebrities actively rocking mullets today are women. Female singers especially. Everyone from Kesha and Miley Cyrus to Billy Eilish and even Zendaya have been seen sporting the look. What may have been considered a trashy style by many even just a few years ago has become a chic look sported by those of us who have a tendency to look coolest.
When it comes to less famous women wearing the look, just as many have been sporting the ‘do as the pop stars and celebrities of the world. Especially amongst women in the LGBT+ community, the mullet is becoming as big of a fashion statement as it is amongst guys. Combine this cut with absurdly large earrings and colorful pants, and you’re ready to tell the world “Hello ladies! I, too, am gay.”
Is the mullet resurging in popularity along with 80’s nostalgia-themed media, like It and Stranger Things? Perhaps. Like media and clothing, hair styles tend to move in cycles. Men’s hairstyles have been typically short-on-the-sides, longer-on-top for a while, now, and maybe the mullet is a shift out of those restrictions. Recent women’s fashion has involved a lot of things that were at one point, not long ago, considered tacky (looking at you, mom jeans and scrunchies). Maybe the mullet is the next step in this resurgence, allowing men to embrace the tackier sides of our previous societal fashion faux pas, as well.
10 Ways to Style Your Mullet
- The Modern Mullet: A less drastic version of its predecessors, modern mullets tend to be a bit subtler. The back is shorter, often closer to the length of the hair on top of your head, and the sides are shaved short, but faded into the longer hair on top. The varieties are endless, but the overall look tends to be a bit more modern, and a bit more refined.
- The Kentucky Waterfall: This mullet involves shaved temples and a short cut on top. The difference from other styles, though, is that for the Kentucky Waterfall those sideburns stay, contrasting with minimal hair at the sides and long hair at the back.
- The Spiky Mullet: Do you miss the late 90’s and early 00’s when everyone was covering their heads with hair gel and spiking their ends up? Try this slightly modern version of that boyband ‘do and add some texture to your mullet style. Keep the sides short, the back long, and spike up that top part of your hair.
- The Pompadour: Add some class to the business end of this mullet. Keep the sides of your hair nice and short, and let the top grow out in an almost Mohawk-like style. Fade those sides into the longer hair on top, slick the whole thing back, and you’ve got a smooth transition into the more mullet-part of this mullet style.
- The Beaver Tail: Think classic 80’s mullet. Short hair on the top, unapologetic pelt of hair going down your back. If this style of mullet was a professional wrestler from the 80’s it would be Hulk Hogan. If it was a large mammal known for roaming the forests and mountains of North America and Eurasia, it would be the brown bear. Strong. Classic. Easily recognizable. Kind of bold. Maybe a little out of style.
- The Extreme Mullet: You can define “extreme” in this context in a few ways. Some people sport the Extreme Mullet by growing the back out longer and longer, while shaving the sides of their hair completely off. This results in something in between a less intense mullet and a Mohawk. This could also be paired with head tattoos that you want to show off, or the short parts of your hair being dyed bright colors. Maybe the Extreme part comes from designs shaved into the sides of your hair. This style of mullet will always be a statement, no matter what you do with it.
- The Shag: A perfect style you’ll barely have to work for if you’ve already spent a few months away from the barbershop. This style tends to be on the shorter side for mullets, the sides and top of your hair staying a bit longer. It’s subtler than the Extreme, and ideal for someone with a bit of wave in their hair. Let that back grow out and embrace a few curls against your neck, without committing as heavily to some of the other mullet styles.
- The Curly Mullet: Maybe your hair is more than a little wavy. If you’ve got those curls, grow them out in the back and up top, shorten your sides, and embrace the texture of this cut. Style those curls or keep them messy and long, in contrast to shaved sides.
- The Rat Tail: Long hair in the back, but only a small bit that’s long. It may fall into its own category of dubious hair styles, but if you’re keeping the top and sides of your hair short and letting that back section really shine, it is technically a type of mullet as well.
- The Mullet + Beard Combo: Ok, sure, adding a beard to a mullet doesn’t automatically make it a new style. It’s becoming a popular combination, though, especially with the rise of large “hipster” beards over the last decade. Grow that beard out, keep the back of your hair long, fade out the sides and slick up the top, and you will be the picture of the stylish modern man. Who would’ve thought that would ever be the fate of the mullet?