David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust wore his cascading down his neck, Andre Agassi kept his in check with a headband. Patti Smith’s, meanwhile, was pure “business in the front, party in the back”.
Mullets were everywhere in the 1970s and 80s, and now – perhaps to the surprise and consternation of many – they are back.
Partly inspired by the hit TV series Stranger Things and the “1980s footballer” look showcased to perfection in the recent documentary Diego Maradona, the hairdo has been reinvented for the 21st century as a statement of gender fluidity and cool.
“Mine’s a combination of George Michael and Ian Botham,” said Tom Watson, 20, who regards the look as classic. “A lot of my social group have them. It started off as a joke but it won’t die.”
Idalina Domingos, a 24-year-old hairdresser who works at a salon in London, got her shaggy version a year ago. “I cut at least one or two a week,” she said. “There are these modern mullets, people are coming round to the idea. It’s a fun haircut to have and it’s only going to get more popular.”
Peckham-based hairdresser Jackson Acton added: “You can’t go wrong with a mullet. I’ve done a lot of them in the last year for both girls and guys.”
Mullets have been big on catwalks and the red carpet for a while and the trend is now hitting the high street. Tina Outen, a stylist used by Vogue and i-D magazine, believes the cut can be cool and also political; a statement of androgyny. “There is a sense of freedom in the fashion industry and we are in an era of playfulness,” she said. “People can be who they want to be.”
Celebrity hairdresser Charlie Le Mindu agreed. “It works for every gender. We are seeing it a lot on the streets,” he said. Domingos added: “It allows scope for all genders, non-genders and binaries.”
Dominic Johnson, reader in performance and visual culture at Queen Mary University of London, said the reasons for the hairdo’s revival was in part political. “It sounds silly but it’s tied to a longer tradition of using whatever means are available, whether that’s a haircut or wearing lipstick, or changing the way you use language, in order to attach to a particular identity,” he said.
Another explanation is that the mullet, mocked by many, is a protest against conventional beauty. According to Caryn Franklin, fashion commentator and professor at Kingston School of Art, the new-wave mullet is a backlash against the high-maintenance, long-haired looks that have dominated portrayals of femininity in mainstream advertising. “Hair styling has always allowed for non-conformist statements,” she said.
Social media has also helped spread the word. Hair salons and influencers with big online followings, such as Vacancy Project in New York and Portland’s Bree Ritter, even have their own signature cuts.
So how should you style it? According to Teen Vogue, the step mullet is the trendiest version. Like staircase steps, the style – featuring hair cut at different tiers – stems from the DIY idea of cutting your hair with kitchen scissors.
It can also be worn in a practical way. “You can wear it tied back and you’ve a short, choppy haircut,” said Outen. Le Mindu recommends wearing it straight at the back. “I like it geometric and crazy,” he said.However it is styled, the trend looks set to stay. “You’ll see more of it,” said Acton. “Ten years ago, short on the sides and long on top was taboo. Now you see it on guys in suits and on Love Island. I think the mullet will be like that soon.”