Run and hide! The mullet is rearing its ugly head again
As if there wasn’t enough ugliness to deal with in 2021, celebrities have started sporting the mullet again. It’s that ghastly unflattering hairstyle — long, shaggy layers in the back, cropped on the sides and front — that everyone hoped would die with ’80s rockers or at least with the ’90s country music singers pretending to be rockers.
The style keeps raising its ugly head every now and then, mostly on celebrities who’ve run through other, safer avenues for shock value. David Bowie made the mullet famous. Rod Stewart wore one, as did Chuck Norris, Paul McCartney, Mithun Chakraborty, Sanjay Dutt, Akshay Kumar, David Beckham and Billy Ray Cyrus.
But sometimes, the trend trickles down to the local salon, and you end up squirming in your chair when the stylist asks if you want the look of the moment. “I really hoped we wouldn’t see it again,” laments Bina Punjani, the hairstylist who runs a chain of eponymous salons and a hairdressing academy in Goa. And yet here it is.
This season, the mullet has been spotted on women and men. Miley Cyrus, copying her father’s once-abysmal style, set the ball rolling. Billie Eilish got one, reportedly to recover from a bad hair-colour job. Over the past four months, it’s popped up on the heads of Zac Efron, Maisie Williams, Rihanna, drag queen Crystal Methyd and South Korean singer Yeonjun. Netflix’s Tiger King aka Joe Exotic was an early mullet adopter, showing his off when the show streamed in March.
Fashion magazines are resignedly proclaiming it the season’s top style — with faded sides or brushed-up top as a contemporary touch.
To be fair, lots of communities have embraced the mullet. Around the time the Berlin Wall fell, in the late 1980s, Europe was revelling in the style. It was popular among young lesbian women coming out in the ’90s and 2000s. Televised modelling contests (we’re looking at you, Tyra Banks) often added a “mullet challenge” to see how well contestants could carry off the androgynous look..
Why is it back now? “It’s probably an ironic nod to lockdown-era grooming,” says Punjani. The style requires no maintenance. It’s just wash and wear. “This not a timeless classic, like the bob, that keeps returning because its simplicity keeps finding relevance in a new generation. The mullet is not a reflection of a changing world. It’s not a trend. It’s not even a flattering way to balance out features and celebrate androgyny,” says Punjani. Perhaps it’s a reflection of a world upended, represented in a style that’s also askew.
As it turns up on famous heads, no matter if their hair is straight, curly or in-between, Punjani says that’s as far as the look ought to go. “It’s performance-driven,” she adds. “Celebrities have stylists and whole wardrobes to accompany it.” In real life, without tattoos, pink streaks, feathered layers and gig costumes, a mullet will look uncomfortably out of place.
If you’ve had a weak moment and fallen prey to it, consider lopping the long bits off to create a bob. If you’re devoted to your hair length, try tying, braiding or pinning up the back so there are no straggled ends.
If you’re looking to sport one, remember that the short bits take a long time to grow back. And the in-between phases, with errant cowlicks, bangs and a bottom-heavy shape, aren’t pretty either. If you got it, regret it and nothing else is working, reach for this year’s other big trend — the face mask — and just hope no one can tell it’s you.
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