The Mullet: fashion’s most controversial hairstyle

By Katharine Saunders

Picture yourself walking down Shop Street and making eye contact with the man of your dreams. The world moves in slow motion as a slight gust

of wind catches his luscious hair from underneath, blowing it upwards as he slowly shakes it out from underneath his collar to reveal… his mullet.

Do you run into his arms, or run for the hills? Because fashion’s most polarising haircut, the mullet, is back and whether you love it or hate it, you’ll probably have an opinion on it.

For many, the mere mention of the word sends shivers down spines, yet others are dashing for the clippers.

As lockdown continues to leave the barber’s chair swinging empty, self-styled mullets are flooding the streets of Galway. But will the trend lift as restrictions ease, or is the cut here to stay?

The mullet has played a diverse role in modern culture, sported by rebels and respected leaders alike.

Defined in the Collins Dictionary as; ‘A hairstyle in which the hair is short at the top and long at the back’, the chameleon cut has been associated with 1970s glam rock, 1980s Americana and beer swiggin’ hillbillies to name a few.

Many have proudly owned the look. Others, namely Bono, famously rejected the style following his dalliance with it in the late 1980s. “There’s certain periods of the band I’ve erased. Like the mullet”.

Sadly, modern history can’t lay claim to inventing the style. Although the term ‘mullet’ wasn’t coined until 1994, thanks to the Beastie Boys’ song ‘Mullet Head’, the cut itself has been around for thousands of years.

It’s widely believed that literature’s first mullet mention may have arrived over two thousand years ago via the ancient Greek poet Homer in The Iliad as he describes a group of spearman as wearing: “Forelocks cropped, hair grown long at the backs”.

Despite its ‘business at the front, party at the back’ reputation, the mullet’s prac- tical, adaptable shape has lent it centu- ries-long staying power. There are many theories of its use. One is that it helped early people keep their necks warm and dry, according to Alan Henderson in his book Mullet Madness, a history of the look in 2013.

It was said that warriors with the style were harder to grab during battle and could fight without the frustration of hair in their eyes. There is also the fact that a helmet fits better with a short-on-top do.

The mullet is a haircut that runs deep in the Irish psyche, with historians tracing the style as far back as the 1200’s. The Irish History podcast discusses how the mullet was used as a mark of Irishness.

In the medieval period, the Gaelic Irish sported a hairstyle known as a cúlán (pro- nounced cool – awn). This was described in the 1297 parliament as the wearer having: “heads half-shaved and long at the back.”

Those who wore the cúlán used the style to signify their Irish identity, as the Anglo Norman invaders were known to wear their hair short. It’s said that over the next century, the Norman’s adopted the style to blend with the locals.
It’s doubtful that the version we see on the streets of Galway today has much practical use. But the 2021 variety certainly has its own stamp on it.

Those sporting the style tend to fit into a very specific demographic; well- dressed adolescent males. The style tends to have a very specific finish, there is little or no grading around the edges which leaves a sort of crop circle around the ear.

Gareth Laheen, from Galway is in his twenties and refers to his mullet as his ‘precious’ having cultivated the style before COVID-19 was a thing. “I started growing my mullet before lockdown and the pandemic happened. I had a mullet when I was a kid and I always liked the idea of it”.

He talks about the significance of the style in his family. “My father also had a mullet when he was my age and the photos of us are very alike. On my 21st birthday, which was 16 December, 2019, I started to grow it”.

It’s been a challenge to maintain the cut without the help of a barber, but Gareth has managed. “I didn’t cut my hair until the barbers re-opened after the first lockdown in July 2020. I just cut the sides and top and left the back to grow”.

He employs a simple upkeep regime to maintaining the style. “I comb it every morning and at night-time I use coconut conditioner to get it soft and wavy”.

As an early adopter of the lockdown style, Gareth welcomes its return to the streets of Galway. “Many people have mullets now, some longer than others but that’s great and I’m okay with it”.

Going forward, Gareth sees himself in a long-term relationship with his mullet, having big plans for the future. “My aim is to let it grow very long down my back, Tiger King style. However long that may take, I’m not too sure, but I’ll give it a go”.

Overall, his light-hearted approach to the style has gone down well with those around him.

“My friends love it and my family think it’s very funny. Everyone’s opinions vary, some love it and some hate the sight of it. But most people I’ve spoken to are a fan of it”.

Natasha is the owner of Image Hair Studio in the heart of Galway city. Despite being closed for much of the last year, she has noticed the influx of mullets on our streets and is not a huge fan personally.

“There is only a small window of time a person can get away with wearing a mullet, between 18 and 30 years old. Any older than that, and it can tend to date a person’s style”.

Natasha doesn’t expect to have many bookings for the style when she opens the door to her salon in May.

“I expect that a lot of people are cutting their hair like this because of lockdown. We started the first one with Joe Exotic, the Tiger King which I think sparked the initial trend, so hopefully we will end this last lockdown by moving onto something else”.

So what is next for the style? Will it disappear under a rock until it’s called upon in the next decade?

Proud mullet wearer Erik Pascarelli is a London based hair stylist, working with brands like Gucci, Celine and Bleach on their global marketing campaigns. He sees the mullet becoming a staple cut in the hairdresser’s repertoire, “like the bob, or a fringe”.

Personally, he is delighted to see the style return to daily life. “Mullets have had so many revamps through so many years, we obviously love them!”.

Whether it’s fashion’s perennial cut or pack-mentality gone mental, we’ll cer- tainly be enjoying the party at the back for a while longer, much to Erik’s delight. “I look forward to a future filled with casual mullets”.

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