Notes on...

The hellish return of the mullet

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

20 November 2021

9:00 AM

The mullet is back in fashion, which is proof that true evil never dies. What’s more, the trend is being driven by public-school boys. I only noticed its return last month, when I attended a local ball in East Sussex frequented by the type of people you’d expect at a local ball in East Sussex. But this year was different. There were 17-year-olds with mullets everywhere. ‘Why? What does it all mean?’ I asked anyone who would listen. We were all baffled.

The mullet has been trending on Instagram and TikTok, supposedly a consequence of 2020’s boredom-induced madness. Rihanna sported a mullet recently as did Cara Delevingne in last year’s Savage X Fenty fashion show. If you’re Rihanna or Cara you can wear anything or nothing — and still look great. This isn’t necessarily true if you’re an oily teen from Sevenoaks.

Why grow a mullet? Vice noted the trend late last year and interviewed a few boarding-school boys to find out what was going on. ‘When you see a good mullet, it’s just funny. It’s like, fair enough,’ said 17-year-old Zac. Indeed. But is that all?

The modern mullet is the ultimate statement haircut, originally a symbol of individuality and rebellion worn by lesbians in the 1970s. With their mullets, these women reclaimed negative stereotypes and, as queer culture often does, turned them into a fashion trend. Paul McCartney and Ziggy Stardust then got involved and we probably have them to thank for the 1980s mullet boom.

The look is hardly new — back in the 6th century, people were complaining about it. Here’s Byzantine scholar Procopius observing Roman charioteers: ‘The hair of their heads they cut off in front back to the temples, leaving the part behind to hang down to a very great length in a senseless fashion.’

What are we meant to make of public-school boys sporting this rebellious look? When I was in high school in America, I noticed similar trends among the popular boys, who would turn up bearing some unflattering haircut and snigger in large groups when teachers dared to ask why they had done this to themselves. But it didn’t make geeks snigger. Far from being funny, the mullet was actually quite intimidating, a very visible signal of who was in and who was out. At that most fragile age of 17, only the alphas could get away with such a ridiculous look and turn it into a symbol of their dominance. The same is true today. If you’re not wearing a mullet, you didn’t get the memo. Or the TikTok video. Or whatever.I don’t know how TikTok works.

One mullet I can handle. I’ll stare rudely at the wearer and move on with my day. A whole tentful of them is too much. The Sussex ball mullet-wearers were intimidating and I didn’t dare approach them. Instead I watched them throw pumpkins at each other across the tables.

They certainly had the rest of us talking, though. Perhaps that’s the point of the mullet.

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