Of Mullets and Men

The year was 1986. Reo Speedwagon and Ric Ocasek ruled the FM band, Ferrari fold up sunglasses were the rage, and Corey Haim and Corey Feldman commanded the big screen.

I was 16 and fully submerged in the 80s culture. I had dangling dice hanging from the rear view mirror of my ’78 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme offsetting my red velour interior with it’s black and white dancing patter , my girlfriend had mall bangs, and three earrings adorned my left ear.

78 Cutlass Supreme. How could the ladies resist it?

Yes, I was a walking, talking 80s stereotype, but even given all of the aforementioned criteria there was one thing that screamed 80s about me more than anything else: my flowing, gorgeous mullet.

Now THAT is a mullet

Of course, in the 80s mullets were more or less the norm. Nearly everyone had them. However, after around a decade of prominence, the mullet hair-do slowly faded into apparent oblivion, joining the likes of parachute pants and Member’s Only jackets in the rarified realm of fads that should never, ever be resurrected.

But like a follicley phoenix, the mullet has exploded back on to the scene . It has escaped the white trash demographic to which it was recently relegated and has come roaring back to prominence in affluent suburbs and our great nation’s cities.

I am a high school teacher and have been for nearly thirty years, and nobody was more surprised than I when young man after young man entered my classroom sporting the coif of my youth.

Let’s take some time and explore the evolution of the mullet.

PART 1: The Genesis

Few know that the mullet hairstyle actually borrows its name from a fish. The Mugilidae family of fish consists of 78 species and can occupy both freshwater and saltwater. The ability of the fish to assimilate to different environments provides a metaphorical link to the pervasive nature of the hair style: Sure, you expect to see it on slack-jawed, knuckle dragging, Copenhagen-dipping rednecks, but it can be just as at home adorning the pate of high school honor students and college valedictorians.

Yet, the geographical allegory does not fully explain why the name of a mammalian hairstyle owes its taxonomy to a trash eating chordate. The most probable reason for the name transference lies in the face that mullets are “…distinguished by the presence of two separate dorsal fins…” behind their flat ass heads.

I know a picture is worth a thousand words, so I present to you this illustration in order to solidify my argument:

A mullet

PART 2: The 80s: The Renaissance

Although the mullet is returning and never fully went away, there can be no doubt at all that the heyday of the hairstyle came in the 1980s.

Like so many fads, it is highly probable that the media catalyzed the hippie-haired or bowl-cut headed children of the late 70s and early 80s to embrace the “bi-level” which was a different term for the hair-do. One would have never pulled on his Men at Work T-Shirt, slid into his OP cord shorts, slid up his knee socks and walked into a barber shop or hair salon and say “I’ll have a mullet”. But, when the customer said “bi-level” everyone knew it was a mullet they were looking for .

My first encounter with the mullet came from a very unlikely source. Given the general characteristics of their hair, African Americans were generally not part of the mullet craze. Yet, it was Michael Jackson who moonwalked across a stage and put the love of mullets into my heart.

Thrilled about a mullet

Jackson continued to utilize the mullet through “Thriller” ,undeniably adding to its wild success. While African Americans mullets are a rarity, the rabid love for Jackson that was so pervasive in America during the era most likely added to the allure of the mullet. It was after watching Jackson that I had an epiphany: I already had longish hair so I was already in possession of the most difficult component of having a mullet to call my very own. Had I had short hair I would have had to endure the Sisyphean process of growing my hair first, but as it was all I had to do was shape up the top and sides. I made a bee line for the barber, and I was not alone.

The mullet’s prominence in media was not simply propagated by entertainers like Jackson though. Athletes, unable to withstand the siren’s song of the mullet, sought to tailor their follicles in the mullet manner as well. Larry Byrd augmented his smoldering good looks with a solid mullet, securing his position as an iconic representation of masculine beauty and starting a trend in the NBA.

A beautiful Byrd

In the squared circle, Ray “Boom-Boom” Mancini thrilled men with his pugilistic prowess and thrilled women with a majestic mullet.

Mancini

On the soccer field, Tony Meola, paisan to Mancini , grew a long, flowing mullet that influenced the International soccer world, and it was Italy’s Roberto Baggio who sported a wild mullet that deflected criticism from him after he skyed a PK that lost Italy the finals.

Meola
Baggio

On the ice, there were many hall of fame mullets, but Hall Of Famer Jaromir Jagr skated into first place in 1990 with a mullet of historic glory.

Jagr

Then it happened. In 1987 the movie “The Lost Boys” hit the big screen and Jason Patric and Kieffer Sutherland’s characters propelled the majestic mullet into a national must have. Boys from 5 to 95 lined up to get bi-leveled. Man, what a time to have been alive!

Sutherland and Patric

PART 3: The Passion Ebbs

As the 80s subsided into the 90s, the mullet slowly but surely began receding from the public’s eye. I was late to the party in cutting my mullet, and it wasn’t until around the mid -90s that my then girlfriend told me I looked like a fool and needed to lose the mullet. Singing Auld Lang Syne in my head and with a heavy heart, I bid farewell to my old friend and adopted a characterless buzz cut.

By the late 90s and well into the 2000s , the mullet lay dormant in most segments of American society. To have a mullet in those days said something about you , and what it said was that you were probably any and or all of the following:

This tragic fall from grace was capitalized upon by HBO, who used it as the signature phenotype feature of Danny McBride’s disgustingly ignorant ( yet funny) character Kenny Powers on Eastbound & Down.

The ignominious Powers

Yes, it seemed that the combination of the mullets unappealing looks and its dreadful symbolism would condemn it forever, but then came:

Part 4: The Resurgence

It didn’t happen like a gentle snow storm with a few stray flurries gradually turning into a all encompassing blizzard. The mullet revival hit like tsunami. It wasn’t just a few guys with mullets that perpetuated the resurgence. It was almost as though a huge mass of the male population went to the barber shop together one day and came back with mullets! Of course, as all things will, the mullet has evolved a bit, but the inexorable combination of “short on top, long in back” makes it impossible to call the new do anything BUT a mullet. Here are some of my students and their mullets (they all gave consent). I will give each a name.

Exhibit A: The Friz

This student carefully cultivated his mullet to circumvent the curly nature of his hair. If one doesn’t thin the hair out, one runs the risk of having a hairball on the back of his neck. The close tapering of the sides combined with the dramatic different in lengths make this a frizzy, full mullet.

Exhibit B: The Helmet

This young man’s recently acquired mullet scream “Take Me Out To The Ball Game”. It looks as though the students head has become a batting helmet. This mullet has true 80s hairband potential.

Exhibit C: Ginger Mullet.

Only two percent of the entire world has red hair, and here we have the good fortune of observing perhaps the rarest of mullets in the wild- Ginger Mullet. Ginger mullets should be celebrated upon every sighting.

Exhibit D: The Ruler

Like me, this young man has very straight hair. He can measure centimeters up top, and inches in the back. This can also be called “Utility Mullet” .

Part 5: Summation

An informal poll of my female students revealed that the mullet resurgence is not welcome amongst those with two X chromosomes. When asked if they found mullets attractive, the girls answers varied between “No”, “Hell No”, and “Are you kidding”. Therefore, I am fairly confident in saying that the mullet does NOT have the same amorous allure that, say, a peacock’s feathers has. The most rational explanation for the mullet revival is that America loves an underdog. Today’s youth refused to let the bi-level succumb to its probable extinction and redefine it.

We can only hope they don’t feel the same way about rat tails.

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Dr. Dad Bod

I am a husband, father, teacher, and soccer coach, and aspiring writer residing in Northern Virginia. More than anything, I love having fun and pushing myself!