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Mullets are the hairstyle of the moment, so what exactly is the appeal?

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LAURA SPINNEY

WORDS BY CAIT EMMA BURKE

The haircut that’s taking over your Instagram feed.

For the past few decades, mullets have been a divisive and oftentimes reviled haircut. While the short-long hairstyle is most strongly associated with the ’80s, a Google search I fired off recently revealed that the ‘business in the front, party in the back’ hairstyle has a surprisingly long history.

According to History.com, the mullet has been “sported by rebels and respected leaders alike”, and, thanks to its practical and adaptable shape, “warriors with the style were harder to grab during battle and could fight without the frustration of hair in their eyes”. The more you know, right? While the mullet has certainly had periods of peak popularity (1980s Billy Ray Cyrus comes to mind), it’s never really completely gone away in the way that some hairstyles do – there have always been pockets of society that are ardent mullet supporters.


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This is not to ignore the fact that for many decades the mullet has also been openly despised by huge swathes of the population, most probably because of its association with the working-class. But from the mid-2010s onwards, particularly in the queer community and fashion world, the style began to make somewhat of a resurgence.

And more recently, it’s beginning to feel like mullets are absolutely everywhere. Sydney hairdresser Laura Spinney is well acquainted with the mullet’s explosion in popularity, having cut hundreds of them in the past year or so. Her Instagram feed is full of shaggy, mullet-y cuts and every day she has clients coming in wanting a version of these styles (her Instagram bio even reads ‘Your mullet shag queen’).

“I think people are always trying to reinvent themselves and the mullet which once was seen as a ‘low socioeconomic’ style haircut, is actually now being celebrated on all levels of gender, race, class and status. More to that, more people are embracing their natural waves, curl or texture. The mullet suits almost everyone from the extremes (skull cap style) to the softer styled baby mullets and everything in between,” Laura tells me.

As someone who recently became the proud owner of a mullet, I can’t help but agree with her. Since first acquiring one during lockdown, I’ve never felt better about my hair, and it’s hands down the easiest hairstyle I’ve ever sported yet it looks (in my humble opinion) fantastic. A lot of Melburnians seem to have had the same idea during lockdown, realising that the period of forced indoors time was the ideal chance to adopt a hairstyle they might usually be a little wary of.

Graphic designer and backyard hairdresser Caroline Rigby – incidentally the friend who first cut me a mullet – started cutting mullets for fun last year. After her services spread by word of mouth, she started 30buckmullets, where, as the name suggests, she cuts people mullets for $30 a pop. “During covid, obviously most people were suddenly unable to have their hair cut by their usual hairdressers, which partly contributed to people feeling less like themselves.

 

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“So initially I offered to cut my housemate’s hair, and I guess realised how fun and personal they were. On top of refreshing people’s looks, it also offered a little window to connect to people, emotionally and even physically. When I was able, friends asked for the same, and I realised as much as I loved giving them for free, a contribution would help me to continue, and 30buckmullets was born,” she says.

As someone with no formal training, the mullet has proven a fairly easy hairstyle for Caroline to master. “Mullets are an extremely forgiving style to cut, which is possibly why they’re such a popular backyard job. After a generally even shaping, you can really just chip away like it’s a granite sculpture and you’re Michelangelo and just feel it out. This also means they can require less training and can be more accessible.”

Aside from the carefree, devil-may-care attitude that a mullet tends to project, both Laura and Caroline believe that its genderless nature massively contributes to its popularity, particularly in 2021. “Mullets can sit on a spectrum, or even simultaneously feel ‘femme’ or ‘masc’, softer or harder. They also allow a lot of room for expression, with a ‘softer/femme’ Patrick Swayze style on one end – the way the flicks frame the face. The way they seem to be perpetually blowing in the wind. The ’80s glam haze halo. Or a ‘harder/masc’ Yolandi Visser on the other end – the DIY roughness. It’s a ‘fuck you’ to typical beauty standards,” Caroline says.

Laura has cut mullets on clients of all gender identities and has increasingly noticed a blurring of lines between what constitutes a feminine and masculine haircut. “I  think the mullet/shag/wolf is genderless and that’s part of the reason why it is so popular. Historically, there wouldn’t be many masculine people sporting say, a bob, or a full fringe or too much length, whereas now all genders are just leaning into whatever part of the gender spectrum they feel more at home in whether that is texture and femme or bold and masc or an amalgamation of everything all at once,” she explains.

The surge in popularity of genderless hairstyles like the mullet was one of the reasons why Laura recently decided to introduce a genderless price structure to her practice. Women are typically charged more than men for the exact same services and as a hairdresser with many non-binary clients, she didn’t want to have to decide what side of the gender spectrum her client belonged to more. “I have a lot of queer and non-binary clients and I’m always asking questions or trying to find ways to make all my clients feel special. It didn’t make sense for me to charge based on the gender I think they fit the most.

“People are trying to avoid that stigma or struggling with their own identities so why would I single-handedly make it even more confusing for them. Also as a cis woman, I realise that hair and beauty [services] are often much higher [prices] for us than the male counterpart. For non-binary people, it’s been really nice. I’ve had a lot of great feedback and it just fuels me to continue to create a safe space for everyone.”

Mullets have blossomed into a style that anyone can enjoy. No longer relegated to truck drivers or forgotten ’80s hair metal singers, they are finally having their (long overdue) time in the spotlight. And if you’re still hesitant about biting the bullet and adopting a mullet, Laura suggests opting for a shag cut. “Shags are like the gateway drug to a mullet but they’re still hugely popular for those who aren’t ready to go the whole hog (me!) but the spectrum is huge in where it can go.”

But according to Laura, like anything in life, “if you have the confidence and are really sure you want something, I think you just have to rock the fuck out of it… there’s a mullet for everyone, you just have to find the right one for you.”

 

To learn more about Laura’s services, head here.
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