Lil Nas X induced a stir, as he’s wont to do, when he arrived on the purple carpet at MTV’s Video Music Awards final fall sporting a lavender hybrid outfit — half pantsuit and half off-the-shoulder robe — by Atelier Versace. The purpose, defined the rapper, was to telegraph “a mixture of masculine and female power.” Furthering this concept was his hair: a mullet styled in a Jheri curl, a couple of wavy locks skimming his collarbone. The look drew comparisons to these of Rick James and Little Richard, whereas additionally reminiscent of an extended and somewhat colourful historical past.
There’s proof of the mullet — which is characterised by hair carefully shorn in all places besides in the back of the pinnacle, the place it’s left longish — showing in historic Assyria, Egypt and Greece. Greek texts counsel the model was notably well-liked with warriors; little doubt the longer strands stored their necks heat whereas the bangs ensured they may see clearly and, certainly, there’s one thing helmet-like concerning the model. In Homer’s “Iliad,” for example, the Abantes, a faction of spearmen, are described as having “hair lengthy on the again.” Depictions of the Greek gods additionally verify that the mullet was a method of the time: the Apollo Belvedere, a second-century Roman sculpture, depicts Apollo with hair tied on the prime and ringlets flowing down his neck. And in sure Indigenous populations, together with tribes of the Western United States just like the Blackfoot and Crow, lengthy hair has lengthy symbolized energy and a reference to the divine, and a model of the mullet — the entrance spiked with supplies like grease and the again lengthy and generally braided — is taken into account a conventional model.
That within the 19th century, males of the Nez Perce tribe of the Pacific Northwest who wore their hair lengthy within the again confronted strain from Christian missionaries to desert the model in favor of one thing extra “civilized” tells us concerning the evils of cultural erasure, but in addition about conformity extra broadly. In a lot of the Western world, mullets have largely been seen as a thwarting, whether or not one celebrated or feared, of conference. Take David Bowie, who wore chalky white make-up, psychedelic jumpsuits and a quaffed orange mullet to debut his otherworldly alter ego Ziggy Stardust in 1972. Not lengthy after this glamorous alien emerged got here a extra working-class punk subculture for which riot was a raison d’être. And as a lot as torn garments, security pins, chains and piercings — the stuff of “confrontation dressing,” as Vivienne Westwood known as it — the mullet performed a big half within the aesthetics of the motion. For one, the ragged model was purposefully ugly. “It was meant to be a shock to society,” says the hairstylist Guido Palau, who was a mullet-wearing member of the punk scene of 1970s Dorset, England. “You’d stroll down the highway and other people would cross over to keep away from you,” he says. “It induced such havoc.”
Within the ’80s and early ’90s, barely softer variations suffused the broader tradition through the period’s dreamboat celebrities (Lionel Richie, Andre Agassi, the members of Duran Duran) earlier than crossing over into tacky territory on the heads of Billy Ray Cyrus and Michael Bolton. However the minimize retained its edge within the queer group. The gender-bending musicians Joan Jett, Patti Smith and Prince all sported the model, which was copied by lots of their followers. “Queer individuals in all probability weren’t going to a mainstream salon, as a result of that’s not an area the place you have been snug,” says Rachael Gibson, the London-based hair and wonder editor who runs an Instagram account known as the Hair Historian. “However by nature of being a do-it-yourself factor, it turned a robust assertion of being an outsider.” Nonetheless, a decade or so later, the coiffure, by then a tragic mark of attempting too laborious, fell out of favor in an enormous method.
Maybe, the mullet elicited such robust reactions as a result of it refuses to be anyone factor, sitting on the midpoint between lengthy and brief, masculine and female and tasteful and cheesy. But when an incapability to categorize causes discomfort in some, this form of in-betweenness is simply what some are searching for, particularly at a time when gender and style each really feel, rightfully and crucially, so fluid. No marvel, then, that during the last 5 years the mullet has skilled a relative resurgence. Popular culture mainstays like Rihanna, who ceaselessly returns to the model, and Miley Cyrus, whose uneven model has develop into a form of signature, have introduced the mullet again and cemented it as cool as soon as once more. It appeared in a mess of fall 2022 runway exhibits, together with Junya Watanabe’s ready-to-wear, by which fashions walked with seemingly haphazardly dyed variations, in addition to punk leather-based jackets, and at Stella McCartney’s, which featured shaggier takes harking back to ’70s rockers. Palau is accountable for the mullets seen at Alexander McQueen spring 2022 present, some bleached and spiked in overt references to Bowie. The hairstylist remembers that the model’s namesake founder was notably keen on the model. “He cherished the sense of play,” says Palau, “the brief and lengthy collectively.”
Play, sure, however what about energy? Gen Z has made it particularly clear that there’s lots to struggle again towards. “Whether or not [it’s] the consciousness of local weather change that they’ve been born into, then spending two years on-line and now a conflict occurring, they acknowledge the world as excessive,” says Moya Luckett, a media historian and professor of movie star tradition at N.Y.U., who has observed extra frequent and extra radical experimentation in her college students’ appears to be like previously few years. “They’re eager about pushing buttons and bounds.” On the similar time, this era acknowledges that we’re in a postmodern period by which nobody look is completely in or out, and even all that more likely to get an enormous response. It could be troublesome to seek out somebody who crosses the road to keep away from a mullet in 2022. As Palau sees it, “It’s fairly laborious to shock individuals along with your hair now as a result of there are such a lot of surprising issues on the planet.” The children know, too, that aesthetics’ political potential solely goes up to now. However the mullet is a begin, a gesture, a promise. And at a naked minimal, the model, usually summed up as “enterprise within the entrance, get together within the again,” is fairly excellent for Zoom conferences.