The massive mullet moment: why the world’s hair is all

Mullets, it seems, are “back”. Again. In recent years celebrities including Miley Cyrus, Lil Nas X and Rihanna have sported “parties in the back”, while swathes of TikTok users have made videos showing off theirs (the hashtag “mullet” currently has more than 10 billion views on the app). But Paul Mescal, star of Normal People and Aftersun and heart-throb of straight woman everywhere, has somehow tipped the scales and made it official: mullets, once acceptable only for hippies and Australians, can be – and very much are – sexy.

Up until about a month ago, I had been wearing my hair in some approximation of a mullet for just over a year. It is now a bit too short at the back to count, which is more a result of my miscommunication with the barber (it was my first time risking a visit to a regular “men’s” barbershop and I panicked) than any real desire to de-mullet.

One theory about the mullet comeback is that it is a product of the Covid pandemic, as a result of people who previously had short hair letting it grow out. My own was technically a pandemic mullet, debuting at the end of 2021, just before the Omicron variant had it spending a month mostly tucked inside my dressing gown hood. I’m sure the increase in mullets around me must have spurred on my decision to an extent. But the slightly embarrassing truth is that I had wanted a mullet for a good year or two before I got one. I knew, however, that getting one would make me stick out at my old workplace, and I’ve always let that kind of thing bother me a bit too much. So I waited until I got a job at the tofu-eating Guardian, where everyone was too enlightened (or at least too polite) to be rude about my hair.

Lucy with her mini-mullet.
Lucy with her mini-mullet. Photograph: Lucy Knight

While I was obviously a big old wuss to let a fear of what people might think get in the way of a haircut, I was not wrong to assume that a mullet would evoke strong reactions. A mullet is in some ways the ultimate “ugly” haircut, mysteriously managing to be weird and cool. Though my parents were predictably unfazed (having previously come out as a lesbian and a vegetarian, I don’t think I can shock them any more) and my close friends predictably complimentary, I did attract some snarky comments from a stranger at a work event: “Is that what the kids are doing now? God help us.” And while my mullet seemed to ward off a fair amount of creepiness from men, some of the sexist remarks simply got exchanged for homophobic ones.

Because – and this is worth remembering, now that everyone is doing it – mullets are gay. Drag kings and dykes and queers of all flavours have been mulleting ever since the cut was last officially in fashion. A straight man may now show his barber a picture of Mescal, but only because queer women like me went before him and asked our stylists for a cut like Tegan and Sara’s.

It’s the queerness, the androgyny and the general rule-breaking playfulness of a mullet that made me, and presumably many others, want to try one in the first place. And I know it sounds ridiculously cringey to say, but it is a haircut that made me feel free – free of expectations, free to express myself. Those feelings can’t be thwarted by a few nasty comments or raised eyebrows, I realise now. My mullet can’t grow back fast enough.