2019 saw the return of several haircuts and hairstyles that we thought we’d locked away in a vault for good. Charlize Theron brought back the bowl cut with the help of celebrity hairstylist Adir Abergel, while Little Women stars Florence Pugh and Saoirse Ronan rocked some ultra-aughts poufs, which led The Cut to deep-dive on the style. Another hairstyle that boomeranged back into existence: the mullet.
For many, the mullet evokes a very specific aesthetic and elicits an even more particular reaction. The party in the front, business in the back haircut has been often mocked and maligned, but it has also both inspired and served as a marker of identity for queer subcultures. In its heyday during the seventies, it was the crowning glory of rock stars like David Bowie, Keith Richards and Rod Stewart. Since then, it’s bobbed in and out of popular culture: It’s been proudly embraced by Billie Ray Cyrus, graced the heads of your movie-star crushes in the eighties (George Clooney, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze), used as an epithet by the Beastie Boys (in the 1994 “Mullet Head”) and worn unironically by professional athletes. It’s even occasionally resurfaced on film (Timothée Chalamet in The King), the runway (like Carolina Herrera’s fall 2019 show) and the red carpet (Rihanna in 2013 and Zendaya in 2016).
Lately, though, the haircut has been cropping up all over Instagram, shared by cool hairstylists and trendy hair salons, and embraced by celebs like Miley Cyrus. Now that it’s hit the mainstream, we enlisted the help of three hairstylists who are making a case for the modern mullet and asked them how the style got cool again.
Read this next: How Much Should You Really Spend On A Haircut?
So what is the mullet, anyway?
The mullet is a haircut that is worn short in the front—especially on the sides—and sits longer at the back. More recently, the mullet has sometimes been mistaken for or used interchangeably with the shag, but the two aren’t the same. Marc Anthony lead hairstylist and global spokesperson Marilisa Sears explains, “Anytime you have layers that are uneven and have pieces that frame your face, you’re moving into shag territory. The premise of a mullet is that it’s short in the front and long in the back. A shag fills in the sides.” That being said, you can have a mullet-y shag or a shaggy mullet. “Technically, a shag is a grown-out version of a mullet,” adds Karen Vu of Karen Vu Studio in Toronto, who often creates hybrid versions of the two styles.
Read this next: Celebs Are Obsessed With This Hairstyle—and We Think We Know Why
Why is it making a comeback?
Recently, Vu has cut more mullets and shags for her clients than any other haircuts. “If I were to break down my week, you’d see five shags and four mullets. I’m cutting them non-stop,” she says. Not only is it in demand, the cut is steadily popping up all over Instagram. The hashtag #mullet yields 554,000 search results, and there even dedicated accounts to the hairstyle like @mulletbabyy, which belongs to Jemima Bradley, a London-based hairstylist who specializes in mullets.
When asked why they’re trending, LA-based hairstylist and owner of Nova Arts Salon, Sal Salcedo says that haircuts are passed down the way customs are, skipping every few generations. He believes that the mullet represents the archetype of the warrior. “There’s a need for people to become more warrior-like—fearless, confident and strong. I think the mullet is a form of cultural rebellion.”
A mullet stands out by its very nature. It’s not meant to be subtle or blend into the crowd. It’s not a mainstream hairstyle and always results in a double-take. The mullet is also anything you want it to be and generally gender-neutral. “It makes you more edgy because it’s a bold haircut—regardless of gender,” says Vu.
The modern-day interpretation
The mullet of today doesn’t resemble its campier predecessor. It’s fresh, cool and a lot more modern. “I think the key to achieve [a modern look] is to capture the feeling of this era and not get distracted by the feelings from the past that created the previous styles,” says Salcedo.
The modern mullet is also a lot more customizable. In the past, it was one-size-fits-all. Salcedo prefers focusing on the individual and getting to know the vibe of the person sitting in his chair before he goes in to cut. One client may get baby bangs for her pink hair, while another may get a shaggy mullet.
“You can do so many different types of length,” adds Vu. “You can make it bold in the back or you can make it really texturized. People are realizing how customizable that haircut is. You get to choose the front and the back. You get to choose all the elements.” In this way, the modern-day mullet is a lot closer to a shag in its versatility.
Who can rock a mullet?
The most important question is: Do you have to be inherently cool to pull off a mullet? Vu doesn’t think so. “When you’re given a new look, whether it’s makeup or hair, if your stylist really understands you, they’ll create a look that’s comfortable for you to wear,” she says. “I’ve done shags on girls used to long hair but when I give them [the cut], it makes you feel instantly cool.” The right stylist will understand your aesthetic and give you the kind of cut that looks good and makes you feel good.
What to ask for
If your next cut is a mullet, be mindful of where you get it done. “Find someone who is bold enough to do those types of haircuts and enjoys doing them,” says Vu, who believes taste level matters. If a salon specializes in big blowouts, your mullet will probably look weird. But if you find the person who likes working with that type of cut, that’s the person to ask. “If you’re going to get a tattoo, you’re going to look for the tattoo artist who does the style you like,” she says. It’s the same idea with a specialized cut.
Once you find the right stylist, go in with a good idea of what you would like. “Bring at least two pictures of mullets you like,” says Vu, who advises not to bring more than two visual references. “Sometimes, if you bring too many, it’s too many options for someone who’s trying to create something [specific] on your head.” Salcedo agrees, but also believes that you should include images of styles you don’t like.
Whether you’re going consciously all-in on a mullet, or have accidentally acquired it like Billie Eilish, the throwback style has no plans to make an exit anytime soon.