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Davis, California

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Mullet mania: Why is the most notorious 80s haircut making a bold comeback?

Three “mulleters” on campus discuss their look

This past year, I noticed a reemergence of a fashion statement so bold and so shocking, one that was thought to be lost long ago in the age of glam rock and unfettered redneck masculinity. I’m talking about the ape drape, the squirrel pellet, the achy breaky bad mistakey — the mullet. The term was coined by the Beastie Boys after “mullet head”(meaning dimwitted), and can be spotted at the football field, art studio or fraternity house. Students not around for the mullet’s heyday are willingly opting-in for what is often considered hair-do faux pas number one. 

The mullet is one of the few haircuts that draws an immediate visceral reaction — forcing you into a double-take as you stammer, “Is that what I think it is?” The advent of the mullet goes way back to centuries before it found infamy in contemporary Western culture. Ancient Roman chariot racers, Native Americans and even Benjamin Franklin with the “skullet” (barren scalp in the front, party in the back) proudly donned versions of the hairdo. 

Those not wary of its presence in the annals of history may have become acculturated to the hairstyle by its takeover in the 1980s when the tousled mane flowed down the backs of superstar rockers like David Bowie and Paul McCartney. Since the 1980s, the mullet went into deep hibernation, and many — myself included — came to the conclusion that it had seen its final day. 

And yet in the face of all odds, it carries on. I caught up with three “mulleters” on campus to find out why.

For Sam Cohen-Suelter, a fourth-year communication and cinema digital media major, the mullet started out as a joke, but has since expanded into a signature ‘do.

“I think at first I was doing it for a joke,” Cohen-Suelter said. “I’ve done weird things with my hair before so it wasn’t completely off-brand, but the first time I did, I was like, ‘I kind of mess with it.’” 

Cohen-Suelter noted its versatile benefits, as the bold choice offers nearly limitless options.

 “I really like long hair, but I don’t like it getting in my face,” Cohen-Suelter said. “Instant fix. Another one is to even tie it up. You have a short little ponytail and put it through the back of your hat.”

Since adopting the mullet, Cohen-Suelter has seen the style pop up all over, including in the realm of competitive Super Smash Bro events. Cohen-Suelter cited the elite-level German gamer, Mustafa Akçakaya, professionally known as “European Mew2King,” as an influence on his decision to rock the “ape drape.”

“I play Super Smash Brothers competitively and one of my favorite players has the same haircut,” Cohen-Suelter said. “So I was like, ‘I gotta replicate it.’ This is the best player in Germany. His gamer tag is ‘Ice.’ He’s got the trucker hat. It looks good. It looks really good.”

According to Cohen-Suelter, the mullet is a look you have to grow into. He had his own mullet epiphany while out on a run.

“It’s only been like the past month or so where I’m like, ‘Holy sh-t, what is that on my head?’” Cohen-Suelter said. “I’m pretty down for it. Once I went for a run, my hair was just really sweaty. I just pushed it up and it didn’t fall down to the sides. I just looked up and it was perfect.”

While contemplating what to do for his next fraternity composite picture, Evan Swanson, a fourth-year international relations major, decided that he wanted to go all in. He wanted something unabashedly “frat,” and the mullet fit the bill.

“The only reason I grew it was for the composite picture because I just thought it’d be really funny to have a mullet,” Swanson said.

Swanson’s mullet legacy will live on long after he leaves the campus.

“I think having it hung up [in my fraternity house] for the foreseeable future is pretty cool,” Swanson said. “It’s definitely something that when I come back when I’m older and I’m ever in town, I’ll be like, ‘Yeah man, I remember doing that. I was that guy.’”

Holly Murphy, a second-year environmental policy and analysis major, proudly repped the mullet for its versatile qualities. Like Cohen-Suelter, they choose the mullet life as a joke, but since then they have come to enjoy its fluidity.

“I’d always been wanting to do something a little more masculine, and I have a very feminine face,” Murphy said. “Recently, I like to dress more androgynous and more masculine, and I think with long hair and bangs you just can’t really do it. So it was time to be more androgynous — let’s cut the hair.”

At first, Murphy was rather self-conscious about the mullet, but they eventually found themself growing quite fond of the look.

“There was a little moment of self-consciousness that was kind of scary, but then once you rock it, you get into it,” Murphy said.

They cited inspiration from the Queer community of the 1980s, when lesbians rocked the style to break barriers and proudly identify themselves. They elaborated that the Queer community has truly transformed the mullet to fit their own unique style.

“It’s a big thing within the Queer community, especially with lots of lesbians in the 80s, because it’s short in the front and you can do a lot in the back,” Murphy said. “It’s kind of an in-between. And then we start seeing women and nonbinary people rocking this more masculine look. I think what the gays really started doing was looking at this farmer chic or hick chic and started taking it and turning it into their own thing.”

The three mulleters have found their choice in hair-do generally well-accepted within the Davis community. Murphy received praise in the form of a shout-out on the app Wildfire and Swanson was all the rage among his fraternity brothers, even passing the test of approval from his girlfriend. Cohen-Suelter’s mullet also drew a crowd at an In-N-Out Burger drive-thru when a bewildered employee pointed it out to their co-workers. 

The mullet is a symbol of rebellion against the status quo. You can take issue with the optics, but you have to respect the courage to rock it. 

“There’s definitely a little bit of attitude that comes with having a mullet,” Swanson said. “I feel like it says something about you, where you’re giving vibes that say ‘I’m bold.’”

Written by: Andrew Williams — arts@theaggie.org


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