Life

Mullets Have Become the Must-Have Haircut at English Private Schools

"When you see a good mullet, it’s just funny. It’s like: fair enough."
08 September 2020, 8:00am
mullets

Move aside, curtains, and make way for the mullet, the new must-have haircut for Britain’s private school boys.

Dubbed the haircut of the year by i-D, the much-maligned trim has been cropping up on various @mulletsof Instagram pages, starter-pack-memes I can only assume are funny to people with the ability to understand a school’s Latin motto, and, of course, private school TikTok parodies.

When Zachary, a 17-year-old boarder at an all boys school in Kent, asked his friend to cut him a mullet, he wasn’t concerned with “how professional it looked”, or even whether it looked “good or bad”. Instead, his goal was simply a “filthy” mullet – in other words, a “thick mullet with no blending and preferably a V-shape”. His inspiration stemmed from the fact that “it’s a funny haircut and I had a rugby game at the weekend”.

Sammy, a 17-year-old boarder at a mixed school in Warwickshire – who described his current haircut as a “five on top, three on the sides and long in the back” – decided to take the mullet route because he thought “it was a bit of a jokes haircut”.

Likewise, 18-year-old Zac – who attends a mixed school in the South East – told me that, despite knowing he’d “look like a complete knob”, he opted for a mullet “because I thought it would be really funny. I saw a bunch of rugby players get it and I was like, ‘Why not.’”

So: the mullet is popular because it looks funny – as good a reason as any, I suppose. But there are plenty of funny-looking haircuts. The bowl, say, or The ‘02 Ronaldo. Why is it specifically the mullet that has taken off?

For Sammy, “There’s an irony to the mullet haircut. It’s this disgustingly gross haircut, which means it’s definitely worn in an ironic way.” For Zac, it’s purely that “when you see a good mullet, it’s just funny. It’s like, fair enough.”

Jemima Bradley, who goes by @mulletbabyy on Instagram, is a queer hairdresser and expert on all things mullet. She’s been cutting them for two years, after initially being drawn to the style as “a way for people to explore themselves, and their identity, and for me to explore myself”.

Jemima explained that the haircut has historically been seen “on music legends, punks, skinheads, queers and even cowboys”, which makes its newfound popularity with private school boys somewhat surprising. “If you look back to the 70s, lesbians took on the mullet to show their dykeness. Then, in the 80s, the mullet became popular with pop stars, and from then on people from all kinds of background had a mullet, because it was seen on TV, or on their idols,” said Jemima.

By the 1990s, the style had become widely satirised and ridiculed. But it’s spent the past couple of years making a comeback, appearing everywhere from the Old Town Road music video to the head of cricketer Adam Zampa. In June, an Australian school’s decision to ban pupils from wearing mullets prompted a nationwide discussion over whether this constituted an act of “class war”.

Jemima explained that this mullet renaissance began with “queer people and fashion, and then went up to pop stars, like Miley Cyrus and Zendaya, and from that went right into mainstream society”.

However, Jemima doesn’t believe this wider resurgence explains the private school mullet trend. Instead of originating in the fashion world, she attributes it “to a rebellion against being brought up in a privileged background. These boys have probably been brought up to dress and act a certain way, in order to be successful person.”

Sammy agreed with the idea that the haircut offered a way to push back against the system: “You’re always in school, and it’s your only way to rebel.”

Surprisingly, none of the schoolboys’ parents objected to their sons’ mullets, with Sammy’s dad even helping him maintain the look with clippers over lockdown. Perhaps this is because the boys see the mullet as a temporary hairstyle, rather than a lifestyle.

Zachary embraced his mullet because he knew he “most likely wouldn’t get it again”, while Zac acknowledged that if he was “going to go and get a job, I wouldn’t have a mullet”.

Despite the mullet having all the hallmarks of Banter™ – links to rugby culture, embracing intentional ugliness, humiliation as male bonding – none of the boys I spoke to about their mullets mentioned the words “banter” or “lads”, instead using “jokes” or “boys”. Not to reignite the infernal “is-the-lad-dead-discourse”, but I do think, semantically, this is significant.

Roughly speaking, B.C (banter culture) ended when Dapper Laughs appeared on Newsnight in a turtleneck, and J.C. (jokes culture) rose from its Lynx-scented ashes when Chris and Kem starred on Love Island. Although clearly evolved from B.C., J.C. is distinctly different: it’s fashion conscious, prefers irony to insult, is kind over cruel, and is more generally bothered with being “cool”.

My rough taxonomy would be: B.C. is UV parties, borderline spiritual reverence towards the word “fanny”, polo shirts with the collar up and the Inbetweeners, while J.C. is sending someone mushy peas via the Spoons app, the word “sesh”, shopping on Depop, and Peep Show.

In light of this, it makes sense that the mullet is the haircut of choice for private school boys. A style that’s always managed to be ugly and trendy, funny and cool, it couldn’t do a better of job of encapsulating the transition from B.C. to J.C.

@pollysmythe / @lilyblkly