Apparently Hell froze over, and the mullet has returned

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I remember my wife once telling me that everything in fashion is cyclical, a statement I initially found dubious.

Admittedly, I have the fashion sense of a chewed shoe so I’m shooting from the hip here, but I’ve watched as my students and my own kids brought back the ’90s Gen. X aesthetic of torn-up jeans[1] and heavy metal T-shirts while covering themselves with tattoos.

This, I can understand.

But even that aesthetic wasn’t new when my generation embraced it. Many of Gen. X-ers’ parents ditched the conservative shirts and ties for faded bell-bottoms, unkempt hair and beards and burned bras in the late-’60s and ’70s—more styles that still seem to be cycling.

But there was one fashion trend that I was sure could never return, something that exists in ignominy in my own past, and something I deeply wanted to forget.

I’m speaking about the mullet.

As both a teacher and a parent attending graduation ceremonies earlier this month, I spied a number of young men who had cropped their hair short in the front and side while letting the back flow like Venetian fountains.

At first, I was incredulous. Surely it was a joke, an ironic nod-nod/wink-wink at the world. And quite frankly, it drudged up some trauma for me. There was no possible way the mullet could return in earnest.

I speak to you, my friends, as a survivor. The truth of the matter is that from roughly 1989 through 1993, I rocked a mullet.[2]

My mullet, circa 1992, far past its expiration date.

The mullet, in many ways, embraced the ’80s ethos where you work during the day and party hard at night, a dichotomy that worked in a white-washed Reagan-era where you didn’t want to be a long-haired hippie nor a neatly-shorn tight-ass.

In my case, my mullet reflected existential confusion where I both wanted to conform and rebel. Around this time, there was a cultural clash when the hair band glam-rockers like Poison were muted when Guns N’ Roses broke out of the garage. Then in 1991, a band named Nirvana released “Nevermind[3]” and the full-grunge aesthetic began to bloom and the mullet fell out of favor.

But I missed the memo. In fact, I still sported the mullet in my senior portrait in 1993, and the only reason I cut it was because I couldn’t have my hair covering my shoulders as a high school wrestler.[4] But after wrestling season ended, the mullet made its triumphant return.

For many years, throughout college and beyond, I balked at bringing girlfriends to my parents’ house, fearing they’d see my mulleted senior portrait and dump me.

Which brings me back to this initial sense of incredulousness when I saw these vibrant young men with the whole world ahead of them making the same grievous mistake I made in 1993.

Why has this happened?[5,6,7] I guess I can accept my wife’s statement about fashion being cyclical, but as a human species, we also need to learn from history and not repeat our most egregious mistakes.

I hope I’m right, and these young men shearing their hair are doing it with a healthy sense of irony because, trust me, it’s a hairstyle—that as an adult with the gift of retrospect—they’ll someday deeply regret.

_______

[1] I can never remember paying to have my jeans ripped. In my own recollections, we wore our jeans until they were tattered because we were too lazy to go to the store and buy a new pair. Consistent with our Gen. X ethos, we simply didn’t give a shit. N.B. This is still my style.

[2] Maybe it was because I’m incorrigibly tone-deaf to fashion, or because I grew up in West Warwick, R.I., a town that still embraces the hair-metal movement, but I had a mullet far longer than I should have.

[3] It wasn’t until my freshman year in college that I cut the mullet. I then grew my hair long on the top while shaving the sides and back, so it looked like a spider plant.

[4] At one point, some fascist referee cut my mullet with tape scissors in a locker room, devastating me at the time. Now I wish I could hug that man and buy him a beer.

[5,6,7] I’m not the only one who is on to the return of the mullet. So is The Guardian, Vogue and some think-tank that studies things like mullets.