The history of the mullet, Iran's forbidden haircut.

Answers to your questions about the news.
July 10 2010 12:29 AM

Whence the Mullet?

The history of Iran's forbidden haircut.

A mullet. Click image to expand.
Mullet hairstyle

The Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance banned "un-Islamic" Western hairstyles for men earlier this week—in particular, the ponytail, a spiky gelled hairdo known locally as the "rooster," and the infamous mullet. When did Westerners start wearing mullets?

In Ancient Greece. The haircut may have originated in the Middle East, but Alan Henderson, author of Mullet Madness!: The Haircut That's Business Up Front and a Party in the Back, wonders whether prehistoric peoples wouldn't have discovered the benefit of trimming hair short in the front to keep it out of their eyes while letting it grow long in the back to insulate the neck from rain and cold. Archaeological evidence confirms the existence of ur-mullets in the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, Syria, and Asia Minor, writes Henderson. Hittite warriors from the 16th century BCE sported mulletlike cuts, as did the Assyrians and Egyptians. Finally, Greek statues and etchings dating back to the 6th century BCE reveal that mulletlike cuts were present in Western culture from the very start. (Roman men eschewed the mullet in favor of a more closely cropped look.)

Advertisement

Though Iranian officials have only just now designated the mullet as a form of "Western cultural invasion," the haircut has always been with us. But the emergence of a national and global awareness of style trends has transformed personal tonsorial choices into matters of public concern and obsession. When long locks became popular for men in the early 1970s, along with afros, ponytails, and shaggy sideburns, the mullet was simply another stylized variant. Cultural observers credit Paul McCartney's "Wings of Pegasus" and David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust mane with catalyzing the mullet's ascendance. The style finally attained mainstream popularity in the 1980s, when a large proportion of musicians, actors, and athletes adopted the hairdo.

The haircut's name, however, does appear to be a relatively recent Western innovation. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the Beastie Boys' 1994 song "Mullet Head" as the first use of the term as such. The rap, along with a related Grand Royal magazine article titled "Mulling Over the Mullet," inspired some to create Web sites, like the now-defunct Mullet Watch, promoting the hairstyle as an ironic fetish object. Until that point, mullet-head was simply an old-fashioned American insult denoting a stupid or foolish person. Around since at least the mid-19th century, mullet-head may derive from the synonymous British slur mull-head, or from mullet, the name of a widely consumed, flat-headed fish. The term was even used by Mark Twain in his novel Huckleberry Finn.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Like  Slate and the Explainer on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Foreigners

More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

Jurisprudence

Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 2:57 PM ISIS Helps Snuff Out Conservative Opposition to Government Funding Bill
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 1:26 PM Hey CBS, Rihanna Is Exactly Who I Want to See on My TV Before NFL Games
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 1:01 PM A Rare, Very Unusual Interview With Michael Jackson, Animated
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.