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

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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.)

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.

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