Mullet is one of many names given to hair that is cut short on the top and sides and grown long in the back. The name mullet can be traced to the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke in which a prison inmate called men from the U.S. South who wore long hair "mulletheads," after a popular southern fish called mullet.
During the 1980s fashions reflected the influence of the punks, who wore their hair raggedly cut to different lengths and shaped into spikes. At the same time gays and lesbians began to challenge society's ideas of gender identity. They created androgynous styles that could be worn by either men or women. By cutting their hair short on top and wearing it long in back, they combined the uneven cuts of the Punks with a look that combined the masculine and the feminine. Many rock musicians of the late 1980s wore the mullet, including glam rock stars David Bowie (1947–) and Lou Reed (1942–). Up-and-coming female musicians Joan Jett (1960–) and Pat Benatar (1952–) wore crisply cut mullets to give themselves a strong, hard-edged look, while pop singer Michael Bolton (1953–) wore a flowing mullet that suggested a romantic masculinity.
By the mid-1990s the mullet began to be denounced by fashion commentators as a terrible fashion mistake. Some mullet nicknames are descriptive: 10/90 (refers to the ratio of hair on top to hair in the back), sholo (short-long), and business-in-front-party-out-back. Others identify the style with the American South where the mullet seemed extremely prevalent: Tennessee Top Hat and Kentucky Waterfall. Country music singer Billy Ray Cyrus (c. 1961–) wore a mullet and his hit song of the late 1990s, "Achy Breaky Heart," gave rise to another of the mullet's many nicknames: "Achy Breaky Mistakey." Jokes about the mullet have become widespread, with hundreds of Internet Web sites devoted to mullet humor. Nevertheless, the mullet continues to be a hairstyle worn by some people.
Larson, Mark, and Barney Hoskyns. The Mullet: Hairstyle of the Gods. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000.