The rise and fall – and rise – of the mullet, the hairstyle that won’t die
In his hair salon in Nelson, Nathan Nukunuku has had a busy week. He’s cut about 20 mules in the past six days, a hairstyle he notices is on the rise.
Not limited to subcultures and the ironic, playful youth, mules are now everywhere – spotted on playgrounds, sports fields and even in Miter 10.
Nukunuku said mullets were big in 2019 and 2020, but the trend waned when people decided to chop down their locks.
In the past six months, he says, they’ve made a comeback. Still.
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“I was one of those who hated them. Now I love them,” he said, while ditching the hairstyle himself because his thick curls were “dreading” at the back.
He sees boys from elementary age through young adults doing what is often ridiculed, sometimes wearing them to summer festivals.
Barbers like Nukunuku say basketball players, Australian hip-hop artists and Kiwi rugby stars like the Highlanders’ Folau Fakatava influence children today.
Technically, they describe the mullet as “one of the easiest haircuts” – largely because mullet wearers want the back of their head to be nice and quiet.
Riley Morrison-Humm, 18, has had a mule for about two years. “All the boys did it,” he says.
Mullets these days can include fades – where the hair is cut very close to the skin, a comb over, a side part or a crop. Nukunuku also sees ponytails and rattails.
It’s fair to say that it’s not a style that all women love, but some will tolerate within reason.
“Most of them say it’s better when everything is tidy,” Nukunuku said.
Barber Napier Jabez Makawe’s mules have made him something of a TikTok star. His most popular video has been viewed 1.2 million times, garnering 186,000 likes.
People come from all over the country to have their mules cut by him, he says. The 35-year-old, who also goes by the nickname ‘Thy Mullay King’, wears a mullet himself and loves how polarizing they are.
“People [either] love them or hate them. I like this. I love getting that reaction from people.
Women, he said, “love mullays, absolutely love them”.
“In my experience, it’s a certain type of woman who loves him,” he said, but didn’t specify what “certain type.”
Makawe sees a wide range of age groups – including many in their 30s and 40s who were nostalgic for the look their dad had when they were little, or wore when they were younger.
“They want to look a little dirty but also fresh like ‘fire’, like the top and sides are nice and tidy, but the back has a bit of sturdiness.”
He also has lesbian women among his clientele. Other barbers say the cut is popular among both men and women.
“He’s a certain type of person who can have one,” Makawe says.
“We receive a lot of exchanges. They don’t have that stigma of being in touch with customers. »
From time to time, he has to deliver devastating news.
“You get the weird guy who’s like ‘I want to take a mullet, but the wife won’t let me’ or ‘I have to go to a wedding, so I’m going to cut it’. I always tell them, ‘That don’t you’ was never meant, you know’.
“It’s like a way of life, you have to take care of it. For me, that sets me apart and because I’m in a creative industry, it’s part of my swag.
Barber Luke Kimiora works in Auckland’s CBD, and aside from the youngsters, he’s seen businessmen and corporate types come in for more subtle versions – uniform finger length on top and length finger on the back.
The kids and the “hunks” rocked the mules the best.
Pupils at some schools in Auckland were in fact not allowed to mules, he said, although they got around that by growing their hair out during the summer holidays.
Mullets were popular during lockdown – as all you had to do was shave the sides – which Kimiora said most people could manage even without the experience fading or blending into the high.
Mullet is also apparently the cup of the day for Crate Day, the first Saturday in December tradition in which the goal is to drink a dozen 745ml bottles of beer in one day.
A mule doesn’t have to be pretty to be cool.
“My thing is, the uglier the mule, the better,” Kimiora said. “It catches the eye, I think.”