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For 'mulletheads,' it's not just a hairstyle, it's a lifestyle

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

By L.A. Johnson, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Some 20 years ago, mullets freely roamed the Earth without shame and free of rancor.

(Illustrated by Daniel Marsula, Post-Gazette)


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TV Preview: 'Mullets' star finds hairstyle is 'such a lure'

They were badges of honor and rugged, rebellious individualism.

In the modern mullet era, singers Michael Bolton, Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Ray Cyrus not only popularized but exalted the hairdo.

The Boltonian-Jovian Age gave way to the Cyrusian Age. Then, a darkness descended upon the Earth and the mullet fell out of favor, becoming a much maligned and oft-loathed coiffure that exposed anyone who wore it to great ridicule.

"Not everybody has the guts to actually wear one," says Jeff "Joe Dirt" Stefanak, 17, of Aurora, Ohio, who started growing his in May. "Only special people can wear it."

The mullet is a hairstyle but not just any 'do. It's short (and sometimes spiky) on the top, front and sides and long in the back.

Business in the front; party in the back. The Bi-Level. The Ape Drape. The Mississippi Mudflap. The Missouri Compromise. The 10/90 (the ratio of hair up front to hair in back). The Camaro Cut. The Achy-Breaky-Bad-Mistakey. Hockey Hair. The Yep-Nope. The Squirrel Pelt. The list goes on and on.

It has spawned this fall's UPN television show "The Mullets," the 2002 documentary "American Mullet" and countless Web sites, including the ever-popular www.mulletsgalore.com, where some have traced the mullet's origin to ancient Greece and Rome.

Mullets rule! And 20 years after their prime, they continue to repel and fascinate.

 
 
Mullets on the Web

For more information on mullet culture, parodies, pictures, poetry and philosophy, visit:

www.mulletjoe.com

www.mulletmadness.com

www.mulletjunky.com

www.gotmullet.com

www.mulletlovers.com

www.americanmullet.com

   
 

The Oxford English Dictionary offers this among its 12 definitions of mullet: "a hairstyle with the hair cut short on the sides and in front, but long and flowing down the back neck," though most other dictionaries still list only the fish.

However, the word's origin, as it describes hair, still is mysteriously murky with no one quite sure where the fish met the hair. Some speculate the hairstyle resembles the mullet fish's fins. Others claim that Icelandic fishmongers who fished mullet used to wear their hair short on top and long in the back to keep their necks warm.

The mullet worn by the title character in the film "Joe Dirt" inspired Stefanak to make the move to Mulletville and he doesn't believe he looks good with any other haircut.

"I wanted long hair, but everybody wanted me to keep short hair, so I thought I'd go in the middle," says Stefanak, formerly of Cranberry. "I sort of looked Amish for a while, as it was growing out, but now it's an official mullet -- 8 inches in the back."

It attracts the ladies, too.

"The hottest girls in my school love to touch my hair," he says.

Ed Eichenlaub knows the feeling.

"I get a lot of people who want to play with it," says Eichenlaub, 47, of Bethel Park. "I'm known for it. If I got it cut short again, it would be like, 'Who are you?' "

His blondish-gray mullet stretches all the way down his back, ending just 5 inches above his belt. The long end of his mullet once got stuck beneath the wheels of a creeper as he worked on his car. He has a long beard, too, and portrays Father Christmas at the Frick Art & Historical Center around the holidays.

Eichenlaub currently is growing out the front, top and sides of his mullet for a wizard character he portrays as a storyteller. However, he doubts he'll ever give it up completely. It's a huge part of his spirituality.

"Just the freedom of it," says Eichenlaub, who works in the ear, nose and throat office at UPMC Shadyside Hospital. "This is standard equipment on this model. ... Why shave? Why worry about getting haircuts when this is the way it was meant to be?"

Tom Suchevich starting growing his straight brown hair into a mullet, with a 2-inch plume on top, on a dare. He's always been a big fan of Jim Krenn and Randy Baumann's Tino Martino Mullet Talk segments on WDVE's Morning Show on 102.5 FM.

Tom Vesch, who works as a paralegal, has worn his sandy-brown mullet since the late '70s. "It keeps me warm in the winter," he says. (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

"It started out as a baby mullet and it kept growing out over the summer," says Suchevich, 23, of Penn Hills. "Now, it's a full MacGyver mullet."

It's the hairstyle folks love to hate and one that just won't die.

Jessica Stephanic, a stylist at Supercuts in Greensburg, says in an average week she does about three mullet cuts.

"They don't call it a mullet. They just say, 'Keep the length in the back and as short as possible on top and cut the ears out,' " she says.

Even in the big city, there's a market for mullets.

"We've all had to do them at one time or another," says Tina Kriley, manager of Supercuts in Oakland. They do about two a month and it's usually middle-aged men.

"We try to discourage it," she says. "It's from the 1980s."

Suchevich, who describes himself as a heavy metal fan and a strange individual who always wears shorts, says his friends haven't been completely supportive of his hairstyle.

"One girl said it was 'OK,' " says Suchevich, a Penn State civil engineering major. "Another said, 'You need to get that thing cut!' "

A few friends even sneaked up behind him with scissors, pretending they were going to cut it off. Suchevich doesn't think his friends object to his 'do because it's outdated.

"It's more a white trash thing," he says. "It's highly amusing, just the reactions that people get and give you."

And while he's a rebel, he's a pragmatic one.

"I'll probably get it cut within a couple weeks to do the job interviews, but once I get a job, I'll grow it back," he vows.

Tom Vesch has worn his curly, sandy-brown mullet since the late '70s.

"A lot of people have told me it's an outstanding mullet," says Vesch, 45, of Avalon. "It keeps me warm in the winter."

Some say it takes more effort to care for a mullet, but others, like Vesch, claim it's fairly easy to maintain.

"It's just wash and go," he says. "I run a pick through it, and there it goes."

A week ago, a friend bought him a bottle of Vibrant Mullet shampoo from the Andy Warhol Museum gift shop. They sell Mullet gum, too. The mullet's not just a hairstyle; it's a way of life.

"It says, don't get too serious about anything, but don't get carried away," says Vesch, a paralegal with Reed Smith.

And there seems to be a recurring theme among mullet wearers -- outside pressure from friends and family to eighty-six it. Vesch has been thinking about changing his generation's old 'do because of "female pressure."

"It can always grow back," he says.

The mullet knows no socioeconomic bounds and touches even the most highfalutin and exclusive echelons of haute coiffure in town. Mullet madness has even touched the lives of Gino and Emilio at the Izzazu International Salon, Downtown.

Vesch says a friend bought him this bottle of Vibrant Mullet shampoo at the gift shop at the Andy Warhol Museum.

More than a year ago, the duo and a stylist from their salon, Marshall, spent the day cutting off people's mullets at a Bon Jovi concert as part of a radio station promotion giving prizes to those who gave up their mullets.

"That was the Day of Atonement for us -- de-mulletizing the mullets," Gino says, in a reverential yet whimsical tone. "Bon Jovi was the king of mullets and after he took it off and stepped out of his comfort zone, we thought that it was over."

But, alas, mullet haters shouldn't breathe easy just yet. The thing about mullets is, they never die -- they just morph. Gino credits (or blames) actor Ben Stiller for reviving the latest, hip version of the mullet.

"He brought back the mini-mullet," Gino says. "It has just a little soft, curvature character in the back. Right now, he's flirting with a mullet; it's just a baby version."

And the biggest surprise of all ...

"I'm starting to wear a mini-mullet, too," Gino confesses. "The mother of all mullets has died; it's just the baby mullets that are still surfacing."

Jennifer Arnold, an unabashed mullet lover, first got the idea to make the documentary "American Mullet" years ago when she was invited to a camping event.

"No one told me it was a women-only and clothing-optional folk music camping event," says Arnold, who directed and produced the documentary. "There were hundreds of naked women with mullets and if you don't have clothing, all you have to go by is hairstyle."

Years later, what began as an Internet series as part of the Sundance Online Film Festival was developed into a feature-length documentary with dozens of people nationwide discussing their mullets and why they love them.

"Fifty percent of them were aware it was called a mullet and they wore it anyway out of sheer pride," Arnold says. "People would assume they weren't well educated and lower class, but they, in fact, were very intelligent and articulate and very few of them lived in trailers."

Arnold says the mullet wearers she talked with fell into five basic categories: the "MexiMullet" (Mexican Machismo Men), "Hockey Hair" (Hockey/Bikers/Jocks/Studs), "The Lesbian Haircut" (Lesbians), "Mullet With Tradition" (Native Americans) and "The Billy Ray Cyrus" (country music stars and fans).

"It certainly has come and gone in fashion and hasn't endured on the top of the fashion heap, but the people who wear mullets are dedicated to their mullets," she says. "It's part of their very being, a statement of their individuality, and they're not going to change."

Ninety percent of the people she interviewed had worn their mullets for more than 10 years.

Arnold started growing a mullet at the beginning of filming in 2000. Living in Los Angeles, she thought it would be fun.

"It was not fun at all," she says. "People made fun of me and treated me completely differently and that was good knowledge to go into the film with."

Stereotypes persist about members of the Mullitia being unfashionable, unintelligent and heavy metal/hard rockers or rockabilly types.

"You really do have to keep all of your prejudices in check," Arnold says. "Everyone makes assumptions based on first impressions and people's appearance and even with an appearance as strong as the mullet, you've got to get to know the person first. People can always surprise you."

Suchevich agrees.

"People can say what they want and think what they want, but that's just them being superficial and they don't want to see who the person really is," he says. "If you look underneath the mullet, you'll find a real decent human being."


L.A. Johnson can be reached at ljohnson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3903.

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