Last refuge of wild mullet; Alaska may offer best protection for endangered hairstyle

Posted: Sunday, July 18, 2004

Last fall, I had just moved to Alaska and was cleaning my windshield at the gas station while waiting for my tank to fill, when a strange and exotic creature slid out of the driver's seat of the giant red 4 x 4 pickup that pulled up on the other side of the pump.

The creature was a male with long, straight, blond hair. Its perfectly groomed hair ran halfway down its back, but was short on the sides and even shorter on the top so short it stood up, with the help of a little hair gel, in one-inch tall spikes.

I couldn't believe it. I was having a rare sighting of the wild mullet, and I hadn't even gone hunting for one.

The mullet, of course, is a hairstyle. One I personally hadn't seen in the wild, so to speak, since the popularity of the cut peeked around the early 1990s. The sighting of the mullet cut worn by the driver of the big red truck may have been my first in a decade, but it wouldn't be my last.

Although mullets are rare just about everywhere, I've seen more in the last eight months in Alaska than I ran across in the past 10 years living in northern California and upstate New York.

Maybe because the state of Alaska is almost defined by its vast tracks of wilderness, I can't help but think of the mullet as not just an uncommon hairdo, but a literal endangered species one that has been driven to near extinction by the callous dictates of the gurus of style and has been forced to migrate north to the far reaches of its range in a final, desperate stab at survival.

Which begs the question: Should we just stand by and allow the last living examples of the species to be snuffed out? I say, "No way!"

I vote we help the endangered mullet out by lobbying the Legislature to make the state of Alaska a sanctuary for the poor critter. I think we should pester our representatives until they officially declare the Last Frontier the Last Refuge of the Wild Mullet.

Admittedly, I'm biased.

During the heyday of the mullet's popularity, alas, I too jumped on the bad-idea bandwagon. For a year or two, I succumbed to the fickle trends of fashion and demanded my bewildered barber whack my hair off at the sides and on top, while I grew a tail of hair down the middle of my back. You'll just have to believe me, since I'm pretty sure I've successfully hunted down and destroyed any and all photographic evidence.

Yes, I'm embarrassed I once strutted around in broad daylight, proud of the hipness of my groovy mullet. Thing is, I didn't even know the cut had a name, until it fell out of fashion and became the butt of bad jokes and bad movies, notably, "Joe Dirt" a movie whose title character sports a mullet and can only be called an idiot.

Another thing is, fashion, like history, repeats itself.

Those super-low cut jeans with bell-bottom legs that are all the rage with high school girls, college women and certain soccer moms have their origins in the sexual revolution of the 1960s and hadn't been seen since the '70s, until they came back in fashion a few years ago. The same goes for the belly button-exposing, three-quarter length shirts that pair nicely with the low-cut jeans.

At the moment, some fashion trends of the 1980s seem to be vying for a comeback such as pink hair and those little round buttons, usually pinned to backpacks or jackets, with the names of bands or political slogans on them that used to be popular in certain circles. Even Madonna-style fishnet tops and stockings seem to be edging their way back from the far corners of fashion.

Face it, it's just a matter of time before the mullet makes a comeback. When it does, if a few wild mullets have survived on the heads of Alaskans, the state could find itself pioneering the way on the frontiers of fashion.

In that pioneer spirit, I'm thinking about doing what I can to help blaze the comeback trail.

Next haircut, I think I'll ask the barber to take some off the sides and the top, but leave the back alone.

"It's been a while since I've led the cutting edge of fashion," I'll say. "Which way is it again?"

Mark Harrison is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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