"I had a mullet in the '90s. It was the thing," Johnson, 42, a software engineer and retired hairstylist, tells Yahoo Life. "I kept seeing these new mullets on Instagram and TikTok and everywhere. So I was like, 'Let me just try to put this together myself.'"
But her '90s-era mullet was a "a whole different vibe" compared to how the haircut is being conceived and executed today. Back then, Johnson had to cut her real hair into "the business in the front, party in the back" style, but today, Black women are using hair extensions and weaves to achieve the look.
Once synonymous with Mr. "Achy Breaky Heart" Billy Ray Cyrus, the mullet hairstyle has found new life atop the heads of Black women, on their own terms. Here's why they're embracing the trend as a form of self-expression — and why it matters.
What is a mullet, and where did it originate?
Mullets — a hairstyle in which the front and sides are kept short and the back long — have been around for centuries.
"There's a long history of hair that looks like a mullet, and it might not have been called that at the time," says London-based hair expert Rachael Gibson, who runs the Hair Historian Instagram account, "But when we look at ancient Greek and ancient Rome, they had what are essentially mullet hairstyles: short on top and long in the back. She adds that the style was also popular in Viking culture and among certain Indigenous tribes in North America.
The style first made its way into major pop culture consciousness in the '70s thanks to the likes of Ziggy Stardust-era David Bowie, according to Dazed. But it really took off in the mainstream during the 1980s and early 1990s, when it was rocked by stars ranging from crooner Michael Bolton to tennis player Andre Agassi. And while the exact origins of the term "mullet" remain murky, the Oxford English Dictionary credits the Beastie Boys with popularizing it thanks to their 1994 song "Mullet Head," which name-checks Cyrus and saxophonist Kenny G.
By the mid-'90s, the look had fallen out of favor and was largely considered comical, dated or "country." That said, the hairstyle still lives on in mullet competitions in which the most extreme examples are rewarded.
Why are Black girls bringing it back?
Rihanna, a certified style icon, has been a staunch supporter of mullets since 2013, and was seen sporting the controversial cut as recently as 2021. But the singer and beauty mogul is not the only one breathing new life into the hairstyle.
The #BlackGirlMullet hashtag has received over 13 million views on TikTok. This surge in popularity has been noted by Black hair experts like stylist Venner James, who has been doing hair for 14 years and has seen "a very big influx" of requests for the style at his London-based salon recently. Reason being? A desire to be "a bit more playful and fun," he explains.
One of the biggest differences between the high-concept mullets Black women are rocking today and the seemingly scissor-happy mullets of yesteryear is the technique. Instead of a haircut, these reimagined mullets involve braiding down the natural hair and gluing or sewing wefts of hair extensions on top for what James calls a "fashion-forward" update with "more flair."
But how did the mullet make its way back into favor, especially among a group largely excluded from its initial popularity? Fans of the style say it serves as a reminder of the breadth of creativity present in the world of Black hair.
"Black women are not stuck in a box of 'this is what Black people are,'" says Johnson, who views the latest mullet trend as a tribute to Black ingenuity. "The mullet is a matter of individuality; no two mullets look the same."
For others, the style has unlocked a new sense of self.
"Everybody has a style that makes them look good. For me, that was the mullet. I felt like 'THAT' girl with the mullet," Tatyana Horrobin, a content creator based in Atlanta, Ga., tells Yahoo Life.
Unlike Johnson, who found inspiration for her mullet revival on social media, Horrobin says it was her mom who inspired her to rock the polarizing style.
"She used to try all these different hairstyles like Mohawks and mullets back in her day. And I would look at her pictures and be like, 'OK, well, I want to do this, but with my own tweak to it,'" says Horrobin, who shared her mullet adventures with her nearly 134,000 TikTok followers.
Overall, she says the responses have been positive.
"I had people come up to me in Target like, 'Oh my God, I saw your TikTok. You inspired me to get a mullet,'" says Horrobin.
Why it matters
Beyond being a fun style, the mullet and its resurgence exemplifies a larger trend of Black women finally feeling free enough to express themselves. That's partly due to the CROWN Act — which fights race-based discrimination against natural and protective hairstyles such as braids, locs, twists and knots in the workplace and public schools — becoming law in 23 states and counting, and more women feeling empowered to "showcase the versatility that Black hair possesses," as one TV news anchor previously shared to Yahoo Life. Making waves in the beauty space can reap benefits for Black women's well-being, one mental health expert says.
"As a Black woman, our hair is our crown, and to be in a space where our hair isn't only tolerated but celebrated for its beauty is essential," says Courtney Council, a licensed therapist who says Black women are moving away from the societal confines of which styles they can and can't wear.
"I believe that Black women are moving into a space where we celebrate ourselves by changing our hair and telling the world to accept it, period," she says.