From David Bowie to ‘Rambo’ to K-pop stars, the shaggy haircut comes, goes and is back again. Style icon Ella Emhoff explains its appeal in new Vogue feature.
The mullet is back, and Ella Emhoff’s got one.
Emhoff, the designer, model and stepdaughter of Vice President Kamala Harris, is using her newly minted status as an idiosyncratic, Gen-Z style icon to explain why she thinks the notoriously shaggy mullet haircut — “business in the front, party in the back” — is “cool” and “chic” in its peculiarly “ugly” way.
In the new issue of Vogue, Emhoff is featured getting a professional touch-up for the mullet she gave herself during COVID-19 lockdown in her New York City apartment.
“I feel like in the past, the mullet was deemed unattractive and kind of odd, and I’m really drawn to that almost ugly-chic look,” the 21-year-old design school graduate told Vogue.
The mullet basically consists of short hair on top, long hair in back, with any number of variations. A “hair historian,” quoted by Vogue, said the style has been around since ancient Rome and the Vikings: The long hair kept soldiers warm on the battlefield, “while shorter hair in front was less likely to get yanked by an adversary.”
David Bowie pushed the mullet into mainstream fashion in the 1970s, with his spiky red brush cut for his Ziggy Stardust alter ego, and the hairstyle has never really gone away. Women adopted variations on the look with 1970s shag haircuts, while it became the go-to look for 1980s action stars Sylvester Stallone, Kurt Russell, Mel Gibson, and Patrick Swayze. In the 1990s, mullets turned up on Billy Ray Cyrus, who took his to extremes, and Ewan McGregor in “The Phantom Menace.”
A New York-based stylist told Vogue that the mullet is one of the only haircuts that can be worn by a man, a woman, or a nonbinary person. The magazine also reported that the mullet has returned to the center of fashion in recent months, with few fall fashion shows being “mullet-free.” A new generation of pop stars are reinterpreting the look in the past year, including Rihanna, K-pop stars like BTS’ V and Billy Ray’s daughter, Miley Cyrus.
Like Emhoff, the “Prisoner” singer said her mullet is a product of COVID-19 lockdown, with her mother giving her the only haircut she knew — the one she gave her father. “I had one option, and I needed it,” Miley Cyrus joked in an interview.
Vogue warns that pulling off a mullet requires “a certain amount of élan.” Los Angeles-based hairstylist Jared Henderson told Vogue that the mullet “oozes, ‘I’m this confident being, and I really couldn’t care less about what people say, because I know I’m rocking the hell out of this hairstyle.'”
Emhoff has emerged as someone who possesses that confidence. America got to know her when she attended the inauguration of her stepmother and President Joe Biden in January.
Even among all the style legends at the U.S. Capitol, including Lady Gaga, Jennifer Lopez and Michelle Obama, Emhoff stood out, wearing a cinched-waist houndstooth Miu Miu coat with sparkling shoulder embellishments and John Lennon-style round glasses.
At the time, Vogue said her outfit showed she wouldn’t be “hewing to any outdated notions of what a White House-adjacent young woman should dress like.”
Emhoff is the daughter of former Los Angeles-based entertainment lawyer, Doug Emhoff, and his first wife, film producer Kerstin Mackin. He became the second gentleman of the United States when his second wife, Harris, was sworn in as vice president.
Before the inauguration, the fashion world was getting to know Emhoff as the “First Daughter of Bushwick,” designing and crafting brightly colored knitwear that she models and sells on Instagram. In an interview, she said that her passion for knitting and designs were “inspired by tween years spent being watching ‘The Simpsons’ and being a bit of an emo kid.”
Emhoff also has launched a career as a model, with IMG Models President Ivan Bart telling the New York Times he signed her to his agency because she “communicates this moment in time. There’s a cheekiness and a joy she exudes.”
That cheekiness and joy comes across in how Emhoff pulls off a mullet and liking its “shape-shifting potential,” Vogue said. Emhoff told the magazine, “The more you have this style, the more you want to push the limits of how mullet-y you can get it.”
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