Hair today, gone tomorrow (with any luck)

Footballers and dodgy pop stars loved them to everyone's mirth, but now the Mullet is cool. This is irony gone too far, says CHRIS MAUME

I blame Angie Bowie. When hippy husband David was taking his first preening steps towards androgynous stardom, she dragged him down to the hairdresser's and said, "Right, I want you to hack away on top but leave all that stuff down the back."

And so was born the look that launched a thousand snips. You thought it had sunk without trace. But just lately there have been worrying signs that the Mullet, which rose to become the arch-symbol of Eighties tack, may be back to haunt us.

Some claim even earlier antecedents than Ziggy Stardust and his Mullet- headed Spiders from Mars. When Orlando Pita, the man behind the recent outbreak, glued 12in extensions to the back of model James Heathcoat's skinhead cut for Gucci's autumn ad campaign, he claimed to be inspired by George Washington's hairdo.

"It can be a very white-trash look," he said. "But for me, there's a rebel in that hairstyle, something hard-edged." Yeah right, I think is the phrase. Gucci's spring 2000 menswear show in Milan, created by Eighties obsessive Tom Ford and the Lagerfeld louts at the Chanel couture show in Paris, have joined Pita on the tonsorial cutting edge.

The etymology of the word is both precise and vague. The pop magazine Q first used it in 1995, though why they chose "mullet" rather than, say, turbot, dab or flounder, is lost to legend. Apart from its piscine usage, it has also been applied to a five-pointed star, a type of tweezers and part of a musket barrel (to shoot offenders, presumably).

Most appropriate, though, is its archaic use in American slang for "idiot". Tell that to Michael Bolton, Bono, Limahl, that Thompson Twin or Nik Kershaw.

Or Mulletmeister Chris Waddle, who joined forces so memorably with the similarly-coiffed Glenn Hoddle on "Diamond Nights", or his footballing conspirators Frank Worthington, Jurgen Klinsmann, Toni Schumacher, and the rest.

Perhaps the Mullet's reappearance is part of what appears, horrifyingly, to be a general Eighties revival - which the pundits reckon is mostly down to Ford. (Last year he produced leggings and shoulder pads.)

Those who know about these things believe it's too soon, though, to be carrying concealed clippers. Kate Barlow, editor of Hair and Beauty magazine, says, "I've heard about it - read about it, mainly, but I don't think it's coming back. It's got too many negative connotations. And it's not attractive, is it?"

Paul Burfoot, owner of the Soho salon Fish, has witnessed - indeed been responsible for - isolated outbreaks in the last year. "It's been trying to rear its ugly head for a while now," he says. "But I can't see it going mainstream. It's not the kind of thing I try to push." And who are the bravehearts who dare enter such a hip establishment and ask for a good Mulleting? "Mostly German tourists looking for Carnaby Street," admits Burfoot.

It probably needs a star sighting to really catch on, although Burfoot believes "you'd need a brave celebrity". In fact, Liam Gallagher has been toying with the idea - his latest cut involves short layers on top with feathery strands down the back. Nicky Haslam, decorator to the rich and famous, has, reportedly, had a "Liam".

In a sane world, that would mean its death knell. But Burfoot is also partly responsible for an imminent, albeit ironic, sighting. He's just finished shooting an ad for Partisan hair products entitled "Mullet on Berwick Street", in which he chases an offender down the road with scissors, trying to relieve him of his ill-advised barnet.

There are even two websites devoted to it. Jonah's Homepage, the mouthpiece of FARM, the Federation Against Rough Mullets, records global sightings. Dan's Mullet Haven has sections devoted to music (with special attention paid to Country and Western Mulletheads like Billy Ray Cyrus and Garth Brooks), football and WWF wrestling (in which the likes of Hacksaw Jim Duggan, British Bulldog, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Macho Man Randy Savage have been assiduous standard-bearers).

In Mullet Haven there's also the snippet that the "rat-tail", a variation on the look (currently modelled by Ewan McGregor in The Phantom Menace) was outlawed in Missouri in 1983, with a $100 fine for first-time offenders and six months' jail for recidivists. Might this be a vote-winner for New Labour? Tony "Caesar cut" Blair could almost guarantee victory in the next election with legislation to protect the unwise from themselves - and the rest of us from the unwise.

Dan's Mullet Haven: http://www.gilson1.demon.co.uk/

Jonah's Homepage: http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/jj196/farm/farm.htm

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