Beautician Julea Penland is campaigning to beautify Kitsap County "one mullet at a time" by offering "Free Mullet Removal." No one has taken her up on the offer. Sadly, she says, the people who sport the once popular hairdo either love them or are in "mullet denial."
PORT ORCHARD — It’s been more than five years since Julea Penland launched her mission “to beautify Kitsap County one mullet at a time.”
The beautician began offering free haircuts to anyone sporting the once-popular “business in the front, party in the back” hairstyle because she believes they perpetuate negative stereotypes about Kitsap County.
And she plain thinks they’re ugly.
Her sign advertising “Free Mullet Removal” has drawn plenty of yuks and people stop by almost daily to take pictures of the readerboard at her Port Orchard spa and salon.
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But so far, no one has taken her up on the offer.
Could it be that the Kitsap County mullet is extinct?
Hardly, says Penland.
“People with mullets either love them and want to keep them, or they don’t know they have them,” said Penland sadly. “They’re in mullet denial.”
A recent unscientific poll in Kitsap County revealed few true “legal mullets,” but numerous near misses. A few men with true mullets refused to acknowledge they sported the hairstyle, while others were unrepentant about their mullet-dom.
“I know everybody makes fun of them, but I don’t care,” said Nick Marks, a 49-year-old yard-maintenance man from Olalla who prefers to call his hairdo ” ’70s style.”
“My old lady likes me with my long hair and she’d kill me if I cut it off,” he said.
Marks said he’s tried wearing his hair short but it makes him feel “naked” and “inadequate.”
Mitch Coelho, a cook at Bethel Square Restaurant and Lounge, says he’s endured ribbing about his hair and threats from his boss to remove it for the past nine years.
She teases him, he said, for getting only half a haircut while paying for a full. But like Marks, he doesn’t care what others think.
He’d wear his hair long all the way around, he said, if he wasn’t a cook and didn’t fear catching his locks on fire.
A benefit to the style, he said, is it’s apparent lure to women at the watering holes he frequents.
“I don’t know how many times I was sitting at the bar when a girl started braiding my hair,” Coelho said.
According to mulletjunky.com, a Web site devoted to the hairstyle made popular in the ’70s and ’80s by rock stars, hockey players and TV characters such as MacGyver, a “legal mullet” is defined as one in which the back hair is at least three times longer than the front or sides.
The term became popular, according to the “Oxford English Dictionary,” when the hip-hop group Beastie Boys dissed the hairstyle in the 1994 song “Mullet Head.”
According to Ashley Doane, the co-author of “White Out: The Continuing Significance of Racism,” which examines white culture, ethnicity and stereotypes, the term “mullet” has evolved from a hairstyle to a pejorative label similar to “redneck,” “hillbilly” or “white trash.” All those terms can carry negative stereotypes of “barefoot, beer-swilling, cousin-marrying, NASCAR-loving and gun-toting,” said Doane, a professor of sociology at the University of Hartford, in Connecticut.
The label is used by the dominant culture of successful whites, Doane said, to stigmatize and shame “deviant whites” for their failure to conform and to “reinforce lines of race and class.”
He said the continued popularity of the mullet can be seen as a sign of “working-class rebellion.”
Erik “Mac” McCullough, a mechanic at Bay Ford in Port Orchard, wears a “rat tail” rather than a mullet, but he can relate.
When he got out of the Navy, he swore he’d never let anyone tell him again how to cut his hair, but trouble finding a job led him to the subtle deception of his current ‘do, which he can tuck in a collar.
“It’s my little bit of independence,” said the 47-year-old McCullough.
Chad Northey, 36, was among those initially in mullet denial. The East Bremerton man was proud to remove his bandanna and display his locks during a recent visit to the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede, but he denied he had a mullet.
“I just like to keep it longer in the back and have it shorter on the top and sides.”
Even if the style is a bit dated, he said, he’s going to keep it.
His wife loves running her fingers through his hair, his daughters like to put barrettes in it and he likes the way it feels when he’s flying down the road on his Harley.
“I enjoy it,” he said. “I don’t care what it’s called.”
Despite Penland’s efforts to eradicate the mullet from Kitsap County, some Seattle hairstylists say the style is making a comeback.
“It’s not the Billy Ray Cyrus mullet of the ’80s,” explained Kim Lundin, creative director of Gene Juarez Salons & Spas. “But if you are a young, thin, hipster kid, there are incarnations that look really cool.”
Will Francalangia, a hair stylist at Nucleus on Capitol Hill, said in Europe he saw “hipper kids wearing more fashionable, alternative versions of the rural mullet.”
He and Lundin said the versions they like typically feature spikes, funky colors or aspects of a fauxhawk.
The wearers who can carry them off, he said, often have multiple piercings and attitude.
“You have to own the mullet to wear it right,” Francalangia said.
While Penland has yet to bag the elusive mullet, she remains hopeful.
A few years ago, she thought she had her first taker.
A man with a “raging mullet” walked in and hesitantly asked for a haircut. But alas, he only wanted a trim.
While Penland was cutting his hair, she noticed he had a tattoo on his arm of himself, mullet and all.
“Obviously, he thought he looked good,” she said. “He was wrong. They all are. There’s no such thing as a good mullet.”
Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or firstname.lastname@example.org