Mullets are making a big comeback. The business-in-the-front, party-in-the-back hairstyle, famously worn by hockey players and rock stars in the 1980s and 90s, has made its way back into the canon in the 2020s.
That trendiness doesn’t matter to 31-year-old Joe Malatesta III, of Kenai. He’s been growing out his own curly mullet for four years, for kicks. And he said when he sees another person rocking one, it signals to him that they also don’t take themselves too seriously.
“Like, they don’t care what people think, they’re just here to have a good time,” he said. “In high school, I couldn’t earn the mullet because I cared too much about what people thought. But I don’t care about what anyone thinks, now.”
Malatesta may not care what anyone else thinks about his hair. But his mullet did get approval from the online masses when he ranked in the top 25 of the 2022 USA Mullet Championship.
The competition is just two years old, tracking with the resurgence of mullets in popular culture. And in it, mullet-wearers go head-to-head through several rounds, culminating in a public vote and crowning of the top three finalists.
Malatesta heard about the national competition from friends this fall and sent in some headshots. He raked in just under 500 votes overall, coming in in 19th place out of almost 500 entries. (The first place winner, from New York State, got 3,740 votes.)
But Malatesta hasn’t always had the carefree attitude to rock the hair.
“It was one of those things that, growing up, I kind of grew up in that shag era,” said Malatesta, who grew up in Soldotna. “Everyone was rocking shags. I hated it. I hated my hair in my face. It was one of those things that I was like, ‘Man, I feel like a mullet would be awesome because I could rock long hair, which I wanted, without the hair in my face.’
But mullets weren’t really in yet and he said he cared too much about what people thought at the time.
Then, in 2018, he was going through some personal battles and needed a bit of a pick-me-up.
“And I thought it would be hilarious to start growing a mullet. So one day, I just walked into my boss’s office and was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to grow a mullet, you cool with that?’ and she kind of laughed at me and was like, ‘I don’t care,’” he said.
Malatesta works with the Alaska Department of Family and Community Services. He’s also getting his masters in social work.
Today, his hair is a good talking point for clients, and for strangers. He’s had people approach him in the street and ask to take photos.
“I’ve been shocked to see how many people will comment about the mullet, just in random passing,” he said. “And then at work it is a solid place to start talking. So I’ve talked to clients about that too. It puts them a little at ease, a little more comfortable.
Today, the mullet is a part of him. It changes with the seasons — he shears the sides shorter in the summer and grows them out a bit longer in the winter. Both of his sons, ages 3 and 4, have mullets, too.
Mullets are also a helpful social signifier. He said he knows others who have the mullet have good vibes, too.
“My general assumption with people who are rocking a mullet is A) they don’t care about much, and B) they’re just around to have a good time. Whatever that good time means,” he said. “I’m not a drinker. So that party life isn’t my style. But it doesn’t mean I can’t have a good time.”
You can see more pictures of Malatesta and the other 2022 finalists at mulletchamp.com.