beauty

Wolf cuts: Gen Z's answer to the mullet hairstyle

Updated 20th May 2021
Valentino Womenswear Spring/Summer 2020 at Paris Fashion Week 2019.
Credit: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe/Getty Images
Wolf cuts: Gen Z's answer to the mullet hairstyle
Written by Leah Dolan, CNN
If you see a teenager with a disheveled mullet that moves like a windblown shag, it's probably a hairstyle known as the "wolf cut." This 'do is recognizable by its voluminous crown, which swiftly tapers into wispy layers, and it is the latest Gen Z beauty trend to take social media by storm.
Popular across genders, the wolf cut is thought to have originated in the salons of South Korea, taking its name from the wild, untamed look the heavy layers create, resembling the fur of its namesake. To take things further, the style is often set in place on loosely permed hair, to ensure an expertly tousled look.
Google searches for these ruffled coiffures are up 100% from 2020, and the term has also seen an 88% increase on Pinterest this year, as more and more teens scour the digital moodboard site to find the picture-perfect wolf cut.
On Instagram, hairdressers share studio-lit images of clients sporting more professional versions of the style. Meanwhile TikTok is filled with teenagers attempting to DIY the trend at home.
The urge for a wolf cut can often strike in the small hours of the morning:"DIY wolf cut @ 2am" reads the title of one YouTube vlog. While more cautious -- or affluent -- teenagers will book in at a salon, many are content to use a pair of kitchen scissors or a hand-held razor and brave the cut themselves, while staring into the bathroom mirror.
Over on YouTube, teens tip their hair forward to fasten a unicorn-style ponytail at their hairline and gleefully snip away -- and it seems the vast majority are thrilled with the outcome.
Most of the 80.7 million TikTok videos attached to the #wolfcut hashtag are success stories, captioned with the zealous stock phrase "This is your sign to get a wolf cut." Part of the style's popularity might be due to the fact that it calls for choppy layers, allowing for many variations and for those with varying degrees of scissor skills to give it a try.
Wolf cuts are the latest iteration of a gender-fluid hairstyle. It's predecessor, the mullet, has a history dating back centuries. The Greek poet Homer, writing in "The Iliad" in the 8th-century BC, references spearmen with "forelocks cropped, hair grown long at the backs."
But the mullet was given an notably androgynous art-rock edge when sported by David Bowie's alter ego Ziggy Stardust in the 1970s.
The signature scarlet 'do was the work of hairdresser Suzi Ronson, who wrote in "The Moth Presents: All These Wonders" that Bowie had first seen the spiky hairstyle on a female model and asked if Ronson, who worked at a salon in London at the time, if she could recreate it. "That's a little weird -- it's a woman's hairstyle." Ronson wrote. "And how am I going to actually do it?'"
David Bowie performing with guitarist and Suzi Ronson's husband, Mick Ronson at a live recording of 'The 1980 Floor Show' for the NBC 'Midnight Special' TV show, at The Marquee Club in London, 1973.
David Bowie performing with guitarist and Suzi Ronson's husband, Mick Ronson at a live recording of 'The 1980 Floor Show' for the NBC 'Midnight Special' TV show, at The Marquee Club in London, 1973. Credit: Jack Kay/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Leather-clad rocker Joan Jett has sported an unkempt glossy black shag for most of her career -- a longer, more evenly blended relative of the mullet, and Jane Fonda is donning a jagged shag in her infamous mugshot from 1970.
Fonda found the switch from her long tresses to her cropped cut nothing short of transformative. In her memoir "My Life so Far," she anointed the shag as "her first hair epiphany," which allowed her to change the way she was perceived."The men in my life liked it long and blonde." She wrote of her hair. "Perhaps I used it to hide behind."
Jin, a member of K-pop boy band BTS, has a shapely wolf cut style with long tapered layers and a trailing tail.
Jin, a member of K-pop boy band BTS, has a shapely wolf cut style with long tapered layers and a trailing tail. Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images North America/Getty Images
It comes as no suprise that a look rooted in androgyny and gender non-conformism has reappeared today on the heads of a generation -- boys, girls and non-binary people -- that is increasingly comfortable with the idea of gender fluidity.
In February, a US survey conducted by advertising agency Bigeye found that half of Gen Z believes gender is a spectrum and feel binary roles are outdated.
And while there's something undeniably anarchic about spontaneous midnight haircuts, wolf-cut-at-home videos also just offer a way to watch a risky haircut come good in the end.
The reimagined mullet may be an acquired taste, but the delight that follows a freshly clipped head is so infectious it's as though these teens practically leap off the screen and hand you the scissors.