Clint Duncan, a 37-year-old union pipefitter, had never allowed his hair to grow past his ears. A veteran, Duncan was most often sporting a buzz cut. But during quarantine, like many other guys, he decided to let his hair grow wild, joking that he was actively seeking out a mullet. Once his hair got down to his chin, though, he decided he couldn’t stand having his new tresses in his eyes anymore. So he begged his barber to cut away.
“But my barber reminded me about all that trash I talked about growing a mullet,” Duncan recalls. “He’s like, ‘We’re gonna cut you a mullet. I’m not letting you out of my chair without one. If you don’t like it, you can come back and I’ll cut your hair for free in a week.’”
Duncan agreed and in late 2020, he emerged into the world sporting his first-ever mullet. Then, as though his mullet held magical powers, “a bunch of really good things started happening to me.” The first began shortly after Duncan joined a burgeoning Facebook group called The Mullet That Changed My Life. “There were just a couple of hundred members at the time, but everybody was posting their pictures, having a good time and stuff,” he says. “I was like, ‘Man, that’s right up my alley.’”
And so, after Duncan had his mullet braided, he posted a photo, which immediately went viral. “It had 180,000 shares on the first day,” Duncan says. Better yet, not long afterward, a woman he’d known his whole life but who’d never paid much attention to him began messaging him to say he needed to dress up like the Tiger King for Halloween. “That’s how the conversation started,” Duncan says. So he asked her to come over for dinner, and the next thing you know, he tells me, “I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend out of the deal.” (They are now a beautiful family, with a one-year-old son in the mix.)
In 2021, Duncan entered into a mullet competition he’d heard about in The Mullet That Changed My Life Facebook group. It was the brainchild of Kevin Bogola, the owner of a men’s clothing store in Michigan called Bridge Street Exchange. “Before COVID, I’d planned on doing the ‘Michigan Mudflap’ contest to find the best mullet in Michigan,” says Bogola. “But when things shut down, I also closed the store and shut the contest down.” He decided to reactivate the contest, though, eight months later when barber shops and salons were still under rules that limited the number of haircuts they could offer. “It was like lightning in a bottle,” he tells me. “We ended up filming the finals for ESPN. Then I decided to keep going and start a national search.”
In late 2020, Bogola officially kicked off the first national USA Mullet Championships. “I love the culture and the community of mullets,” he explains. “It’s kind of like being a Jeep owner. If you have one, you gravitate toward other mullets and you know they’re fun and don’t take life too seriously. Most of these people will give you the shirt off their back.”
Last year’s competition had more than 500 entries on Facebook. “We like to see that nice shorter section in the front and then have some good flow in that long neck warmer,” says Bogola. “If the mullet can tie it back and he looks serious as hell, then it’s a good mullet.” (Bogola is also a big fan of “vintage mullets,” or guys who’ve had their mullet for years, though he does add that the most contemporary ones now have “carved sides and extreme fades along with hair dye.”)
Since the competition is basically a popularity contest, the campaign to be crowned mullet champion is a grueling one. Duncan likens it to a political campaign. “Basically, you’ve gotta convince as many people as you can to log into that site, click your picture and vote for you,” Duncan says. “I got on all the local news stations in Knoxville, Tennessee. They were coming to my house and I was meeting up with them, and they were running my story. It must have been a slow news cycle because they were running it in the morning, the afternoon and the evening, every day for the whole week.”
Additionally, Duncan started making memes that he posted in the Facebook group to help garner support. “I made them think it was a win for East Tennessee,” Duncan says. In total, Duncan received more than 20,000 votes, which was enough to make him mullet champion. “I got a really cool trophy, $2,500 cash, sweet man trimmers, some sunglasses and a bunch of T-shirts with other mullet swag,” he tells me.
With next year’s mullet championship sure to be the biggest one yet — Bogola has partnered with Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs and has plans for live events across the country — could this be the moment that the mullet sheds its Joe Dirt reputation? “I think it already has,” Bogola argues. “We see all kinds of kids with mullets.”
For Duncan, the mullet’s reputation is irrelevant. It’s brought him too much luck to be concerned about what other people think. If anything, he plays it up. For example, he carries around a hairbrush and Moroccan oil with him to zhuzh up his mane after it’s been clamped under his hard hat all day. “I gotta keep the hair at championship level,” he says. “The guys at work give me a hard time about the Moroccan oil and the brush, but they know what’s up.”
Naturally, Duncan plans to defend his crown. But he also tells me he wouldn’t be upset if he lost next year’s competition either. “Because there’s a lot of really, really nice mullets out there that are deserving of a trophy,” he explains. “And there are other guys out there with really great mullets who I would love to be able to feel the way I did when I won.”