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Derek Ridgers
Leicester Square 1981Photography Derek Ridgers

Meet the reverse mullet: this 80s hair trend is the perfect isolation look

Popular among skinhead women in the 1980s, is it time for the Chelsea haircut to make a comeback?

Extreme times call for extreme looks. As we’ve seen across the worldwide lockdown, make-up and hair can act as an outlet, a canvas onto which we can express how we are feeling on the inside, something tangible that we can control when the world around us feels capricious. 

In times of self-isolation, plenty of people have been shaving their heads and dying their hair extreme colours from Kristen Stewart’s bright orange look to Georgia May Jagger’s turquoise and lilac half-and-half style. And, as all these newly buzzed buzzcuts begin to grow out, we would like to put forward a hair suggestion. Introducing the Chelsea: a half-shaved, reverse mullet hairstyle that, if there’s any justice in the world, will soon be making a comeback.

The Chelsea became popular in the late 70s, when the skinhead subculture was experiencing its second wave and taking cues from the punk scene. While the skinhead men stuck to the signature namesake haircut, the women in the scene, also known as ‘skinettes’ or ‘skin birds’, were a little more expressive with their style. Starting off with the same buzzcut as the boys, the girls then made variants on the look. The Chelsea involved shaving or cutting short the crown and back of the head but leaving a fringe and sometimes some hair on the sides of the head around the ear. A similar style, the Feathercut, saw hair buzzed at the crown, with a fringe left, long sides around the ears known as dog ears and a long mullet-shaped piece at the back. Think Lol and Kelly in This is England or Tank Girl for a cyberpunk take on the look.

A disenfranchised generation of working-class youth, skinheads used their appearance to signify their disillusionment amidst social chaos and depression. Capturing many of the faces in the scene was photographer Derek Ridgers. Armed with a camera, in the 70s and 80s Ridgers found himself on the front lines of these emerging tribes and began recording what he saw around him, compiling a definitive record of the kids defining the aesthetics of a movement. It is through his eyes and lens that we now look back at these girls and remember the way they expressed themselves. Thanks to him that their amazing style lives on.

Now, as we once again find ourselves in times of social chaos, confused and helpless, people are again turning to hair as a way to express themselves. The Chelsea is the perfect combination of the two styles we have seen emerge in isolation: the buzzcut and the mullet. It combines the creativity and fun of the mullet with the utilitarian practicality of the buzzcut. 

With the world around us currently looking pretty bleak, what better time to find joy where we can and express ourselves through truly bonkers hairstyles. Why should we have a conventional cut when things are anything but normal right now? In 1979 when Margaret Thatcher and the Tories came into power, they brought with them a period of privatisation, miners’ strikes, welfare benefit cuts, recession, and high unemployment. There was also the rise of trade unions, a politicised counterculture, civil rights protests. It was this fraught political and social landscape that the skinhead girls were up against, and we now see eerily similar issues echoed in our current climate. Tory austerity is shown up at its worst amid the pandemic, and inequalities are amplified – it’s also where we see the working classes and most marginalised groups are affected catastrophically by the coronavirus. There’s also the continued work of a young generation striving for social change – protesting for climate action, protesting health and education cuts, railing against political inadequacy. The mood feels right for a return to Thatcher-era anger and rebellion, and maybe, the aesthetics will follow. The style reflects the context of the times, and so the Chelsea is the perfect look for right now.

One of Derek Ridgers’ photographs of the skinhead scene is available to buy as part of the Photographs For The Trussell Trust organised by organised by Alexandra Leese, Simon Rogers, and Bianca Raggi. 100 per cent of the proceeds (minus £10 being deducted to cover production costs) will go to directly supporting the The Trussell Trust, which supports two-thirds of food banks across the UK. Images are on sale from Monday 27 April – 6 May 2020, click here to purchase