Brad Pitt is sporting the ‘business up front, party in the back’ look of late. Picture: EYEPIX / NURPHOTO / GETTY IMAGES
Brad Pitt is sporting the ‘business up front, party in the back’ look of late. Picture: EYEPIX / NURPHOTO / GETTY IMAGES

The wheel of fashion is always turning. That lapels, hemlines, trouser legs and whatever else should widen, narrow, rise and fall sinusoidally is part of the natural order of things.  

Just as naturally, an army of gormless philistines in bad shoes declares victory each time one trend gives way to the next. Too thick to grasp that something could be both valuable and ephemeral, they treat cyclicality as proof that style is a sham.

But I must admit that the philistine in me is wondering whether there might be any fixed style constellations at all. It may be too much to expect that anything should look good forever. But surely there is such a thing as permanent ugliness?

It should be obvious why this is such a pressing question at the moment: Brad Pitt has grown a mullet. Before now, if you had asked me, I would have put the mullet (“business up front, party in the back, amirite?”) on my list of timeless style failures.

Yes, it worked for David Bowie. But he was pretending to be an alien at the time, which makes him a special case. Outside of Mr Stardust, I would have thought the mullet would live on only as an enduring symbol of all that went wrong in the second half of the 20th century, like the Chernobyl disaster, or Henry Kissinger.

But there is the beautiful Mr Pitt, with what looks a lot like a standard beautiful-person haircut until you see the wisps of hair extending towards his upper back. He is still a ways from a classic Billy Ray Cyrus or the darkest days of Andre Agassi, but the direction of travel is clear enough. And I find myself thinking that he looks . . . not that bad? What have I become?

If we can remember it and it fits through the front door, it will be back, like a horror-movie villain.
Robert Armstrong

Ludwig Wittgenstein wrote that if suicide is permitted, then everything is permitted. Well, if the mullet can come back, then anything can come back. Soon, I fear, we will see again the menace that hung over my teenage years like the threat of nuclear war: men with feathered hair, à la Rick Springfield or Don Johnson’s Crockett in Miami Vice.

As readers have been quick to note in the past when I have commented on hair, I have none of the stuff whatsoever. But the point I am making is more general. Is nothing beyond the pale, style-wise?

Not long ago one might have argued that short shorts on men had slipped forever into fossilhood. But even straight men are showing a lot more thigh this summer, and the trend seems to be accelerating. Ditto scrunchies, the Texan tuxedo (double denim), slip dresses and stacked platform Buffalo shoes.

The more one thinks about it, the more the truth sinks in. Everything recurs. Of course some styles become simply impractical, and others are simply forgotten; I am not expecting to see hoop skirts or spats to come roaring back (though you never know).

But if we can remember it and it fits through the front door, it will be back, like a horror-movie villain. Brace yourselves: Don Johnson hair is on its way, and will be followed by saddle shoes and MC Hammer-style harem trousers. And there is nothing any of us can do to stop it.

We need not despair, I suppose. Style has always been more in the wearing than in the particulars of the clothes themselves. And all this can be rephrased optimistically, as a sort of first law of thermodynamics for fashion: nothing stylish ever entirely loses its style.

I have a closet full of beautiful ties, bought at great expense. There are fewer and fewer times it feels appropriate to wear them — whether or not they are the width of the moment (I have been known to get my favourites adjusted at the tailor). But if the mullet can make a comeback, the necktie will not stay down for long. This is a good point to keep in mind when the forces of Marie Kondo are urging us to empty our closets. What has stopped sparking joy today will spark it again tomorrow.

Yes, the same is true of things that spark dread, as the unkillable mullet shows. But we will have to take the bad with the good.

© The Financial Times Limited 2019