Last week a striking photo shoot featuring Nicole Kidman ignited discussion of the so-called jellyfish haircut on social media. As far as animal-inspired haircuts go, the jellyfish certainly gets points for creativity even when compared with its style cousins wolf hair and the octopus cut. But was Kidman’s hairstyle a true jellyfish cut?
Not exactly. As with many things on the internet, the definition of the jellyfish cut seems to be in flux. Evanie Frausto, who did Kidman’s hairstyle for the new issue of Perfect magazine, says he didn’t set out to give the actress a jellyfish cut but acknowledges that the result shares many of its traits. “I honestly didn’t even know it was called the jellyfish,” he says.
In the images, the actor has a blunt red bob that frames her face, with longer tresses descending towards her torso. Frausto says he created multiple looks for Kidman, inspired by the late hairstylist Vidal Sassoon’s precise style and 1960s fringe haircuts (Cher’s, specifically).
He chose red as a nod to Satine, Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge! — and because working actors like Kidman can’t drastically change their real hair, Frausto says, “I do bring wigs in for these kind of situations”.
Some people suggested Kidman’s look more closely resembles the Japanese hime cut. According to W magazine, the hime cut can be traced to the Heian Period in Japan, beginning around the ninth century. Megumi Asaoka, the Japanese pop star, is credited with popularising the hime cut in the 1970s. In recent years the look has been associated with many anime characters.
Visually, the jellyfish haircut lands somewhere between a mullet, a shag and a hime cut: a 360-degree bob with longer hair underneath, close to the nape of the neck, with strands of varying length to create a layered look.
According to the celebrity hairstylist Frédéric Fekkai, the jellyfish haircut is a “contemporary, artistic, cleaner” version of a mullet. He says it reminds him of Sassoon’s groundbreaking work with daring and asymmetrical hairstyles. “It’s almost punk, in a sense,” Fekkai says. To him, the jellyfish cut says, “I don’t care what you think”.
Anime was the inspiration for Mari Trombley, a 23-year-old artist in Portland, Oregon, when she decided to give herself a jellyfish haircut in May. Trombley is a big proponent of the look on TikTok: the hashtag #jellyfishhaircut has racked up 10 million views on the platform, and many of the top videos are Trombley’s.
“I had a character, Yuna, from Final Fantasy growing up, and I always fancied her hair,” Trombley says “She has, like, a blunt bob and a long braid that goes down to her ankles. Being half-Japanese and growing up in Japan part-time as well, I grew up seeing the hairstyle pop up on other anime characters.”
When she first cut her hair in the style, Trombley didn’t know there was a name for it. It was just an “over-the-sink, kitchen-scissors haircut,” she says. When a commenter on TikTok told her the look was called the “jellyfish haircut”, she embraced the term.
Trombley says the jellyfish cut differs from the hime cut because that style is short only in the front, around the face. The jellyfish cut is a bob all around the head. So from the back, the jellyfish cut resembles, well, a jellyfish.
TikTok and Instagram are mighty engines when it comes to hair trends, but they’re as fickle as they are fast. Fekkai says TikTok both speeds up and exaggerates hair trends, favouring whoever can create the wildest, most eye-catching looks. But hair trends like the jellyfish often disappear as quickly as they arise, he says.
One reason the jellyfish haircut has caught some people’s attention is its versatility. It can be styled one way to suggest short hair, or another to emphasise the long parts with curls, extensions, colour, charms or experimental braids. (Trombley has braided her long hair into star shapes.)
Trombley says she’s just enjoying the fun and individuality of her look. She adds that she gets many messages from strangers online saying they have cut and dyed their hair to look like hers. And in person?
“I’ve gotten strange looks from, like, older ladies, and lots of compliments from younger people,” she says.
In one of her most popular TikTok videos, Trombley emphasises her main piece of advice: “Get creative with customising your avatars.” She echoes the message now. “I live my life every day like it’s a video game,” she says. “Working my server job and things like that, I would dress up and do my hair and make-up just the same.
“You might not see other people doing it, but why not break those boundaries the same way that you can change your avatar in a video game?” she continues. “You can change what you look like tomorrow if you wanted to, and it’s entirely up to you.” — This article originally appeared in The New York Times