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The business mullet: Cool or tool?

When testosterone dresses itself....

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Open ... and Shut Silicon Valley is notoriously casual in its dress and business demeanor. In a culture that celebrates every day as Casual Friday, it's hard to get the tech crowd to dress up.

Which is why it's so painful when techie types try to dress up. Maybe they need to pitch a VC. Maybe they have an important sales meeting with a potential customer. Whatever the reason, they invariably end up going half-way and wear the dreaded business mullet.

You know what I'm talking about: jeans with a sports jacket or, worse yet, a suit jacket. (Yes, there is a difference.) I believe Dave Rosenberg coined the term "business mullet," and it delivers the perfect sense of what happens when testosterone dresses itself.

An Alabama columnist suggests that the business mullet says: "I'm formal, but I'm here to have a good time." This is generally not really what you want to be saying to prospective customers, investors or, really, anyone.

I'm sure there are Italians who can pull it off. Heck, an Italian male can wear pretty much whatever he wants, and the rest of us are going to think it must be stylish. Ditto the French. Or Justin Timberlake, who may wear ugly things but he's a celebrity so ugly is cool. Or if you're Nicholas Cage walking in weird ensemble that doesn't quite assemble, it's OK, so long as you've got a companion like this who more than makes up for your goofy attire.

But you? No, you'd better avoid the mullet.

Just ask GQ's Style Guy, who argues that the combination "just looks awkward." Or ask the women in your life, particularly if they haven't been around so many techie men that they've become immune to the business mullet.

I asked Twitter (yes, all of it), as I was forced to wear the mullet for the first time on a trip this week, and got the following comments back:

Ken Hess (Mullet cynic): "Not a great look. That look just says, 'I'm thumbing my nose at non-existent standards.' Everyone wants to be a rebel."

Stacy Draper (Accidental mullet victim): "I've done that once just try it. I still do it on accident sometimes."

Jason Dea (Mullet-is-always-longer-on-the-other-side-of-the-club-scene guy): "Sounds like the autumn nightclub uniform."

Trevor Pott (Canadian mullet sociologist): "Sounds like Alberta attire."

Peter Monks (Mullet fetishist and also Canadian - the two don't necessarily go together, as evidenced by Trevor above): "The mullet, in all its glorious forms, is a thing of true beauty."

Michael Facemire (Forrester analyst and self-confessed mullet apologist):

Now I want to hear from you. What do you think. Is the business mullet one of the great innovations of modern science, an abomination that signals Armageddon, or just something you'd rather never have to read about again? Have your say! Post pics of your mulleted-self. I'd particularly like to hear women chime in because, let's face it, if we listened to them we'd never have the business mullet in the first place. ®

Matt Asay is vice president of corporate strategy at 10gen, the MongoDB company. Previously he was SVP of business development at Nodeable, which was acquired in October 2012. He was formerly SVP of biz dev at HTML5 start-up Strobe (now part of Facebook) and chief operating officer of Ubuntu commercial operation Canonical. With more than a decade spent in open source, Asay served as Alfresco's general manager for the Americas and vice president of business development, and he helped put Novell on its open source track. Asay is an emeritus board member of the Open Source Initiative (OSI). His column, Open...and Shut, appears three times a week on The Register. You can follow him on Twitter @mjasay.

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