If you’re a millennial or a gen Zer, chances are that your pop culture palette in 2010 was entirely based around the family martial arts drama, The Karate Kid—that year’s version, not the 1984 one, duh. Though the film featured stars like Jaden Smith, Taraji P. Henson and Jackie Chan in lead roles, a character that really resonated with fans was none other than the violin-fiddling and Bach-loving Meiying (played by Wenwen Han).
At the time, many enthusiasts were floored by Meiying’s offbeat haircut, which they termed the ‘half-long half-short’ look. Fast forward to 2022, TikTok’s latest pitstop to mulletville is an anthropomorphic style inspired by its tapering cousin from the 2010s. With 1.6 billion views on the platform comes the jellyfish haircut in all of its edgy glory.
At first glance, it’s easy to sum up the style as a “removable cap.” In fact, when the haircut gripped Instagram back in 2018, many users were quick to dub it “a mess” that was executed by “a two-year-old with Crayola scissors.” But just like gen Z’s obsession with most visual styles like the wolf cut, the jellyfish haircut has more to it than meets the eye. Let me explain.
At its core, the jellyfish haircut splits your hair into two horizontal segments. “On the basis of long hair, it’s divided into upper and lower parts or the outer and inner layer,” explained Quan, a hair designer based in Canberra, Australia. “The outer layer is usually a strong line shape sitting either above or slightly below the chin. On the other hand, the inner part is usually longer and layered—creating more contrast in length and texture to the outer layer.”
According to Quan, the jellyfish haircut is tailored for those who are bored of having long hair but are also reluctant to chop it short. “In terms of appearance, I think jellyfish hair does not fit into any beauty standard—it’s a gender-neutral style and is designed for open-minded people,” he added.
In order to retrace the evolution of the eccentric hairstyle, I turned to its visually-similar (or so I thought) counterparts: mullets, shags and wolf cuts. When I equated the three to the anthropomorphic style in question, Quan started by noting a few overlapping reasons for the popularity of these haircuts.
“Mullet, shag, wolf cut and jellyfish styles are really edgy, fun and versatile due to the contrast in length and texture. Having these sorts of hairstyles will give you more options when it comes to styling,” he said. At the same time, however, the designer highlighted how the cuts have loads of differences that people don’t seem to be aware of.
“Shag cut emphasises more on the connection between the bangs and the front layers,” he explained. “Wolf cut is a slightly more extreme version of the shag—emphasising the disconnection with defined sideburns. Mullet, on the other hand, has the most extreme disconnection between the sides (short) and back (long).” If you’re having a hard time forming mental images of the differences, here are some visuals to aid the process:
Quan then went on to note how there are different versions of jellyfish hair, all depending on its length and styling choices. “Long-haired jellyfish allows clients to unlock new styles everyday. The longer, inner layer can be worn straight and smooth, usually with creative hair colours for a stronger look. Clients can also braid the longer part into two strands with different hair accessories such as hair clips and butterfly pins.”
On TikTok, several enthusiasts can also be seen spicing up their jellyfish hair with bubble braids and heart pigtails, and even embellishing them with hair tinsels. The possibilities are endless with this style and every tutorial on the platform is bound to initiate you further into the “Jelly Club”—a term coined by mixed-media artist, Mari Trombley.
“When I was growing up, I had a figure of a Final Fantasy character named Yuna I was obsessed with,” Trombley told SCREENSHOT, adding how the talented summoner sports a short blunt bob with a long braid that tapers down to her ankles. “Her hairstyle has been on my bucket list for well over a decade but I finally decided it was time to make the cut after seeing so many girls [chop] their hair short for the summer.”
Given how the ‘undercut’ portion of her hair was already dyed, Trombley believed it would be the perfect time to step into the style in question. “I tried to look up reference photos or for a name but I was only able to find the result ‘bob with braid’,” she admitted. “I asked my boyfriend Al-Don if he would still love me if I had a ‘weird’ haircut, just in case things went south. Like always, he encouraged me to do with my appearance as my heart desires and I made the cut!”
Outside of getting support from her partner, Trombley also mentioned how she had previously trimmed face-framing pieces around the same length she intended on cutting the bob. “So I had the comfort of knowing the hair would flatter my face shape at both lengths,” she continued. “I posted my first haircut video without knowing the name and that’s when a commenter let me know of the obscure term: the jellyfish haircut.”
To date, the artist has uploaded tutorials and hair 360s with every single styling option ever discovered on our home planet. From stacked bubble braids and heart pigtails to Sailor Moon-inspired hair and decorative corn braids, Trombley continues to highlight the versatility offered by the jellyfish cut as the major creator across social media platforms.
After having toyed with numerous options, however, I just had to ask the enthusiast which of the styles she’s done is: the easiest to pull off, the cutest to don, and the most experimental one—guaranteed to be a great conversation starter.
“The easiest to pull off has to be anything with bubbles,” Trombley admitted. “I think because when it’s styled in bubbles, it looks like an accessory or earrings before it looks like hair—so it’s always well-received. People seem to enjoy the visual illusion and it wins the popularity contest.”
When it comes to the cutest style to don, the artist instantly mentioned heart pigtails. “I found the tutorial on ‘Cute Girls Hairstyles’ website as a Valentine’s Day ponytail. In combination with the heart ears, it’s cuteness overload.” And lastly, the most experimental jellyfish hairstyle is none other than infinity braids. “With dyed hair, it looks more like decorative corn or paracord,” Trombley explained. “This one, in particular, has confused people who have seen me in person—a couple of them also let me know they didn’t realise it was hair.”
Now, if you’re someone who has already stumbled down the #jellyfishhaircut rabbit hole on TikTok before, then you’ll notice how most of the tutorials and GRWM’s feature long hair. It almost leaves us short Lord Farquaad-ians out of the loop. But not all hope is lost. Presenting: the underrepresented style of the short jellyfish.
According to Quan, the shorter version of jellyfish hair can be tricky to cut as the two layers would essentially blend together in this case. “However, from my experience, I do think jellyfish hair should have severe disconnection in length and texture—so the style below shows how to achieve the disconnection with shorter length by going for a blunter or shorter fringe layer.”
In January 2022, Pinterest forecasted that searches for ‘octopus haircut’ would double over the course of the year. “While 2021 was the year of more modest trims and shades, our data indicates that people are going to be adopting a much more rebellious and fun approach in 2022, as creativity and escapism become more important in every aspect of our lives, including our hair,” Tom Spratt, head of beauty at Pinterest, told Stylist.
“Get ready to see unusual cuts, ranging from ‘mullet hairstyles’, to even ‘octopus haircut’ amongst the hard-to-miss styles most requested at the salons, with searches for each increasing by 190 per cent and two times respectively.”
Characterised by disconnected layers and subtle 2006 MySpace energy, the octopus cut quickly turned into an obsession for TikTok—peaking in April and pacing steadier than most styles with 26.7 million views on the platform today. When I queried Quan about the similarities between the octopus cut and jellyfish hair, he said, “According to my research, people equate octopus hair to choppy, visible layers that almost look like tentacles. The haircut is long, which differentiates it from other edgy styles—but it’s more top-heavy, with wispy, angled pieces cascading down your shoulder.”
Quan continued by quoting celebrity hairstylist and Aloxxi brand ambassador Leonardo Rocco who previously stated, “The octopus haircut is a mix between the shaggy and mullet styles, and is characterised by having a lot of volume on the top and a lot of layers throughout the hair. The outer edges should be soft—preferably cut with a razor to create the effect of octopus tentacles.”
“I do agree with this and I think octopus hair is just a different variation of a shag cut,” Quan said. “It does share similarities with jellyfish hair which is top-heavy and lighter towards the bottom. However, in my opinion, jellyfish hair is completely different from octopus hair as it is outside of the shag or mullet variation.”
For Trombley, the wholesome response to her jellyfish haircut has changed her life and, in turn, created momentum for searches on all major media platforms including Pinterest. “There is so much to take in. I got recognised by a follower while shopping at a Dollar Store, which was when I realised maybe I had grossly underestimated the magnitude of what was happening,” she said. “As an artist, I consider myself and my life as mediums of expression. So, for my hair to reach and inspire so many people to break boundaries and customise their own ‘avatars’, brings me more joy than I could ever express.”
One of Trombley’s videos alone has amassed over 100,000 saves on Instagram and thousand pins across Pinterest boards. “I think the jellyfish haircut could easily blow up to be as big as the hime cut or the wolf cut in five years,” she added.
Now onto the mushy elephant in the room. Given how actual jellyfishes are the epitome of smooth and ‘silky’ finishes, does hair texture affect the way a jellyfish cut turns out? “The jellyfish hair is still quite picky,” Quan explained, outlining how texture ultimately affects the end result of the look.
“The density and texture of the hair should be on the medium side. If your hair is naturally straight and heavy, you might want to have the right stylist who cuts hair technically—so they are able to choose the right shape for your hair and control the weight of the top and bottom layers. Ideally, you want the top layer to be stronger and sharper without looking super heavy. Whereas, the bottom layer would be slightly lighter and more textured to achieve the image of the jellyfish.”
If your hair is naturally curly, on the other hand, the expert mentioned that the process can be tricky—given how the wispier texture can make it harder to achieve the sharp look with the top layer. “However, it can be done with the right understanding of shapes and styling choices (your hair can be straightened if needed),” Quan continued. “The lower layer is not an issue as it is quite good to have curls at the bottom to create more movements and fluid feeling of the jellyfish. Wispier or choppier fringe layers can also be helpful if you have a rounder face shape.”
Talking about face shapes, Quan further highlighted how people with rounder faces should be careful with this style as it might end up making their face ‘heavy’ if the weight line of the top layer is not placed and positioned correctly.
“The weight line should not be on the same level with your chin area as it will create more of the heavier feeling on your face—making it even rounder,” he explained. “Instead, the line should be either above the chin a bit or longer than the chin area.”
At the same time, however, Quan reiterated his beliefs that jellyfish hair is a statement piece that is not created for everyone to like in the first place. “It’s either super cool or super ugly and nothing in between. It’s the style that you either super love or super hate. Therefore, regardless of whatever rules I mentioned above, if you think you have the confidence to wear it, that’s all that matters.”
A quick scroll through the comments section of JellyHairTok is enough to sketch out the fence many are sitting on when it comes to the gender-neutral cut. “My curly hair could never” and “My social anxiety said no” are some of the most common claims on the platform. So like with all trends covered here at SCREENSHOT, I asked the experts themselves for some advice on how to fearlessly nail the style.
“Jellyfish hair is loud and fun so you need to have the confidence and the willingness to be judged by other people,” Quan admitted.
“The maintenance part is not too bad in my opinion. Obviously, the upper part will need to be trimmed when it gets to a certain length because the length is what determines the whole look of your face,” he continued. However, the designer also divulged a hack if you don’t want to head to the salon often: simply tuck the top layer behind your ears! “It still looks super cool!” Quan summed up.
Trombley, on the other hand, recommended the trick she used herself before dipping her strands into the hairstyle. “If you’re not sure how short you should cut your bob to flatter your face shape, try the trick of trimming some face-framing pieces instead,” she said. “Start longer and move your way up. You can cut your bob at the length best suited for you.”
The artist went on to admit how styling her hair ever since the haircut has evolved into a pure source of joy for her. “The possibilities are endless. If you don’t want to be a jelly one day, you can easily put it all up in a bun or ponytail and you’ll look just as you did before you made the cut. If you don’t want to do any braids one day, your silhouette will look like a jellyfish and be just as cute with your hair down.”
“There’s never going to be an awkward grow-out phase with this haircut too,” Trombley added. “If you want to retire the tails, you can get them blended into the bob and you’ll even get to save some length. You have nothing to lose in my eyes. Go for it. I bet you’ll look amazing.”
So what are you waiting for? If you’re going to get a haircut in 2022, you might as well go all in. And the best part about jellyfish hair is that you can always chop off the bottom layer in case the style does not resonate with your soul, just like Trombley said. You should be good as long as you don’t do it in a dingy dorm bathroom at 3 am. Or not. You do you.