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This is a phrase used to describe a mullet. The question is, did it exist before it was used to describe that hairstyle?

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    I always assumed the phrase was an allusion to Prohibition-era speakeasies, which presented the appearance of a normal place of business in the part of the building facing the street, but maintained one or more secret rooms in the back for liquor, gaming, or other illicit activities. Presumably the mullet acquired this description because the front part of the haircut was (in its original era of occurrence) deemed conservatively short while the back part was freakily (in the countercultural sense) long.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 1:13
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    One of the earliest Google Books matches for the (approximate) phrase is Vince Staten, Do Bald Men Get Half-Price Haircuts? (2001), which observes that an alternative name for the Mullet is "the Whorehouse (business in the front, party in the back)." This suggests another possible source of the original expression.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 1:27
  • Molly houses and gay clubs had a back room where the party happened, but whether that expression was in use to refer to them, I don't know. Consider the line from Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed: "in the back room, she was everybody's darlin'..." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_house Commented Mar 17, 2017 at 15:55
  • Noting the German term for this is vokuhila. Commented Apr 24, 2017 at 16:57

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Sir Thomas Lipton from Google Books tells of the young Lipton sleeping in the back room of his shop. First in Britain, then America, shops had back rooms. These rooms could be used for a variety of things. I have known of many activities that went on in back rooms of shops.

The idea of "business up front, party in the back, must be very old. Pubs certainly might have had normal business up front with other sorts of "activities" in the back. This story: The Bowery Boys has an 1837 painting of events in the back room of a tavern.
A unique source for "business up front, party in the back" will probably never be found, but the idea must be very old. Maybe as old as buildings themselves.

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From The National News website "A brief history of the mullet: business up front and party at the back"

In the US it's been called the "Kentucky waterfall", while Canadians favour "hockey hair", and the modern use of "mullet" is usually traced back to the Beastie Boys' 1994 classic Mullet Head, which popularised awareness of the 'do, containing lyrics such as, "Number one on the side and don't touch the back" and "Spike the top because the weekend is here".

The phrase was probably popularised by the title of the book "Mullet Madness! The Haircut That's Business Up Front and a Party in the Back, (2007)" in which

Alan Henderson posits the theory that the mullet was likely the 'do of choice for prehistoric humans, because the long hair at the back would have kept their neck warm, while the front was kept short so their hair didn't get in their eyes as they checked for sabre-toothed tigers before they left their cave in the morning.

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  • @Mari-Lou Added. Apologies - I did look it up at the time
    – Greybeard
    Commented Mar 17 at 23:02
  • I think that 2007 is too late. The expression existed prior: there was an album released in March 2006 with the same title. And the 2001 movie, Joe Dirt, is credited with creating the metaphor for the mullet. Feel free to add these references in your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 18 at 12:36

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