Pop quiz: What lives in the ocean, sports a mushroom top, radiates a trail of angel-hair tentacles and lends its name to a trendy internet haircut?
Last week, a striking photo shoot featuring Nicole Kidman ignited discussion of the so-called jellyfish haircut on social media. Some debated whether Ms. Kidman’s look was a true jellyfish cut, while others learned of the style for the first time.
‘It’s almost punk’
As far as animal-inspired haircuts go, the jellyfish certainly gets points for creativity even when compared with its cousins wolf hair and the octopus cut. But was Ms. 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 Ms. Kidman’s hairstyle for the new issue of Perfect magazine, said he didn’t set out to give the actress a jellyfish cut but acknowledged that the final result shared many of its traits. “I honestly didn’t even know it was called ‘the jellyfish,’” he said in an interview.
In the images, the actress has a blunt red bob that frames her face, with longer tresses descending toward her torso. Mr. Frausto said he created multiple looks for Ms. Kidman, inspired by the hairstylist Vidal Sassoon’s precise style and 1960s fringe haircuts (Cher’s, specifically).
He chose red as a nod to Satine, Ms. Kidman’s character in “Moulin Rouge!” And because working actresses like Ms. Kidman can’t drastically change their real hair, Mr. Frausto said, “I do bring wigs in for these kind of situations.”
Some people suggested that Ms. 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 popularizing 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 said it reminded him of Mr. Sassoon’s groundbreaking work with daring and asymmetrical hairstyles.
“It’s almost punk, in a sense,” Mr. Fekkai said. 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, Ore., when she decided to give herself a jellyfish haircut in May. Ms. 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 Ms. Trombley’s.
“I had a character, Yuna, from ‘Final Fantasy’ growing up, and I always fancied her hair,” Ms. Trombley said. “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, Ms. Trombley didn’t know there was a name for it. It was just an “over-the-sink, kitchen-scissors haircut,” she said. When a commenter on TikTok told her the look was called the “jellyfish haircut,” she embraced the term.
Ms. Trombley said 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.
‘Get creative with customizing your avatars’
TikTok and Instagram are mighty engines when it comes to hair trends, but they’re as fickle as they are fast. Mr. Fekkai said that TikTok both speeds up and exaggerates hair trends, favoring whoever can create the wildest, most eye-catching looks. But hair trends like the jellyfish often disappear as quickly as they arise, he said.
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 emphasize the long parts with curls, extensions, color, charms or experimental braids. (Ms. Trombley has braided her long hair into star shapes.)
For her part, Ms. Trombley said she was just enjoying the fun and individuality of her look. She added that she gets many messages from strangers online saying they had 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 said.
In one of her most popular TikTok videos, Ms. Trombley emphasizes her main piece of advice: “Get creative with customizing your avatars.” She echoed the message in her interview.
“I live my life every day like it’s a video game,” she said. “Working my server job and things like that, I would dress up and do my hair and makeup 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 continued. “You can change what you look like tomorrow if you wanted to, and it’s entirely up to you.”