Hair Terminology: How To Tell Your Barber Exactly What You Want

We’ve all been there. You go to the ole’ barber, you give him a vague description about what you’d like with a lot of “yes,” “sure,” “okay whatever you think’s best”… and you end up leaving a little unsure of what just happened, ultimately deciding to just settle for the cut you agreed to. It’s just hair, right? You blame the barber you went to for not delivering on the exact cut you envisioned, but, thinking back, was your bad haircut truly due to a bad barber situation, or was your own lack of accurate communication the true culprit here?

It seems to most people that men’s hair is a ridiculously simple subject–ask for a trim, say how short you want it, and boom. You’re groomed. What most people don’t know is that a whole spectrum of hair terminology and styles exists, and one of the main reasons men don’t necessarily get the haircut they truly want is because they don’t know how to ask for it. For example, if you go to a restaurant and ask for a burger, the waiter will not know what kind you want unless you specify. You know, the BBQ burger, medium well, extra cheese and bacon but hold the mayo, please. In the same manner, if you don’t tell your barber exactly what you want, your barber will be baffled, and will be forced to give you a simple, standard haircut or a version of what you asked for that may not completely align with what you actually meant. Unfortunately, unlike restaurants, barber shops don’t usually provide you with a menu. So, in order to better communicate with your barber, you need to know the lingo so you and your barber can be on the same page and you can get your perfect cut, every time, without fail.

Terms to Know:

Before you can get into discussing your final cut, you need to tell your barber some preliminary details, especially if you’re visiting a barber that’s never cut your hair before. When you first sit down, let your barber know what kind of general look you are trying to achieve. Provide photos and/or a celebrity reference if you have one. State the kind of cut you’re looking for, too, so the barber knows where to begin conceptually. Here are a few nitty-gritty details you need to tell your barber so the end result is perfect:

How Short?

No matter what cut you get, specify the length of hair you’d like removed, like “an inch off the top,” or “half an inch off the sides.” If you don’t know exactly how much you want taken off, tell the barber that you’re unsure. Any good barber will cut off just a bit at first, so you can opt to go shorter afterward if you like, no problem.

Taper, Fade, or Neither?

A taper simply means that your hair length gradually shortens in length from the top of your head down to the nape of your neck. A similar concept exists for a fade (the term simply implies that the length of your hair gradually fades from one length to the other, usually achieved with clippers and the utilization of guards of various lengths). Taper and fade are virtually interchangeable words, but it is still important to recognize both in case your barber prefers one over the other. Do you want your hair tapered/faded, or do you prefer your hair length to be the same all over? Let him know.

The Neckline

Hair Terminology - The Neckline

Yeah, we know you can’t see your neckline, but everyone else around you will, and the kind of neckline you have can definitely help or hinder your overall appearance. According to Art of Manliness, you have three general choices: blocked, rounded, and tapered. A blocked neckline is achieved by cutting a straight line across the natural neckline. A blocked neckline can give off the appearance of a wider neck, but will quickly look unkempt as its rigid shape won’t hold up well when your hair starts to grow back. You will need touch ups frequently. A rounded neckline is just like a blocked neckline, minus the corners, and can also quickly look untidy once your hair begins to grow back. Finally, a tapered neckline is one that follows the natural neckline and gradually shortens. This particular neckline remains blended and neat even while your hair grows back in, meaning fewer touch ups and less judgment by your peers.


Depending on the kind of hair you naturally have–thick, thin, curly–you may want to tell your barber how to texturize your hair.

  • If you want added volume, ask for choppy texture, which the barber achieves by point cutting, which means cutting the hair at different lengths at a 45 degree angle, and will result in a texturized, cool, grown-in look.
  • If you have really curly hair and want something more manageable and slightly edgy, ask for razored texture, which will help your hair lay flatter on your head and help reduce your hair’s natural bulk.
  • Asking for layered texture simply means asking for hair of varying lengths, most commonly with longer hair resting on top of shorter hair, or some variation thereof. Layers give any haircut an appearance of depth, volume, and richness.
  • If you have thick hair that you want to reduce, but you do not want your hair razored flat, ask your barber to thin out your hair, meaning that he will take thinning shears and remove some of your hair’s volume by cutting some strands of hair while leaving others.


These terms are pretty self-explanatory, but make sure you specify with your barber if you’d like your sideburns to fall on the top of the ear, mid-ear, or the bottom of the ear. Also, unless you’re digging the thick, noticeable sideburns look, ask your barber to not only trim, but also thin out your sideburns.

Consider your Current Hair and Your Desired Hair

Make sure to take into full consideration the locks you’re working with, and let your barber know specific characteristics of your hair so he can figure out how to best tailor a specific cut to your head. Do you have a receding hairline, a cowlick, or a double crown? Do you have facial hair to take into account? Also, how long has it been since your last haircut? Barbers like to know how long it takes for your hair to grow and it helps him better understand your particular set of locks. Let him know all of this info before he begins cutting–it is his job to figure out how to give you the look you want within the parameters he’s given. If he cannot, then it’s time to find a better barber.

Now that you’ve covered all the basics, you’ll need to know the name of the specific style you want. Here are the most popular cuts of 2015, guaranteed to make you look good, as long as you ask for it correctly! Ask and you shall receive, gents.

Buzz Cut

Hair Terminology - Buzz-cut

The buzz cut is a generic term for a short, buzzed haircut, and is commonly known as a military cut. There are several kinds of buzz cuts, most commonly distinguished by the blade or guard that’s attached to the clippers. You can ask for anything from a super short buzz cut (a.k.a. an induction cut, blade #0-#1) to a longer buzz cut (a.k.a. a butch cut, blade #4 or longer). To be safe, identify the length you want by blade number instead of by name to avoid any confusion.

Crew Cut

Hair Terminology - Crew Cut

A crew cut is cut with a clipper taper on the sides and back of the head. The top is either clipped evenly or tapered so that the front is slightly longer than the back.

Ivy League

Hair Terminology - Ivy League

An Ivy league is similar to a crew cut, but several blade numbers longer. Some barbers will even use scissors for the top of the head instead of clippers. You can also refer to this cut as a Harvard, Princeton Clip, or Brown.


Hair Terminology - Businessman

The Businessman is another simple taper haircut, in which the top is left up to 2 inches long, depending on your personal preference. The sides and back are tapered with scissors, typically. You can also refer to this cut as a simple taper haircut.

Caesar Cut

Hair terminology - Caesar Cut

The Caesar cut can be tapered on the sides and back or left without a taper, depending on your preference. The distinguishing feature of this cut is that the top is cut to about an inch longer than the rest of the hair so you are left with a slight fringe on the forehead.

Fade Cut

Hair terminology - Fade cut

The fade cut consists of a simple taper on the sides and back, typically done with clippers. The hair is clipped in such a way that it appears to “fade” or “disappear” into the skin, thus giving the cut its name. You can ask for your fade to end/disappear high on the sides and back (“high fade”), low (“low fade”), or at the temples (“temple/Brooklyn fade”).

Comb Over Fade

Hair terminology - comb over fade

The comb over fade consists of longer hair on the top of the head which is combed over into a side part or slicked back, depending on your preference. The hair on the back and sides is kept short with a gradual fade transition. The comb over variation is popular with older gentlemen, especially those that may be beginning to show signs of hair loss. Edgy younger men are trying out the comb over these days too, but slicked back is generally still most popular.

High and Tight

Hair terminology - high and tight

A popular variation of the fade cut, a high and tight is typically classified by keeping the sides and back as short as possible/as short as you are comfortable going, and fading the hair shorter and shorter into the nape of the neck and sideburns. The top of the hair is kept about an inch and a half (or longer for a modern twist) long with blunt edges. One of the reasons this cut is so popular is because it requires very little maintenance at all.


Hair terminology - undercut

The undercut is a very popular haircut in which the hair on the sides and back is clipped short with the same blade number (no taper), and the hair on top is left much longer, resulting in sharp angles and volume. The hair on the top can then be swept, slicked, and styled however you like. A very popular style for this cut is the pompadour, or “James Dean,” a tutorial for which can be found here.  Another variant is the quiff, which is best described as a fusino of a mohawk and a pompadour.  The side of the head is shaved and the middle is slicked and stood up, but not spiked.

An undercut can be as dramatic or subtle as you like, so long as the underlying principle remains: the hair on the top is long, while the sides and back are shortened.

Square/Flair/Shape Up

Hair terminology - square/flair

A square cut is defined by its sleek, clean-cut style, and typically involves cutting a straight line across one’s hairline and maintaining clean lines throughout the sideburns and neckline. The length of the hair is typically cut to all one length. However, it is becoming increasingly popular to ask for significantly more length up top and shorter or clipped sides and back, similar to the style of an undercut. This is colloquially referred to as a “Flair” or “Shape Up,” though most barbers will still prefer technical terms over modern jargon. A square cut requires a bit more maintenance, as it cuts into and shapes the hairline–when you hair grows back, it will look uneven, so you need to touch up the cut more frequently.


Hair terminology - Asymmetrical

A touch more rock and roll than most hairstyles, the asymmetrical cut offers just the right amount of risk and reward for those daring enough to try it. When visiting your barber, you will ask for hair longer on one side of the scalp than the other. The length of your hair, the difference in length between one side and the other, and the length of your sides and back are all up to you. It just depends how bold or subtle you’d like the look to be.

Faux Hawk

faux hawk

Just in case you don’t want to give grandma a heart attack at the next family gathering, rock the faux hawk (it’s the little brother of the infamous mohawk). The sides of your hair are clipped shorter than the strip of hair on top of your head, but there isn’t a huge difference between them.  Ask your barber to trim the sides short enough until you have your desired length.  For the top, tell them to leave it long or cut it into a triangle so that it can be spiked up to a point.

Top Knot

men top knot

To achieve the top knot, the first step is to make sure that you even have enough hair to tie up in the first place.  You’ll need at least 6-10 inches of hair so expect to be growing it out for months, if needed.  Tell your barber that the hair on the sides and back of your head should be clipped and not cut with scissors.  This gives a consistent overall look that will emphasize the top knot.  The last step is just to gather up all your hair and tie it up with a hair tie.  Standard placement would be in the top center of your head.


And there you have it. With these terms in hand, we hope your next trip to the barber will be your best one yet.

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