How to Ask For a Haircut: Decoding Hair Terminology For Men

by Updated on July 12, 2018

Three things are key to achieving a stylish haircut that you are completely happy with: knowing what suits your face shape and complexion, being aware of which cuts work for your overall lifestyle – and, most importantly, knowing how to ask for a particular type of haircut.

These days, there are tons of words barbers and people in general use to describe different hair cutting techniques and hairstyles. Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost in the abundance of terms, and feel like giving up and simply giving your barber the freedom to do whatever they want!

As tempting as that may be – giving your barber total freedom isn’t recommended – unless, of course, they’ve been cutting your hair for a couple of decades with no glitches, and always know exactly which cut you go for. Even then – some guidance would probably be appreciated.

No matter how complicated hair terminology may seem – knowing the basics is crucial for a modern-day man. How else will you communicate to your barber about what you are after? How else will you ensure that the hairstyle you ask for in a barber’s chair, you get?

In this article, we will cover everything you need to know about how to ask your barber for a haircut – from hair terminology you’ve potentially heard of before, to terminology you had never even imagined existed.

So, sit back, relax – and find out all you need to know!


Choosing the Right Barber

Before you even begin thinking about which haircut to go for next, the first step should be finding a barber you can truly trust – and know won’t disappoint. There are plenty of different factors to think of when choosing a barber – but the most important factor is reputation.

These days, many barbers will have social media presence, because of the general shift towards social media. Most modern-day consumers are now on social media – and most people who sell anything will market their products and services on social media to gain new clients.

Before people buy a service or order a product, they are likely to read tons of reviews about what they are investing their money in. Same applies to choosing the right barber.

Cutting people’s hair is a job which leaves a noticeable difference on how someone looks – therefore, good barbers will show off the work they are proud of on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and even Pinterest.

Of course, not every barber will – and it could be that your local barber just hasn’t got round to creating a page yet. It could be that they don’t know of the value of social media as a marketing tool – but that’s quite rare.

Even if your potential barber doesn’t have an updated Instagram page, there will still be some online presence – because people rarely keep it to themselves these days. Try typing in their name or the salon’s name on Google – and see what comes up. Recommendations – or a feed of negative comments? Reputation is key – and you want to make sure that you know you are in good hands!

Another thing to keep in mind is budget – as there are barbers out there who will charge way above your budget. You don’t need to spend an insane amount for a cut to like it – but remember that, just like with all products and services, you get what you pay for. Getting a cut for a $10 will most likely mean a very basic, general service. On the other hand, investing a little more means that the barber values themselves more to charge a higher fee – and probably has a reason to do so.

So, to wrap up – make sure you go to a barber that has a good reputation, and don’t expect a fantastic haircut for pocket money!

The Basics: Talking to Your Barber

There’s no denying that heading to the barber may be stressful at times. Particularly, if you’re not someone who frequently goes to get a cut. Barbers use lingo that can be intimidating, can sound confusing and can make you feel like you’ve lost the plot.

But knowing a few basic rules will help you overcome the stress – because these rules are the essentials of achieving a good haircut. They are also the main reason why so many walk out of the barber’s feeling like they’d got a completely different cut than expected.

  1. Have an idea of what you want. Before you even book a barber’s appointment, the key is knowing what you’d like to do with your hair. You need to have browsed enough blog posts and flicked through enough magazine pages to know which cut you’d like to go for next – or to at least to have an idea. Having an idea is important, because that way you won’t be easily swayed by your barber to try out a cut that is not right for you. You know what it’s like – you’re sat in a barber’s chair, and they say that a certain cut would look good on you (in their opinion), but you can’t quite picture it because it doesn’t work for your lifestyle – or you simply don’t think it looks good. It’s difficult to say “no”, because you always think that a barber – or any other specialist – knows best. But it’s you, not your barber, who will be left with that cut for a few months – so you should go in with a clear idea of what cut you’d like to walk out with rather than let your barber do whatever they want.
  2. Know how you’d like to style your hair on top. That’s a key element in getting a haircut you’re happy with. Knowing exactly how much length and volume you’d like on top will help you decide which haircut to go for, whether to give in when your barber gives you certain suggestions – and you can also get extra advice from them about how to style it. You should use the opportunity to find out which products would work best on your hair – particularly the top of your hair. Knowing how much length you want on top and how you’d like to style it will also determine which parts of your hair will be thinned, layered, shortened or straightened. If you don’t really know how much length you want on top, or which particular style you’re after – then it’ll be more difficult to get the most out of your barber’s appointment.
  3. Know the difference between a fade and a taper cut. The third key rule is about the fade/ taper haircut. Knowing the difference between the two is absolutely paramount! Getting the right kind of taper or fade cut can make a massive difference on how you look and feel. And vice versa – getting the wrong kind of short sides could lead to disappointment, and even beanies for the next 3 months. And who wants that to happen? No-one!
  4. Know your haircut numbers. Another contributing factor of getting a cut you’re after is knowing haircut numbers, also referred to as clipper sizes. Simply telling your barber you’d like it “short”, “very short” or “long-ish” isn’t going to be helpful. To achieve a trendy look you had in mind, you should at least be aware of what each of the eight clipper sizes means. Don’t worry – we’ll help you with that as we go!
  5. Choose your neckline. Choosing how to trim your neckline is also very important. While it is a subtle detail, it can completely transform your look. For example – your neckline can be cut in a variety of different ways, such as blocked, tapered or rounded. How you choose to have your neckline cut will determine how your haircut appears and the effect it creates.

Asking Your Barber For a Fade or a Taper

Fade or a Taper
Knowing the difference between a taper and a fade is key in ensuring you leave the barber’s shop with a haircut you’ve dreamed of getting. Whereas many people (and even barbers!) use the terms “fade” and “taper” interchangeably – it isn’t actually the same thing. We have covered the topic in great detail in our post on the difference between a taper and a fade.

When you know the difference between the two, it’ll become easier to communicate what you are after. What is the difference, then – in short?

A taper cut will be longer than a fade cut – so if you’re only a newbie in the “short sides – long top” haircut world, we’d recommend starting with a taper cut, then working your way up to a fade haircut.

A taper cut is essentially tapered – or shorter sides, but it’ll still leave hair on your sides and will look more conservative.

The difference is that a fade cut will not leave as much hair on your sides – depending on which fade haircut you go for. There are low fades, mid fades, high fades as well as bald fades. The boldest of all choices, unsurprisingly, is a bald fade – a fade which leaves no hair on the sides of your head. A low fade will leave most hair on the sides and back of your head, while a high fade will also leave not very much.

So, when asking for a fade, know that going for a bald fade will leave the sides bald – and the most conservative look will be a low fade.

When you ask for a taper cut, on the other hand, there are no different names for different taper cuts, so you should simply know how short or long you want the sides to be left. Based on the hairstyle you have decided to go for, your barber will be able to advice how long or short to go for.

Knowing The Most Commonly Used Hair Terminology

In the past, haircuts were a lot simpler. A visit to the barber was all about merely cutting longer hair to shorter to tame a wild mess and achieve a neater look. These visits weren’t as frequent – and hairstyles were rarely a way to express your personality (maybe status, in a way). Many people had very similar cuts – and there wasn’t such a wide spectrum of haircuts to choose from.

These days, the process of getting a haircut is entirely different. As soon as you enter your barber’s shop, you are faced with a plethora of options – many of these options have existed for longer than a few decades, some have developed in the last years. Having this many options can either be a blessing or a curse – depends on how you see it.

One thing is a fact, however – you should familiarise yourself with some of the hair cutting terminology to be able to get a cut you’re happy to sport for a while. The list of basic terms isn’t too long, but it is essential that you know what each of these means – otherwise you may that you struggle to express to your barber what you are after.

  • Undercut. A popular choice for a modern-day man (both A-list celebrities and simple mortals like us!), the undercut hairstyle is a cut whereby the hair on the top of the head is left longer, while the back and sides are very short. This leaves a contrasting look, which may draw quite a bit of attention. So, if you’re not someone who likes brave cuts and would rather have their hair styled to look cool, but not attention-grabbing – then the undercut may be something to consider down the line rather than now.
  • Taper and fade. As mentioned above, a taper cut is shorter sides longer top cut, which leaves some hair on the sides. It is a conservative version of a fade – and many hairstyles actually have some sort of a taper cut. A fade is a bolder haircut option for a man, which comes in various types (low, mid, high, bald) – and can leave the sides completely shaved. It’s not for someone who is new to the short sides, long top hairstyles.
  • Haircut numbers/ clipper sizes. In order to know how long or short you want your hair to be cut, it’s paramount to be familiar with haircut numbers, also known as clipper sizes. We have covered the topic in great depth in the past – please refer to our post “Haircut Numbers – Hair Clipper Sizes: All You Need to Know”. Whereas we have already extensively covered the topic – this article will remind you of some of the key principles when it comes to knowing the different haircut numbers and clipper sizes.
  • Short sides, long top. Quite a commonly used term, which you may already be familiar with. It is a general term for the most popular haircut trend right now – having longer top, and shorter sides and back. Many different haircut types fall under this general term.
  • Thinning/ layering. Thinning is a term which refers to literally making your hair less thick. It is particularly useful for someone who has unmanageable, thick hair and may need some help to make things a little less unruly. Thinning is normally done with special thinning scissors – and the barber uses them to remove weight from your hair to make things more manageable.
  • Layers and texture. These particular terms are commonly used in the barber’s chair – and they can sound a little confusing to someone who is new to the whole thing. Texture refers to the look that your hair generally has depending on the amount of curl, its thickness and how its cut. A layered texture, on the other hand, is when a barber cuts certain areas of your hair shorter, and longer hair rests on top of the short hair.

Haircut Numbers – Hair Clipper Sizes

Haircut Numbers
A quick reminder of the main points when it comes to knowing haircut numbers, or hair clipper sizes. You don’t need to know these sizes in much detail – but it is important to at least be aware of how the sizing goes, so that you’re not left with bald sides when all you wanted was a shorter, neater cut!

  • Number 1 haircut: One-eighth of an inch
  • Number 2 haircut: One-quarter of an inch or two-eights of an inch
  • Number 3 haircut: Three-eighths of an inch
  • Number 4 haircut: Half an inch
  • Number 5 haircut: Five-eighths of an inch
  • Number 6 haircut: Three-quarters of an inch
  • Number 7 haircut: Seven-eighths of an inch
  • Number 8 haircut: One inch

As a reminder, the theory is pretty simple. The larger the haircut number – the longer your hair will remain. That means that a haircut number 4 will leave you with hair that’s longer, because a number 4 guard will be attached to the clipper. While haircut number 2 will leave you with shorter hair – because the guard attached to the clipper leaves only one-quarter of an inch. If you ask for 0, for example – you’ll be left with a near-shaved cut – because no guard will be used.

The Most Common Haircuts To Ask Your Barber For

There is a whole lot of haircuts to choose from these days – and knowing that there are so many options can be overwhelming. To help you find the right choice, we’ll list the most popular types of haircuts to ask your barber for. They are the most popular for a reason!

Buzz Cut

One of the most popular haircuts of all time, a buzz cut is simply a very short cut, which is achieved with the use of size 1 or 2 clippers. It achieves a highly low-maintenance look – but it does show your scalp somewhat, so if you’re not into that – you may want to choose something a little more conservative. Some guys even cut their hair at home when they are after a buzz cut – if you have quality clippers, it isn’t a bad idea. That’s because to maintain a buzz cut, you need to visit a barber quite often.

Buzz Cut + Beard
Buzz Cut + Beard


As mentioned before, an undercut is a hairstyle which creates quite a sharp contrast between two different lengths of your hair. The sides and back of your haircut will be very short – and the length quite a bit longer. You can pair an undercut with various hairstyles, from a pompous pompadour to a low-key side part! Do bear in mind that, if you’re someone who doesn’t like showing their scalp or has to be in an official environment – an undercut may not be for you, as it is quite attention-grabbing.


Crew Cut

The crew cut is another popular haircut option for the modern-day man – and is a better option for someone who isn’t into the whole shaved or very short sides thing, as it is slightly longer in length. It is also known as the “Ivy league” haircut – and is a very classy style. It’s great for someone who doesn’t want to spend hours in front of the mirror – but also doesn’t want to simply go for army-inspired buzz cut. Do remember to let your barber know the type of fade you’d like on the sides – and how much length should be left on top.

Crew Cut
Crew Cut

French Crop

The French crop is defined by a short fringe, which doesn’t hang over your forehead. It is an ideal style for people who like low-maintenance cuts but would also like to maintain a trendy, cool appearance. Styling the French crop is simple – all you need is a little bit of pomade to achieve a desirable look! With cropped hairstyles, you’ll need to let the barber know how you’d like the sides to be tapered, but that’s about it!

French Crop
French Crops

Caesar Cut

The Caesar cut essentially is a crew cut with a fringe. To style it, simply pull your hair forward, so that the bangs can rest on your forehead. Getting the cut is also simple – as most stylists will be familiar with the cut. The good news is that the Caesar cut is also suitable for most face shapes – so you can’t go wrong with it!

Caesar Cut
Caesar Cut

Side Part

A side part haircut is a classy style that’s been around for a very long time. Ideal for a business man – as well as someone who simply likes to look sophisticated. It requires slightly more styling than any of the crops or shorter cuts mentioned earlier – but the result is totally worth it. It is closely related to a combover – but the main difference between the two styles is that the side part hairstyle looks more neat.

Side Part
Classic Side Part


A combover is a classy and elegant style, which is ideal for a professional-looking man. If you’re someone who works in the office and has to maintain a neat and tidy appearance, then a combover haircut is for you. The modern combover is a relative of the side part hairstyle – and it is defined by shorter sides and a longer top with a neat parting on the side. The style is normally textured and loose – but you will benefit from showing your barber a picture of how you’d like it to look.


Slicked Back Hair

If you’re a man who is into style and trends, and who doesn’t mind spending a little more time in front of the mirror each morning – then a slick back cut is for you. It’s ideal for someone who likes to be in complete control of their hair – but it also means that you will invest a substantial amount of time into the styling routine…

Slicked Back
Slicked Back


Probably one of our favorite hairstyles – the pompadour has a rich and interesting history. It has changed lots over time, but the modern-day pompadour is one of the most admired men’s hairstyles. If you’re not afraid to draw attention to yourself – then the pompadour might be ideal for you. When you ask for a pompadour, it’ll be pretty clear what you are after, but we’d recommend going for a skin/ bald fade or an undercut along a pomp. It’ll create a sharp, intriguing contrast!



Get a modern-day quiff, and you’ll be admired by many! The quiff is a fantastic hairstyle for elegant, sophisticated men – but it will require you to spend some time styling it in the morning. The good news is that the cut is very versatile – one day you could be sporting a quiff, another day you could turn it into an awesome pompadour! It’s that simple (if you have the skill and the products to hand!).

Classic Quiff

Curly Hair

If you’re a man with curly hair, you may wonder whether all of these cuts we are covering would even look good on you. While it is true that curly hair may require slightly different kind of attention, we truly believe that most haircuts can be adapted to curly hair. What really helps manage curly hair is getting short sides – potentially even a bald fade. Having shorter sides immediately transforms any haircut into a more manageable style – as all you have to do in the morning is style the top. You should always aim for easy-to-maintain styles when it comes to curly hair. Whereas a nice, textured curly quiff is a thing – you may struggle if you want a very neat slick back or a side part. Know your hair type!

Curly Hair
Curly Hair

Spiky Hair

Spiky hairstyles are a fantastic styling option for when you feel like infusing your hair with a fun, quirky style – without going through a massive transformation. Like many other styles, spiky haircuts often come with tapered or faded sides, so that the attention remains on the top of the head. This way a style is easier to maintain, because all you have to do is spike up the top. Plus, it looks more trendy – nobody finds the spikes of the 90s cool anymore (only secretly, of course). To achieve spiky hair, use some matte pomade – and make sure you’ve got a few inches of hair left on top. Ideally, discuss the style you’d like to achieve with your barber – tell them that you are planning to spike your hair up.

Cool Spiky
Cool Spiky

Faux Hawk

We’ve covered the faux hawk style in quite a lot of detail in our post on faux hawk styles. To sum up, a faux hawk is a close relative of the mohawk – which I am sure you are all familiar with. However, a faux hawk (also often referred to as “fohawk”) is a lot more subtle and refined than a mohawk. Some would say that it’s even suitable for professional environments – and we think so too, if it’s tamed. You can create a fohawk with some strong-hold matte pomade. It can also be paired with a taper cut or a more daring fade – depending on the effect you’d like to achieve.

Faux Hawks
Faux Hawks

Skin/ Bald Fade

A bald fade or a skin fade is probably the most daring look on a man. It is essentially like having your head shaved – only the top remains hairy, when your sides are bald. This hairstyle is easy to achieve with size 0 clippers – but it isn’t for everyone. It can be combined with pretty much any hairstyle (a pompadour, a quiff, spiky hair, a faux hawk, etc.) – and having a skin fade with any of these hairstyles would result in a very sharp contrast between the hair on top and the buzzed sides. It is a great way to create a stand-out look, but remember that in order to keep the sides bald, you’d need to pay a visit to the barber frequently – or get your own tools which would enable you to maintain the look.

Skin/ Bald Fade
Skin/ Bald Fade

How Much Should a Haircut Cost

We briefly touched on this earlier, but in this section we will cover it in a little more detail.

As mentioned, just like with most services and products, you get what you pay for. If you’ve not paid very much for a cut – you can’t expect a fantastic result. If you decide to head to the barber down the road, who charges $8 for a cut, it is unlikely that you will walk out impressed by the quality of the cut and service, and that you will recommend them to your friends and family. If you go to a highly skilled barber, you will not pay only a few dollars for a cut – that’s common sense. They will have trained for years and have amassed lots of positive reviews and comments – they have the right to charge you more for their services, and their time.

However, you shouldn’t be paying a fortune either (although that will also depend on where you live). This guide will help you know how much approximately you should be paying for a cut by showing you different average price points across the US:

  • Generally, in the US, the average price for a men’s cut is $28 (including a tip);
  • The average price of a haircut is higher in cities like Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago is higher than in other parts of the US;
  • This is an illustration of how much haircuts for men cost across the us, according to mobile payments company Square:
Haircut Prices
Haircut Prices, Source: Square

Top Tips for Getting a Good Haircut

Medium-lengh Haircut
Getting a good haircut shouldn’t really be a mission of a lifetime – even though it sometimes can feel like it is. Especially, if you’ve moved elsewhere or are heading to a particular barber for the first time. Don’t worry – the good thing is that everyone feels the same way! We’re here to help and sum up how to have a positive experience:

  • If you are asking for a fade haircut, do make sure you know which clipper size you would like them to use. Before that, ensure you are actually familiar with what haircut numbers and clipper sizes are – without this knowledge, getting a precise cut is difficult. Also, know whether you would like a low, mid or high fade – or if you want a completely bald fade.
  • Think about the length of hair on top – how long would you ideally have it? Think about the hairstyles you’d like to create with the hair on top – a pompadour, a quiff maybe? All of these factors will determine what cut you are left with. There is nothing more important than letting your barber know how you are planning to style your hair – because this information will help them make the right decision of how much of everything to cut.
  • Before you leave the barber’s…make sure you are happy with everything! How’s the length, the sideburns, the neckline? How’s the hairline? Are you entirely happy with it all – or is there something that isn’t as expected? If you don’t tell your barber, they will never know – and there could be things that they can fix before you run out the door. It’s better to open your mouth and say something rather than walk out feeling defeated. Also, if a cut hasn’t exactly gone to plan, it could be that the barber can advise on how to style it to achieve a more desirable result.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words!

A final word from us – no matter how well you know hair terminology, and how well you are able to communicate with your barber – if you bring in a picture, you can’t go wrong! You can always change some details of a cut you see in a picture – but having a picture to visualise how you’d like your haircut to look will do a massive favor to your barber – and will also help you avoid a disaster at the end of your visit.

So, do yourself and your barber a massive favor and find a quality picture of a haircut you like on a celebrity or a hair model – and bring it in for your barber to see before they begin cutting your hair. It’s easy to download pictures from sites like Pinterest and Instagram these days – so grab a few, and then you and your barber can decide which of the cuts would look most flattering on you (based on your face shape, complexion and even lifestyle).


To sum up, it is important to always communicate with your barber as clearly as possible. No matter how much they try to convince you that a particular style will look awesome on you, don’t ever agree to something you’re not quite sure of. It’s your hair – and you will have to wear the style for months before it changes! Plus, always go in prepared – with a clear idea of what you’d like to walk out with.

The main contributing factors to getting a haircut you want is knowing the haircut terminology, not being afraid to discuss your options with your barber – and having a clear picture in mind (as well as bringing it in!).

Other than that – go for a barber who has a great reputation and who you know isn’t amateur. Paying a few extra dollars isn’t a bad idea either – after all, you’re the one who will need to sport a particular haircut for a few months.

So, why not make sure it is a haircut you’re happy with?

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