You’re here because you need a haircut, right? I get it. The process proves unnecessarily hard. And the anxiety involved in switching styles overwhelms even the coolest cat. Although the core styles haven’t changed much since the early 20th century, icons aplenty can shift and reshape the status quo with a simple visit to their high-end salon. They’ll leave with a gravity-defying haircut you envy, fetching camera-wielding paparazzi along the way.
And don’t get me wrong, the captured celeb looks great. No matter the hairdo, it seems they can do no wrong. Publications suddenly proclaim the current moment the era of the upright bob — that’s a fake haircut, but indulge me — and you’re left wondering, “Why doesn’t my hair look like that?” or “How do I even ask for that?” Stop that. Starting points abound and can act as a way forward toward your desired haircut. Using a classic style like a crew cut as the foundation, for example, one can tweak it a little to add edge or skew conservative.
Where to Start
Unless you’re forced to abide by rigid grooming regulations – a la the military, although they’ve since adapted their code to include ponytails, buzzcuts and dreadlocks — there’s no sense in limiting what your hair can look like. Minimal research — aka a quick Google search — reveals millions of ways to wear your hair. But look around, men’s haircuts aren’t that different from person to person, and switching styles isn’t rocket science. The good ones stick around and the bad ones are blips.
It’s also important to consider length. Some styles take months — if not years, depending on how fast your hair grows — to achieve. Others are quick yet irreversible decisions. Before you go bald or commit to billowing layers, think about it a little more simply. Look at yourself in the mirror; then at your photo reference; yourself in the mirror again; the haircut once more; envision it all over again. Bring the photo with you but be ready to make adjustments, albeit minor.
How to Ask for What You Want
“A photo reference, whether it be some cuts you’ve seen (from a celebrity standpoint) or just looks you’ve seen on social media, can be a really great jumping-off point. At that point, you’re not necessarily discussing very strict terms in regards to texture, length or whatever it may be, but it’s more so trying to look at that photo, see if it works with that person’s personal style and then tailoring something to them that’s going to be close. There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all for this,” Rob McMillen, co-founder of NYC barbershop Mildred, tells us. He also offers his opinions on how long you should wait between appointments. “If you keep it really short, [you should go] two to three weeks; if you keep something medium length, three to five; and if you have a longer look, maybe it’s five to seven or even longer.”
That means the haircut your favorite athlete wore last week won’t look identical on you — or your friend or your father — and especially so a week or two after it’s cut. Tailoring a style to your face shape, aesthetic, activities and schedule requires assistance from a trained barber. First, figure out your face shape. Then, seek out a style you’re interested in, find a local barber, book an appointment and get the look you’ve been yearning for — or something close to it. And bring whichever photo you need.
Terms to Know
- Number (1-8): A number 1 = 1/8 of an inch, and a number 8 = 1 inch. Everything in-between progresses in 1/8 inch increments.
- Neckline: Your neckline can be finished in four ways, squared, rounded, tapered and blocked. Squared sharpens the edges but fades into your skin. Rounded is the same as squared but with softer edges. Tapered doesn’t assume a shape and naturally progresses from hair to no hair. Blocked doesn’t fade from one length to another and defines a natural neckline.
- Taper and Fade: These two are somewhat interchangeable. Taper means your haircut changes from one length to another. Fade is the progression from a certain length to skin (aka a cut by a clipper without a guard).
- Arches: This is the outline around your hair. Higher arches work well with closer, polished cuts. Natural arches grow out less noticeably.
- Sideburns: Your sideburns can be trimmed above, at or below the ear. If you’re unsure, let your barber (or how you wear your facial hair) be the guide.
- Scissor Cut: Just as buzzes require clippers, some cuts call for scissors exclusively. Tell your barber to steer clear of the the plugged-in groomer if you’re seeking a more natural look.
- Disconnected: This means there’s separation — a difference in length or texture — between the top and sides of your haircut.
- Volume: The height and thickness of your hair.
- Bulk: Excess weight that does not contribute to the hair’s volume.
- Hairline: The point on your head where forehead meets hair.
- Razor Cut: This is hair cut with a straight blade razor. This technique lends texture and volume.
Round Face Shape
A round face shape implies your dimensions are roughly equal up and down and across. Plus, your jawline is soft, and your are cheekbones wide. Round faces should steer of buzz cuts — you’ll emphasis your ball-shaped head — and leverage volume (without adding bulk) for better angles.
Oval Face Shape
The oval face shape is characterized by dimensions that are longer than they are wide — but not drastically so. You’re an oval if your face is longer than it is wide and your forehead is wider than your jawline. Most haircuts work well with the oval shape, although bangs might muddle definition otherwise afforded by pompadours or buzz cuts.
Square Face Shape
The square face shape, like the round, is defined by nearly identical measurements all around — with one exception: your jawline is sharper and your sides straighter. This is another versatile shape, so give anything you’re interested in a try. However, steering clear of shoulder-length may help soften your jawline, which would look drastic alongside long, straightened locks.
Oblong Face Shape
The oblong face shape lends a long, vertical look. Here, the dimensions going up and down are undoubtedly more so than those going side to side. Steer clear of facial hair — it’ll only elongate your face — and stick to something sharp up top: side parts, fades and the ilk.
Heart-Shaped Face Shape
A heart-shaped face means your cheeks and forehead are wider than your jaw, which proves pointed. Haircuts with volume will soften your chin’s chisel and sharpen your hairline.
Diamond Face Shape
Just a like a diamond, this face shape proves wide at the middle — across the cheek bones — but pointed at the forehead and jaw. A textured crop or high fade will hide your width, while facial hair could soften your chin.
Triangular Face Shape
For those with a triangular face shape, the forehead is the widest part. The rest leads into the chin, which is pointed, and accentuated by an angular jawline. Haircuts with short sides will emphasize the difference between the top and bottom of your face. Opt for cuts with fringed or textured sides.
Who’s worn it well? Mookie Betts
Don’t let a receding hairline ruin you. Take a page from Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, Mookie Betts. He’s taken to cutting his own hair, a routine that consists of shaving what’s left down to the skin. Just because there’s little there doesn’t mean you don’t deserve groomed, too.
The easy way to ask for it: “Shaved to the skin all over.”
Who’s worn it well? Tom Holland
The buzz cut. Oftentimes donned due to a dare or because of a dye job gone wrong, the style’s actually rather appropriate for most guys during the summer months. Free yourself from last season’s pompadour and prep for a fall and winter feeling renewed. A #1 buzz is the biggest statement, while a #4 proves thick enough to cover your skull. Tom here (to the left) probably has a #2.
The easy way to ask for it: “#2 buzz all over.”
Fades (High, Medium, Low)
Who’s worn it well? Michael B. Jordan
Fades are a surefire way to appear put together. They the natural progression from something super-short to short on the sides and nothing crazy on top. A high fade means the point where the longer hair starts is further up on your head. Medium means mid-way. Low means your neckline and just above it will be faded but the rest will be another length.
The easy way to ask for it: “High fade. Skin into a #1 with a #3 on top.”
Who’s worn it well? Ryan Gosling
While the crew cut is a classic American style, it’s changed a little. The fade on the sides shouldn’t be as drastic as men used to wear it, and the top can be a little longer. Gosling (aka Ryan) probably had an eight on the sides and a scissor cut up top. See? The crew cut loosely defines as shorter on the sides and not as short on the top.
The easy way to ask for it: “Crew cut. An eight on the sides and a scissor cut, but short, on top.”
Who’s worn it well? Majid Al Maskati
The defining feature of a caesar cut is the horizontal bang across your hairline. The hair on the sides can be short but ideally not faded. In that case, the cut would be called a French crop. The caesar’s a simple, stylish option for men with strong features — and no aversion to fringe. Between a four and a six works on the sides, while the top can be as high as an 8 — but there must be bangs.
The easy way to ask for it: “Five all over with caesar-style bangs on the front.”
Who’s worn it well? Christian Pulisic
The undercut, though oftentimes slicked back, is represented by short, faded sides and a long, disconnected top. The two are blended together but the contrast between them is drastic. See: Brad Pitt in Fury, Christian Pulisic on the pitch.
The easy way to ask for it: “An undercut. Skin into a one on the sides and scissor cut up top.”
Who’s worn it well? Rhuigi Villasenor
The crop references both the caesar and a fade by mixing short sides with a blunt, front-brushed fringe. Rhuigi Villasenor, seen at Paris Fashion Week, has a medium fade that forms a sort of fauhawk shape — except his hairs worn longer and with more volume.
The easy way to ask for it: “A three fade on the sides and a brushed-forward crop on top.”
Who’s worn it well? Jason Sudeikis
The cornerstone of a side part haircut is a difference between lengths on top and on the sides. But, you don’t have to buzz either. A scissor taper cut can achieve a similar polish without exposing skin. Then, when you style, you’re combing or pulling hair in either direction at your part.
The easy way to ask for it: “A taper scissor cut with a side part.”
Who’s worn it well? Colin Jost
The quiff’s another classic, versatile haircut you can adapt to your liking. It’s defined as a close shave on the sides — say #1, 2 or 3 — and roughly three inches on top. It’s brushed forward and then tamed with product. The only prerequisite is hair that’s longer than three inches heading into your appointment.
The easy way to ask for it: “A three on the sides and scissor cut on top to around three inches.”
Who’s worn it well? Hasan Minhaj
The pompadour is the graduated quiff. It can be faded on the sides, marked by a close shaved into a mid-level fade or tapered with scissors. It’s typically sharp, too, as it’s often finished by lining up your hairline and defining your hair’s arches where they lead into your sideburns. The hair on top is often longer, more so in the front and shorter as you follow it back. Clarify your intention with the cut, though, as there’s certain skill required in cutting different parts at different lengths so it lays right.
The easy way to ask for it: “I’ll take a pompadour — with a #2 fade on the sides into a scissor cut on top.”
Who’s worn it well? Steven Yeun
The sides of a swept back haircut are shorter but neither faded nor shaved. Versatile and very cool, it’s kept tight along the ears, while the hair on top is longer so it arches and waves backward, whichever direction you wear it. There’s a soft part, as seen on Steven Yeun, but it isn’t as drastic as Jason Sudeikis’ do.
The easy way to ask for it: “Scissor cut on the sides and top with it a little longer there. Swept back instead of parted.”
Who’s worn it well? Brad Pitt
Think of the slicked back cut as an evolved swept back style. As your hair grows out, it’ll naturally fall back — as long as you train it to. Training it requires consistent style and perhaps a hat through the most awkward phases. Keep slicking it back until it sticks, but be conscious of how much product you’re using. Yes, a shiny polish on your hair might be ’50s-referencing, but it rarely looks right in modern settings.
The easy way to ask for it: “Scissor cut all over while keeping length and a little volume. I wear my hair slicked back.”
Who’s worn it well? David Beckham
The comb over, at least as a style name, has long been associated with balding. You might be picturing something semi-permanent – like a wig or a toupee — but it’s just the conscious styling of your hair to one side. David Beckham rocked the style well while promoting his whisky, but he usually wears it slicked back — and occasionally swept forward. A comb over can tame a longer mane for more formal occasions. Your hair must be longer at the hairline than it is in the back as to cover the entirety of your head when you comb it.
The easy way to ask for it: “A scissor trim, shorter on the sides and long on top, with a combed-in part.”
Who’s worn it well? Kingsley Ben-Adir
The natural look begins with a buzz — then it grows out. When it comes time for another cut, you’ll need to enlist a semi-amateur sculptor; or a barber confident they can cut Black hair. The sides are kept short, shaved if desired, and the top is shaped to it’s even all around.
The easy way to ask for it: “A shaped natural cut with shorter temples and arches.”
Who’s worn it well? Jordan Clarkson
Braids are an excellent way to tame a whole hell of a lot of hair. Look at fellow NBA-er Aaron Gordon, for example, who wears an afro far more significant than Trevor Noah’s (which you’ll see below) but braids shorter than Jordan Clarkson’s (seen here). You’ll have to take your mane to a trained professional for this look. It’s nearly impossible to braid or cornrow your own hair.
Who’s worn it well? Timothée Chalamet
Whether or not the bob works for you depends on how long your hair is and how you wear it. It’s typically defined by a nearly-center part, hair that flows past the ears and a similar length all around, although maybe a bit longer out front. It can be worn different ways — tucked behind the ears, pulled into an up-down and worn forward (like Timmy C. did here). Again, you’re going to need quite a lot of hair to get this look.
The easy way to ask for it: “Razor cut the hair for texture, while leaving the front a little longer than the back.”
Who’s worn it well? Logan Paul
I originally said co-founder of clothing brand Bare Knuckles, Cole McBride, had the best shag. Or maybe Keith Richards back in the day. But prolific internet-troll-turned-semi-professional-boxer Logan Paul, however annoying he may be, has great hair, too. It’s long in front, short over the ears, and then long again. It mixes the mullet, shag, and front-combed swoop. It’s a lot to convey colloquially, so a photo reference aids in translation.
The easy way to ask for it: “Tousled, textured, long hair styled forward.”
Who’s worn it well? Adam Driver
The mid-length layer works best with hair born with a bit of wave built in. Sprays and other products can recreate the texture, leaving you in charge of finding the right cut. No clippers are required for this one, as scissors work best for taking length off while retaining texture and volume.
The easy way to ask for it: “Layered scissor cut that lands at the end of my neck.”
Who’s worn it well? Trevor Noah
Growing and maintaining and afro requires patience and a few wide-toothed tools. Picks and other combs help hair gain volume. Contrary to most cuts, which lose their definition with repetitive fluffing, the act is essential to this style’s process. Proper moisturizing helps, too, a la durags, silken caps and leave-in conditioners, and usual cuts are required as well. “If you don’t consistently get haircuts, you’re going to combat split ends and long term damage, and that’s no fun,” celebrity groomer John Cotton told GQ.
The easy way to ask for it: “Trim the split ends without reducing volume or taming the texture and shape up my hairline.”
Who’s worn it well? Jared Leto
According to the CDC, your hair grows, on average, a half-inch each month. Growing it down to your shoulders, which is about a foot from your scalp, would measure out to 24 months of work. That’s a few awkward stages and plenty of patience — plus, lots of conditioning. Cutting to this length is rare, because few go past it, but doing so proves painless. You’ll just adjustment the measurement depending on how far past the shoulders you already are.
The easy way to ask for it: “Two inches off the bottom, parted down the middle.”
Who’s worn it well? Luka Sabbat
Donning dreadlocks oftentimes requires a visit to a professional shop or studio — or at least the assistance of another person. Hair stylist Ashley Adams explains that the style takes years upon years to develop. And she also says not to “trim your dreads for at least 6-12 months after starting them to prevent them from unraveling.” Once outside this window, you can cut one to two inches off at a time. If you’re done donning them, you need to cut them all off and restart. They cannot be undone.
The Great Beyond
Who’s worn it well? Evan Mock
What is it? Well, it’s whatever you want it to be. Dye your do; put it in a ponytail; shave the lightning bolts into the back of your head. Be smart, but treat your head like a blank canvas.
The easy way to ask for it: In response to, “Are you sure?” you say, “Yes.”
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