There's a 79 percent chance that if you leave the barbershop with hair that leaves you looking like a bad "Ace Ventura" reboot or an embarrassing junior high yearbook photo, it's because of simple miscommunication with your barber. OK, even though we completely made up that stat, the ability to communicate with your barber is key to getting the look you want.
As celebrity barber Johnny Cake tells Complex, communication is "the core of the barbershop. It's a place where the community comes together. Somewhere people come to talk about whatever." Just make sure that talk is full of hair jargon that gets your point across (and sports, movies, relationships and the weather...).
Your Barbering Basics
One of the more effective ways to get the cut you're after is to actually know the name of that cut. Here's a breakdown of some of the most sought-after styles:
- Taper: Buzzed on the sides and longer on the top, a taper transitions from shorter to longer like a gradient (but the buzzed sides don't go down to the skin)
- Fade: Similar to a taper, but a fade does go down to the skin (because so many people confuse these cuts, it's a good idea to say "skin fade" if you actually do want a fade and not a taper)
- High-and-tight: Short on the sides (about an inch of hair), mid-length and parted on top
- Side part: Often paired with pomade, this is typically a mid-length classic style parted at the side and swept over
- Pompadour: Often paired with a taper or fade, a pomp puts lots of volume up front, sweeping the hair up in layers or parting it to the side
- Buzzcut: Buzzed down all over, from just peach fuzz to about a half-inch of hair
Haircuts done with electric clippers – like fades, buzzcuts and tapers – are classified in terms of shortness based on the guard the barber uses on those clippers (there will be a little variance among barbers, as clippers differ). While a "zero" is stubble just short of bald, a "four" leaves about a half-inch of hair. If you're unsure, start longer – a barber can always take more off, but he can't put it back on. Also, when fading or tapering hair, specify if you'd prefer the gradient to start high or low.
For African-American Hair
Plenty of black men rock tapers, fades or buzzcuts, but some styles specifically cater to black hair or hair that's generally coarser or more tightly curled. Here's some basic lingo that will serve you better than making weird hand gestures around your head:
- Round cut: An overall round shape that's a bit longer on the top and sides but fades down to the skin right at the edges
- Square fade: This lends a more angular shape to the round cut and is often faded higher on the sides
- Twisted Afro: You know what an Afro is, but this is that look that gives the usually carefully shaped Afro a little more texture with lots of twisted ends
- Bantu knots: A gender-neutral style that divides the hair into rows of short, evenly spaced knots
- Flat top: Usually paired with a taper or fade, flat tops are square in shape, level on top and cut at sharp right angles around the temples (they can be worn low or high)
- Shape up: A fade with a longer top that you can shape into styles like a twisted Afro or high top
More Communication Tips
Cut and style are not the same thing. A good barber has you feeling like a million bucks when you walk out the door with a little help from a blow dryer and just the right styling products. To replicate that look at home, make sure you ask your barber how to style your new cut before you leave it to fate (or your best guess) tomorrow morning.
You've got that $800 texting slab in your pocket for a lot of reasons, and one of those reasons is so that you have a camera and a browser with you everywhere – use it. Did your barber nail it? Ask for a picture you can bring next time (they might even want you to tag them on Insta). Got the perfect Google Image result for a number one high fade? Bring a picture. Like they say, a picture is worth 1,000 hair-cutting terms you can't remember right now.
Remember, this lingo isn't all inclusive, and you can often combine styles to get just the look you're after. The trick is to avoid generalities ("just a little off the top") and talk it out with your barber in comfy detail before committing to the scissors. You'll both be happier with a bit of communication.
Video of the Day
- Complex: An Interview with Johnny Cake, Your Favorite Rapper's Go-To Barber
- GQ: How to Talk to Your Barber and Get the Haircut You Really Want
- Esquire: 15 Short Haircuts That Will Never Go Out of Style
- GQ: The Best Men's Haircuts to Try in 2019 Are Anything But Boring
- History: A Visual History of Iconic Black Hairstyles