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

Learn to speak your stylist’s
language and you’ll never leave disappointed again

by RJ Firchau
If you’re trying out a new
barber or attempting a radically new haircut, there’s a chance it won’t work
out as well as you planned. The first step to avoiding a poor outcome is
knowing exactly what kind of style you want. The second is understanding how to
communicate with your stylist effectively.
In this article, we’ll give
you the tools you need to avoid walking out of the barbershop looking like
Picture is Worth a Thousand Words
We suggest always providing
your barber with a reference image whenever possible. A photo of the haircut
you’re hoping for will greatly simplify communication. Luckily, finding a great
inspiration photo is easier than ever before thanks to sites like Pinterest and

If your barber doesn’t seem interested
in listening to you, RUN. Sometimes the best haircut begins with having the
courage to walk away.

Your Natural Hair
Not every haircut will work on
every head or with every type of hair. Men with curly hair can pull off styles
men with straight hair could never dream of and vice versa. So take into full
consideration the locks you were born with.
If you plan on asking advice
from your stylist, be sure communicate the specifics of your hair. This
includes things like a receding hairline, bald spots, cowlicks, or the
intention to grow facial hair or sideburns.

Buzz Cut

Hair Terminology - Buzz-cut
The Buzz Cut is a generic term
for a short, buzzed haircut, and is also known as a military cut. There are
several kinds of buzz cuts. 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 its blade
number. In this manner, you’ll avoid any confusion.
Crew Cut

Hair Terminology - Crew Cut
A Crew Cut has tapered on the
sides and back but is longer on top. The top is cut in a uniformly to a single
length or tapered slightly with the front longer than the back.
Ivy League

Hair Terminology - Ivy League
An Ivy league is much like 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 tapered haircut. The top is cut approximately 2 inches long. The rest is
tapered with scissors. That’s why this is also known as The Tapered Cut.
Caesar Cut

The distinguishing feature of
the Caesar Cut is that the top is about an inch longer than the rest of the hair.
This style leaves a fringe on your forehead that is combed downward. The sides
and back are not tapered.
The Fade

Hair terminology - Fade cut
The Fade consists of a very
short taper that “fades” into the skin — thus giving this haircut its name. You
can ask for your fade to end high on the sides and back (High Fade), low (Low
Fade), or at the temples (Temple or Brooklyn Fade).
Comb Over Fade

The Comb-over Fade consists of
a fade on the side and back but with longer hair on top. The hair is then
“combed-over” to the side. This cut is popular with older men, especially those
thinning hair. However, younger generations have put an updated twist on this
cut by slicking it back instead of parting.

High & Tight

Hair terminology - high and tight
The High & Tight has
extremely short sides and about an inch and a half on top. The fade of the High
& Tight extends from the nape of the neck to the sideburns. One reason this
cut is so popular is that it requires much less maintenance than similar cuts.


Hair terminology - undercut
The Undercut is a trendy
haircut in which the sides and back are disconnected from the hair on top. This
means very short hair on the sides and back with little to no taper and much
more length on top. The result is sharp angles, clean lines, and lots of
volume. An Undercut cut can be swept, slicked, and styled in a variety of ways.
One modern styling method is The Pompadour, or “James Dean.”
Another variant on the
Undercut that has seen a rise in reputation is the Quiff. We like to think of
the Quiff as a fusion of a mohawk and a pompadour. In this style, the sides of
the head are cut even closer to the skin.
An undercut can be as dramatic
or subtle as you like, so long as the underlying principle remains: Long on
top. Short on the sides. No taper.
Square/Flair/Shape Up

Hair terminology - square/flair
A Square Cut is a sleek,
clean-cut style. It involves cutting a straight line across one’s hairline,
sideburns, and neckline. The length of the hair typically cut to a uniform
length. However, it has become popular to ask for more length on top. This
variation is often referred to as a “Flair” or “Shape Up.”
A square cut requires a bit
more maintenance, as it cuts into and shapes the hairline. When your hair grows
back, it can start to look uneven, so you’ll need frequent touch-ups.


Hair terminology - Asymmetrical
The Asymmetrical cut offers
the right amount of risk and reward for those daring enough to try it. Think of
it as the Rock & Roll of hairstyles. It’s called The Asymmetrical because
it’s exactly that. Asymmetrical. That means your hair will be longer on one
side than the other. The greater the difference in length from side to side,
the bolder the cut.
Faux Hawk

If you love Mohawks but don’t
want to give your grandma a heart attack, why not opt for the Faux Hawk
instead? Think of it as the Mohawks younger brother. For this cut, the sides
are cropped shorter than the two-to-three-inch strip of hair that goes down the
center of your head. This cut allows you to spike your hair up in the middle,
creating a sloping point.
Top Knot

If you’re looking to rock a
Top Knot, the first step is to make sure that you have enough hair to tie up in
the first place. You’ll need at least 6-10 inches. If you currently have a buzz
cut, expect to be growing it out for six months before you can pull off this
look. Tell your barber to cut all the hair on the sides and back of your head
with clippers, not scissors. Cut correctly, and your hairstyle will achieve the
drama a top knot demands. The last step is to gather up all the hair on top and
tie it up with a hair tie. Standard placement is the top center of your head.
Long Side Swept

The Side Swept cut is a
low-maintenance option that works on both curly and straight hair. A deep side
part is key to making the Side Sweep work. You can let it loose and natural or
ask for some tapering for a longer swept top and a sleeker hairline cut. This
style works particularly well if you have curly hair since it’s a cut that
looks better with texture. If you have naturally straight hair, ask your barber
for layers to create some additional volume.
Expect to grow your hair out
for about six months to a year depending on how long you want the side sweep to
Long and Slicked Back

The Slicked Back requires a
little bit of length and some more maintenance. Shoulder-length hair works best
with this cut. The general consensus is to leave the top layers of your hair
long so they can easily be pulled back.
Be patient —it can take six
months to a year to grow out your hair, but the hip look is worth the wait.
This is a cut that takes some
styling. If you have curly or thick hair, you’ll blow dry it and comb the top
of your hair back while your hair is wet. Once dry, use a strong water-based
wax to hold it back. Make sure to only do the top of your head so you don’t
smooth out your natural curls. You can also ask to get your hair thinned so
it’s easier to slick back and maintain.
Neckline Options

Haircut Neckline Options
The neckline you choose will
have a significant impact on the look of your cut. We’ve broken them down to
into three styles.
Blocked Neckline

A blocked neckline cuts a
straight, sharp line across the natural neckline. It’s a clean and tidy style
and has the effect of making your neck look wider than other neckline options.
Keep in mind that this neckline may require frequent touch-ups and maintenance
as it grows back in.
Rounded Neckline

A rounded neckline is similar
to a blocked neckline, but with rounded corners. Like the blocked neckline,
this too can start to look untidy after a few weeks.
Tapered Neckline

A tapered neckline follows
your natural neckline. It’s called “tapered” because it follows the natural
line of your hair and gets shorter toward the back of your head. This style is
the most forgiving and remains somewhat blended as your hair grows back in.
Taper vs. Fade

A taper is when your hair
gradually changes from one length to another.
A fade is shorter than a taper
and ends when it reaches the skin — essentially “fading” in.
Tapers and fades can be
achieved with shears, or with clippers that have guards set to various lengths.
Either way, watching a masterful barber artfully craft a taper or fade is a
mesmerizing process to behold.

Originally termed Burnsides,
sideburns are an essential component to many hairstyles — so be sure to
communicate your desired sideburn length. The phrases “top of the ear,”
“mid-ear,” or “bottom of the ear” refers to how far your sideburns will extend.
You can tell your barber to maintain the current length of the sideburns but
clean them up or thin them out.
How Short is Short?

Words like ‘short’ and ‘long,’
and qualifiers ‘a little’ are imprecise. An expert will understand this, and as
a rule, will proceed with caution. Often stylists will err on the safe side and
leave your hair a bit longer than what you asked. Don’t worry; this is a good
thing. Restoring hair after it’s been chopped is impossible. Asking your
stylist to take “a bit more off the top” is easy.
However, if you’re certain
that you want half an inch trimmed, then say “half an inch.” If you’re unsure,
ask your stylist if he is willing to make incremental changes so that you can
give feedback.
Texture Options

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

To add volume or to give a bit
of a messier appearance, ask for an uneven, choppy texture. A stylist can
achieve this by point-cutting the tips of your hair at a 45-degree angle.

For something even edgier, ask
for razored texture. This technique involves taking a razor blade (or a special
pair of scissors with a razor built in) to the ends of your hair. The result is
hair with uneven lengths. Razoring is sometimes used to make curly a bit more

If you ask for layered hair,
you are asking for hair of varying lengths. The resulting cut allows some
sections of hair to rest atop others in layered tiers. The layers can give your
haircut the appearance of depth, volume, and fullness.

If you have thick hair and
wish to reduce its volume, try asking your stylist to thin out your hair. With
a pair of thinning scissors, your stylist can cut some strands short but leave
the rest long. This will allow your hair to lay flatter naturally and can tame
even the thickest of locks.
A Hairy Situation

We hope you learned something
from this guide and are inspired to take your hair in new directions.
Did we forget any of your
favorite styles? Let us know in the comments.
RJ Firchau
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.