Expert Advice: Choosing The Right Fade For Your Haircut

Back in the day, they called it “short back and sides” and it was largely associated with straight-backed military men. 

But the fade haircut has come a long way in the last couple of decades. 
Nowadays, there are low fades, mid fades, high fades, and many other types of fades in addition to the traditional fade haircut. Although the faded look is still a go-to for those who prefer a clean cut, there is a fade haircut to suit pretty much every type of guy.

It makes sense, then, that the fade haircut has become a mainstay among celeb style icons. Ryan Reynolds, George Clooney, Jamie Foxx, David Beckham, Brad Pitt and Michael B. Jordan are just a few of the A-listers sporting their take on this infinitely versatile style.

If you’re reading this, you’re obviously planning a close shave with a fade. But before you face the clippers, read our guide to getting the perfect fade haircut.

What Is A Fade Haircut?

Okay, so down to brass tacks: What exactly is a fade haircut? 

We have old-school African-American barbers to thank for the term “fade”, which describes closely cropped back and sides, tightly tapered up to longer hair on top. 

That’s the baseline, but a number of options exist in terms of how close the fade is and how long the hair is on top (and how it’s styled).

Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear all sorts of terms used in reference to fade haircuts—scissor fade, fade with quiff, Caesar, pompadour, blowout… Don’t stress. You don’t need to know all the lingo to know what you want. 

You’ll be all set with just these basic terms: 
  • Traditional fade: The hair is tapered from short to long from the nape of the neck up a few inches to the sides of the head.
  • High fade haircut: The hair is shaved from the base of the head to above the temples, where the head starts to curve, growing gradually longer from bottom to top.
  • Mid fade haircut: The fade extends to just above the ears. More obvious than the low fade (below), but exposing less skin than the high fade.
  • Low fade haircut: The fade line is even lower than the traditional fade line—only about an inch above the hairline.
  • Taper fade haircut: The hair is faded from the base of the head all the way up to the widest section of the head (the parietal ridge). 

Remember that these terms only really look at the fade; not necessarily the entire hairstyle. 

So, you might combine a high fade haircut with very long hair on top or a low fade haircut with a crew cut, and so on. 

Make sure you know exactly what you want on top as well as the back and sides.

How To Ask For A Fade Haircut

Above all else, make sure your barber knows what he (or she) is doing. A messed-up fade is not a good look and it takes a while to grow out. 

Once you’ve selected a barber that comes highly recommended, take the following tips to heart:
  • First time? Start with a traditional. You really can’t go wrong with this one and you can always take more off later if you’d like.
  • Bring in a picture. Don’t assume that your barber has the same image in mind as you do. Try to find a set of pictures that shows the fade you want from all angles; not just the front.
  • Decide on the length of the cut. As we said, you can always go shorter if you start out long, but the other way around—not so much. If your hair grows slowly or you’re already treating hair loss, you don’t want to buzz a whole lot off. For more length, ask for a size 4 or 5 clipper guard. To go very short, request size 1 or 2. 
  • Talk to your barber and make sure they’re clear on what you want. Remember what we said about the image in your head vs. the one in your barber’s? It will be very helpful if you tell the barber what you want your fade haircut to be able to “do”. For example, part to the side, fall over your forehead, or slick back.

Fade FAQs

What is a fade in a haircut? 

Simply put, a fade is a haircut that sees hair gradually transitioning from short to long.

Does a fade have to be a skin fade?

Nope. Skin fades are just a variation of the fade haircut in which the skin is completely bald at the shortest point of the style.

What are a taper and a fade? 

Although you might hear these terms used interchangeably, strictly speaking, a taper is a more gradual change from long to short, while a fade is more dramatic, with a fairly sudden transition from short to long. Make sure you and your barber are on the same page about this.

What is meant by #1, #2, #3 length in a fade haircut?

This refers to the clipper setting. The lower the number, the closer the shave– from #1 all the way up to #5.

What Else Do You Need To Round Out A Clean Fade? 

Whether you go with a high fade, mid fade, traditional fade, or a low fade haircut, you are only going to look well groomed if you actually are well groomed. The haircut is only part of the picture. To complete the look, be sure and check these boxes:
  • Healthy, clean skin - For this, you need a consistent skincare routine. A regular face-specific cleanser, moisturizer and daily SPF will keep your skin’s oiliness and dryness in check, and keep skin smooth, healthy and glowing. Try Jaxon Lane’s Essential Skincare Set and start your journey toward skin so smooth it looks like glass.
  • Tidy facial hair, whatever style you choose. Use a beard trimmer regularly to keep your facial hair as flawless as your fade. (Watch those nose hairs too, gentlemen.)
  • Clean hands and nails. Nothing says Neanderthal more than grime under your fingernails. Be sure to wash your hands regularly and keep your nails neat and short.
Get the fade you want for the look you’re after using these tips. When done right, your fade will make you stand out in all the right ways.