Are you barber-lingual? Here are the 5 essential barber terms every guy should know

Learn these must-know barber terms and never have a disappointing haircut again!  

Do you know your fade from your taper? How do you like your arches? And what about your nape? If you’ve got no idea what we’re talking about here, let us fill you in on these essential barber terms.

Getting your hair cut can be a stressful situation in itself; wondering if it’ll suit you, how you’ll style it and if you’ll have to change your hair routine. But throw in some barber terminology and the confusion levels triple.

So, to save any miscommunication between you and your barber, we’ve gather 5 key terms that will ensure you always get the look you’re after! It’s always good to know the lingo…

5 basic barber terms to know before getting your hair cut


barber shop: All Things Hair - IMAGE - top knot undercut mens hairstyle
What to ask for at the barber shop: Top knot with an undercut. Credit: Dvora

1. Guards

You’ve probably heard people asking for a ‘number 1’ or a ‘number 2’ but what does this actually mean? The term guards is used to refer to the size of the guard attached to the clippers and they affect how short the hair will be cut.

For example: a #0 equates to a shaved buzz cut, whereas a #8 is the longest you can go while still using clippers. You just need to remember that the number of the guard is how much hair you’ll be left with. Barber terminology isn’t so scary after all, is it?

brunette streetstyle model with a quiff hairstyle
Hands up who knows the difference between a taper and a fade? Credit: Dvora

2. Taper and fade

The words taper and fade are often used interchangeably, but there is actually a difference between them. In simple terms, a fade is when the hair is shaved to gradually become shorter and shorter until eventually fading into skin.

A taper, meanwhile, is usually saved for men with longer styles. It doesn’t have to go as short as to actually reveal skin but it still has a similar graduated effect, with the hair longest at the top.

3. Nape

The way the back of your hair is just as important at the front, so you need to think about how you want the hair at the nape (hence the name) of your hairline to be finished. Depending on the look you’re going for, there are 3 main options to choose between:

Blocked napes are a blunt, straight line across your nape. Recommended for guys with thinner necks who want to make them appear wider. However, these do require regular trims to maintain the shape.

Tapered napes, as the name suggests, blend into your neck’s skin naturally and gradually. They fade more seamlessly into your natural growth pattern and require less upkeep than blocked necklines.

Rounded napes are similar to blocked napes, but with rounded corners instead of right angles. Men who want to minimise or soften the look of a thicker neck usually ask for more rounded necklines.

brunette man leaning against a wall with a cropped haircut and a beard
How do you like your arches in the morning? Credit: Dvora

4. Arches

Did you know that there’s actually a word for the hair around your ears? Arches are barber terms for the gaps between your ears and your hairline and they actually make more a difference than you’d think!

Little ears? If small ears are something that make you feel self-conscious, ask your barber to cut in high arches and extra space between them, as this will help to make your ears look a little bigger.

However, many men will just ask for a natural arch with their cut, in which case your barber will just tidy up the edges if they’re getting a bit too long. So when in doubt, ask for this.

man in a yellow jacket running hands through his ombre beach wavy hair
What’s your preferred texture? Credit: Dvora

5. Texture

Looking to add some extra texture to your style? There are several different texture terms barbers use depending on your existing hair type and we’ve listed the most common types below:

Choppy – Hair that’s lacking volume? Asking your barber for choppy layers will result in him cutting your hair to different lengths and at a 45 degree angle to create a more voluminous effect.

Layered – Worried about thinning hair? Getting layers cut in at the top of your hair will give a plumped-up look, therefore making it look as though you have a fuller, more youthful head of hair.

Thinned – On the opposite end of the spectrum, if your hair is too thick and unruly, and you’re looking for a way to lose some of the weight, your barber will be able to do this using thinning scissors. Thinning scissors feature little notches to allow your barber to reduce bulk without actually impacting your length, leaving you with a cleaner finish.

Razored – For those with curly hair or strands that seems to defy gravity, a razor can be used to cut the hair and help it to lay flat against your head instead.

Editor’s tip: Almost all barbers will finish up your new cut by working through a hair product. The TONI&GUY Men’s Texturising Fibre is a great all-rounder, helping to add texture to fine strands but also tame thicker locks. Plus, with a light hold, you don’t have to worry about your style falling flat!


So now that you’re barber-lingual, it’s time to head on over to our Hair Products for Men page to discover the best styling products you need to have in your regime.

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