Undercut Hairstyle: How to Ask Your Barber For the Style You Want

We're noticing a slight disconnect here.

Whether you’ve grown up going to the same corner barbershop or have a new, well­-researched place on lockdown, obviously the first step to getting the right undercut is choosing a barber you like and trust.

But before you whip out your phone to show your barber a picture, a word to the wiseguy: Although it might be tempting to just name drop your celebrity man crush whose look you want “copied exactly,” it’s extremely helpful to actually know some basic barbery terms before relying on a screenshot. Yes, it can help, but not all hair types and grooming habits are created equal. What might work for a Hollywood A­-Lister with an on­-call stylist might not work for the busy everyman who can barely squeeze a cut in every two weeks. Sometimes scoring the right cut is as simple is telling your barber exactly what, but that you’re also open to his expert opinion (Ed’s note: Very effective during girlfriend fights too). Read on to discover if the undercut sounds like it could be your next style to experiment with:

How to Get the Undercut You Want

Sleek and ever-so-slighty subversive: our kinda guy, our kinda haircut
Sleek and ever-so-slighty subversive: our kinda guy, our kinda haircut.

1. Last look first.

Very important, and a step most guys forget, is telling your barber how long it’s been since your last haircut, undercut or fade. This has a dual purpose: First, your current regrowth gives your barber a good reference point of how your hair looked like when it was freshly cut, and second, it gives you a something to work with during your current appointment,” e.g. “I want something shorter/longer/more manageable than last time.”

2. Divulge.

I know, y’all don’t kiss and tell, but this time it pays to be open about your lifestyle and honest about your habits—specifically how much time you have (or want) to spend on your hair every single day of your life. Whether you can commit to something more intense or if you’re a wash­-and-­wear guy that has to be out the door in 20 minutes max, breakfast included, makes a big difference. Also, if you work in corporate but still want a cool, trendy style like an undercut, which involves partially or completely shaving off hair underneath a longer layer (not exactly the most conservative look out there), ask your barber for his opinion. He can suggest a more moderate version of these cuts, or at least offer up some tips and products that will help tone things down for the workweek.

undercut high fade
Be clear about what you want, especially how high (and whitewalled) you want your undercut to be.

3. Set your terms.

We’ve all learned the hard way: One man’s trim is another’s crew cut. Be specific, and as with most things, inches get your point across the best. If you’re honestly clueless as to how short you want to go, start long and have your barber work his way up from there. And if you want to make life really easy for the both of you, know your clipper guards, because then you can clearly ask him for the following:

Taper or fade (interchangeable)
A taper is a style that gradually shortens in length from the top of your head to your neckline or nape—hence its other name, a “fade,” to imply hair “fading” from the crown downwards. Sounds almost crazy obvious, but this long-­to-­short distinction is good to know: Not only are there some men who want a similar length all throughout, this also comes into play when asking for styles like a true undercut, which has no taper at all.

Neckline (or nape, back of the neck)
Commonly, there are three basic neckline styles available: blocked, rounded or tapered. Blocked necklines are shaved in a square shape with hard edges and give a crisp­-looking outline, and as The Art of Manliness suggests, also give the illusion of a stockier neck. Downside: Regrowth outside the outline is quite obvious, requiring more frequent touch-­ups for neatness and upkeep. Rounded necklines have no angled edges, offer a softer appearance and are great on longer, non-­shaved hairstyles. Lastly, tapered necklines are the most versatile (and slimming, if that is a concern), because the hair gradually just “disappears” into the nape. It’s the most natural­-looking and easily maintained, as any regrowth still blends in perfectly with your hairstyle.

It pays to know your hair type. Thinner (or thinning!) hair can do with more volume at the crown, so ask your barber for some choppiness, which he might give you by point-­cutting hair at a 45-­degree angle for some casual, sexy texture. Thicker, coarser, generally unruly hair? Tell your guy you need your hair to be thinned out at the top, and he’ll most likely take some thinning shears on your crown—special scissors that cut some strands and leave others alone—for more balanced, refined tips.

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