How To Order A Short Haircut

August 11, 2019 10:00 AM Chicago, IL

While washing my hands in our office building's public bathroom, a friendly and nerdy white guy in his late 20s who was at the adjacent sink looked over and said:

Hey, I noticed that you have a buzz cut, and I've wanted one myself for a long time. In fact, I just made an appointment for this weekend at a hair salon in my neighborhood. But, I'm not exactly sure how to order it so it looks right. What's the right way?

Who knew I was waiting for this moment! I had more to say than I expected. In case you're in the same boat, here's my answer:

  1. If you think you want a "buzz cut" but want to look like an adult with some style, you really want a fade.
  2. The quality of your fade has everything to do with where you get your cut, and little to do with how much you spend. Go to a barbershop that primarily services black and latino clientele.
  3. Specify your fade with two numbers, where the first number is the clipper setting of the side, and the second number in the clipper setting of the top; e.g. "zero one fade", or "one three fade". If you order a zero one fade (my usual style), you may hear it referred to as a "bald fade".
  4. You may be asked if you want it low or high. This refers to where on the side of your head they'll start fading. Unless you have a strong opinion, say "mid". If it's too low, you might end up looking like a mushroom, and if it's too high, it could look like a flattop.
  5. After they've finished the main part of the haircut, you may be asked if you want a "line in the front" or a "lineup". This is where the hairline is shaved to make a neat and clean hairline. There's no "right" answer on this one (either can look good), but unless you want to get your haircut frequently (once every 1-2 weeks), you should probably say "no" since a non-lineup grows out a bit more gracefully.
  6. There's a 50/50 chance that they'll clean up any stray hairs in your ears, nose, or eyebrows without even asking, but if they ask, the answer is "yes".
  7. If you have a beard, let them neaten it up. There's a good chance that they'll trim it back more than you do currently, and they'll also do a better job of finding the right outline. Then you can follow their lead at home.

One more thing…

Once you've adopted the fade as your look, be prepared to have bald white guys treat you differently because most assume that other white guys that have intentionally short haircuts are doing so out of necessity. Before I realized what was happening in these conversations, I would explain that my hair length was actually a choice (not a necessity) because I was proactively reducing the total volume of my head (which sans hair is big enough). That was wrong approach! It's much better to receive their hospitality graciously without making mention of any differences in hair growth capacity. It's hard enough to make new friends as an adult — go with the pitch.