It’s not always easy communicating exactly what you want to your barber or stylist. This guide will teach you how to talk to them.
Getting your hair cut should be a relaxing, enjoyable experience, but all too often it’s a stressful ordeal that ends in disappointment.
And often, the reason is simple — you don’t know how to communicate what you want.
It’s an all too familiar scenario. You can visualize the exact hairstyle you’re after, and maybe you’ve even tried to learn the terms, but you just can’t find the right words and end up walking out of the barbershop with a cut you didn’t want.
Or maybe you just end up asking for the same thing, like the protagonist in this great comedy sketch.
Luckily, this frustration is easy to avoid. You don’t need to go to barber school to learn the ins and outs of haircuts, but you can familiarize yourself with a few key concepts and terms to be able to communicate better with your barber.
Bring a Photo of Your Desired Style
This is a tip that many guys know but few actually act on. So I’m here to tell you that yes, showing your barber a photo might feel a little awkward at first — especially if you’re not used to talking about your hair — but it will save you so much trouble (and money).
When it comes to haircuts, a picture really is worth a thousand words. Even the best verbal description isn’t guaranteed to get you all the way to the finish line, so you’re much better off relying on an image.
If you find a hairstyle that you love as is, then you can just show your barber that photo and say you want the same cut. However, you can also specify any alterations (shorter on the top, fuller on the sides, etc.), which is easy since you have a reference on hand.
Just know that you might not get the exact same results as in the photo. It all depends on your hair length, hair type, hairline, and the product you use.
Need some inspiration? Check out my list of the best men’s hairstyles to find the right look for you.
Tell Them If You Want to Keep Your Look
If you’d prefer to keep your existing style, then tell your barber what it is. Explain how you go about styling it each morning and which products you use (if any).
This is especially helpful if you’ve gone a while without a cut and have a lot of growth that obscures the actual style. Tell your barber what cut you got last time and how you style it (if you style it at all).
You don’t have to use any of the fancy terms listed below, though they’ll probably make it easier to describe what you do. And if you have a picture of yourself on a good hair day, even better.
Get to Know the Main Hairstyles
Though it might seem complicated, the world of men’s hair is pretty simple. Traditionally masculine hairstyles are much smaller in number than feminine styles — mostly because guys often opt for shorter hair — so there tend to be a few main style categories.
First, there are the short hairstyles. Though the definition of “short” has changed over time, this category typically includes variations on the buzz cut, the undercut, and the side part.
Finally, long hairstyles include draping styles, mullets, and man buns/top knots.
Understanding each of these main styles and their variations will help you get comfortable with the building blocks of men’s hair. This will also make it much easier to decide on a style since you’ll know what you’re looking at.
Learn the Terms
Once you have a baseline level of familiarity with hairstyles, you can dive into the terminology.
Here are a few terms you’ll want to be aware of:
This might sound silly, but get used to visualizing length. A half-inch seems like nothing, but it can make a big difference, so make sure you really know how much you want off.
If you’re getting a shorter hairstyle, your barber will likely use hair clippers. Clippers work by exposing their blades at various lengths that are controlled by a blade guard, and different guard lengths have different numbers that usually range from #0 to #8.
The lower the guard number, the shorter the length and #0 completely exposes the blade.
A taper is a gradual shortening of the hair that usually occurs at the sides and back. Most tapers go from thicker hair at the top to thinner hair at the bottom.
A fade is a sudden shortening of the hair that usually occurs at the sides and back. Most fades go from thicker hair at the top to bare skin at the bottom.
(Pro tip: Tapers and fades often get confused, so check out my taper vs. fade article for more info).
The neckline is the point at which your haircut recedes into the nape of your neck.
Most men’s hairstyles today have tapered necklines. You can also go for a blocked (squared off) or rounded neckline, though these will usually need more frequent touch-ups.
A hard part is a shaved line etched into the hair to expose a strip of bare skin. It’s often used when a more dramatic part with more contrast is needed.
The hair transitions smoothly from the shorter hair on the sides to the longer hair on the top.
A disconnection is the term for when the sides do not blend into the top, resulting in zero transition between the sides and top. Often, the disconnection is emphasized with a hard part.
Learn From Your Visits
The more you talk to your barber, the more you’ll be able to nail down exactly what you want. Before you know it, you’ll have the hairstyle you pictured in your head.
Of course, this also requires having a good barber, so be a little picky here. There are lots of excellent barbers out there, but there are also lots of mediocre ones. A barber worth their salt will ask you questions, listen intently to your answers, and make changes based on your feedback.
If your barber absolutely nails your haircut, ask them what they did so you can ask for it the next time. This is especially valuable information if you have to switch barbers or visit a new one (if you’re traveling, for example).
Eventually, you can get to the point where you have a go-to barber and ask them for the usual, but it’ll take some intentional communication to get there.
Frequently Asked Questions
Whether you’re looking for a few additional tips or just need a TL;DR, I’ve got you covered with this FAQ section.
How do I ask my barber for what I want?
The best way is to bring a photo of the style you want. When in doubt, talk about how long or short you want your hair to be (in inches, preferably) and how you want it to feel.
What are you supposed to say to a barber?
A good rule of thumb is to say how much length you want off the top and sides. For the sides, use the guard number if you know it (#3, for example).
To make talking to your barber easier, you can familiarize yourself with the basic haircutting terms explained in this article.
How do I start a conversation with my barber?
Don’t feel pressure to explain anything perfectly — just start by either showing a photo or explaining what you want in as much clear detail as possible. If you’re having trouble, communicate that to your barber, and they can help you make decisions.
Getting your hair cut shouldn’t feel like explaining quantum physics, and with these tips, you’ll be well-prepared to say exactly what you want next time you’re sat in the barber’s chair.
Do you have any funny barbershop misunderstandings? Let me know in the comment section!