Wondering if there’s a correct answer to the taper vs. fade debate? We’ve demystified these terms in this comprehensive guide.
Read on for an overview of the different styles.
Fade vs. Taper
If you’ve ever spent lots of time on Google figuring out what exactly you should tell your barber, you’ve probably come across these two terms: taper and fade.
These terms are so confusing because lots of stylists use them interchangeably. However, not everyone does, which makes it really tricky to use these terms. When it comes to taper vs. fade, not a lot of people can actually tell you if there’s a difference or not.
As it turns out, there is a difference, but it’s pretty subtle. So if you want to get the best results next time you get a haircut, you should know what each of these terms means. That way you can make sure that your barber or stylist understands precisely what you want.
What is a Taper Haircut?
First, let’s take a look at the taper.
With a taper, your hair gets shorter as it moves down your head. Typically, this taper will reach past your ear and go down to the nape of your neck, following your hair’s natural growth.
The key here is evenness. A taper will gradually shorten your hair, resulting in a neat and even look all around.
For reference, here’s what a traditional taper looks like:
This is often referred to simply as a “taper haircut” or even just a taper. This is a barbershop staple, so you’ve probably had this exact same haircut in the past.
Despite being a more traditional style, the taper allows for a lot of possibilities. Lots of hairstyles (especially business hairstyles) use the classic taper as a base and build on top of it.
In addition, a taper allows the hair on the sides to be grown out quite a bit at the top, so you can give your hair a lot of body with a taper.
This makes the taper a good choice if you like hairstyles that are longer all around. This is often styles that you’ll see celebrities like Elijah Wood sporting on the red carpet.
What is a Fade Haircut?
The fade has the same basic idea as the taper: the hair gets shorter from top to bottom.
However, the fade differs in several ways.
First, a fade is not always even (like a taper). With a fade, instead of the hair gradually getting shorter, it can instantly go from short to long.
Fades are also much shorter than tapers. It’s not uncommon to see a fade that goes all the way down to the skin.
Additionally, a fade can take the hair from long to short at almost any point on the side of the head.
There are several different types of fades: high, medium, low, skin, and drop. It seems like a lot, but these terms are surprisingly straightforward, so let’s break these down in turn.
As the name suggests, a high fade is simply a fade that’s higher up on the head.
High fades are great for more dramatic or outgoing styles since the fade takes up the most surface area on the side of the head. Sometimes, the entire side is the fade.
With a high fade, you usually get super short hair on the sides, often going down to the skin (see the section on skin fades below). This is often paired with a top-heavy style (like a quiff or pompadour) to create contrast.
A medium fade is less extreme than a high fade and usually places the fade a little lower on the head.
Since it provides a nice middle ground, the medium fade is suitable for a wide range of hairstyles. You pretty much can’t go wrong with it if you’re considering a fade.
A low fade is the type of fade that’s closest to the taper. This fade happens much further down on the head, and it can sometimes be mistaken for a taper.
Again, the key difference is evenness. A low fade can be very abrupt, whereas a taper will always be gradual and even.
While high, medium, and low fades all refer to the location on the head where the fade occurs, skin and drop fades refer to how to fade is executed.
With a skin fade, the hair is faded all the way down to the skin level. This means that the hair ends before its natural stopping point.
A skin fade can be paired with any length of fade.
As we mentioned earlier, fades are sometimes very abrupt, and that’s exactly what a drop fade is. The hair drops off suddenly, creating a sudden contrast.
This particular drop fade goes right into a skin fade, but you can also have a more gradual drop fade.
Drop fades are very popular for their fashionable flair. The juxtaposition they create is bold and stylish. At the same time, it’s a flexible style option that can even be paired with a business casual side part cut.
What About Taper Fades?
Finally, let’s look at the perplexing term that is the “taper fade.”
You’ll see the taper fade referenced on many hairstyle lists and inspiration albums. Sometimes, the haircuts mentioned will be tapers, and other times they’ll be fades. So what gives?
Basically, the term “taper fade” came about because people used the two words interchangeably. This led to the assumption that they meant the same thing, and so people started to say “taper fade” as a general term.
That said, most barbers and stylists tend to use “taper fade” to mean “taper.” So if you ask for a taper fade, you’ll probably get a taper (or maybe a really low fade).
However, it’s best to just avoid saying “taper fade” and instead specify if you want a taper or a specific type of fade.
Final Notes on Tapers and Fades
In summary, a taper is a gradual shortening of the hair, while a fade tends to be less gradual and much shorter.
Even though there are several fade types and really only one kind of taper, both are versatile in their own right. Which one you choose depends on your personal style and the specific cut you’re getting.
Knowing these terms will help you ensure that you get the exact hairstyle you want and help you communicate effectively with your stylist.