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Barber Shop Terms: How to Really Talk to Your Barber

You might have your hair care on lock, but do you know how to really talk to your barber? Let's be honest, pretty much everyone worries about going to the barber: when we’re young, we’re lucky enough to have our (insert) mum/dad/big brother/sister take us, tell the barber what we would like and we just sit in the chair. 

However, as we get older and frequent the barbers on our own, we need to know what we like and almost more importantly, we start to realise that we need to know what things are called so we know what to ask for. 

Well, at least most of us do. 

Without a doubt, we’ve all had the experience of sitting in the chair and either being unable to tell the barber what we want or understand what the barber is asking us. Neckline shape? Taper? Buzz cut? What on earth are you talking about?

These are all common, known terms in a barber shop but here’s the thing: if you want to get the right cut (or the one you want to pay money for), you need to know what these terms mean so you don't leave with a hat on!

To help you out in this department, we’re going to go through essential barbering terms you need to know if you are to get the cut you want from your barber.

1. Flat Top

black man with crew cut flat top haircut

This haircut has military origins and is also known by its other name: crew cut. The flat top haircut looks like a high top but without the height and is aptly named due it's sharp, flat appearance.  

2. High Top

Popular during the 80s and 90s, a high top is a cut where the hair is (usually) cut short on the sides but left high on the top. Will Smith in the Fresh Prince of Bel Air is the perfect example of a classic high top. 

3. Textured High Top

A young light skinned black man with a twisted high top

A textured high top adds a little character to the cut; providing your hair is long enough. With this kind of length, the barber/stylist can twist the hair to create twirls or puffs on the top. 

Editor's Tip: Make sure your hair is looking on point by keeping it moisturised. Here at Afrocenchix we're big fans of the LOC/LCO methods

Our Moisture Surge Set contains products for all three steps — Sheen natural moisturising spray (liquid)Seal (hair oil) and Smooth (moisturising cream).

4. Fades

Black man with fade haircut and cut in

Fades — everyone’s favourite and perhaps the most common style in the barber shop. There are three levels to standard fades: low, medium or high.

A low fade starts (you guessed it) lower down your head.

medium fade starts a little higher (roughly around your ear).

A high fade is between the top of your ears and your temples. 

Now, fades can be combined with different style on top, so the barber will ask if you want to take anything off the top, so make sure you’re familiar with our other terms before heading over!

Editor's TipIf you want a fade but literally don’t know where you want it to start, we would suggest going with a low fade and when the barber asks if it’s high enough (which they usually will), let them know your thoughts! Don’t be afraid to communicate with them. 

5. Blowout Haircut (AKA Tape-up or Taper)  

Smiling black man with textured hair

A blowout haircut should not be confused with a 'blow-dried' or 'windswept' hairstyle. A blowout cut is known as a temple or taper fade (with the fade close to the temples of the head). The hair is shorter on the sides, but longer on the top. 

Blowout cuts can be combined with fades and tapers to create a variety of different looks, so make sure you know what you want (have a look at some pictures online — you can show them to your barber if you get stuck).

6. Guards — 1 to 8

Ever heard someone at the shop ask for a number 1 or a number 2? These numbers relate to the clipper attachment “guard' on the clipper. These guards control the distance between the blade and the scalp, determining just how much hair is cut.

The lower the number, the closer the cut. Guard 1 is essentially a buzzcut (the lowest you can go before taking the guard off). If you’re unsure about how much you want to take off, start maybe a number 4 or 5 — you can always take more off, but you can’t add it back.

Another point to note is that if you go for a fade, for example, you can define how much you want to come off the top, i.e. a number 4 or 5 on top. 

7. Nape

Black man wearing glasses with a beard wearing a white shirt

Now, this is generally up to the barber — they’ll tidy up the back of your neck so you don’t look like a Wookiee, but you can tell them how you would like your hair to end at the back. If you’re going for a fade, you don’t need to worry as your hairline will do the work for you.

The terms you need to know are 'square', 'rounded' and 'tapered'. Square means your hairline will be cut square at the back, round means it’ll be rounded and tapered means a natural hairline. 

P.S. The barber may ask you about how you want your beard cut, if you’ve gone for a fade, the barber will most likely fade it in. Guards and fades still apply here, so bear that in mind! 

Editor's TipJust apply Soothe to a slightly damp beard and work into the beard. The light, easily absorbed oil is specially blended to promote growth, soften hair at the roots and leaves no build up, making it great for beards.

8. Buzzcut 

Black man with buzzcut standing in front of greenery

This is a simple one. A buzzcut just means taking it all off. If you want to give your scalp a chance to breathe (or are tired of the hair on your head for now), just ask for a buzzcut! 

Now you can talk to your barber!

The next time you go to the shop you won’t feel like the barbers and customers are speaking in an alien language — you’ll understand what’s going on and better yet, know what to ask for! Say goodbye to haircuts you’re forced to accept (we’ve all done it) and say hello to your new go-to look. 

Related Articles:

Essential Guide to Beard Care for Black Men

Top 7 tips for men’s Afro hair care

Five Reasons why Afrocenchix has the Best Afro Hair Products