How To Ask For The Haircut You Want

Perhaps the biggest obstacle that stands between you and getting the haircut you’ve always wanted is knowing how to properly communicate with your barber / hair dresser.

When looking to change up your current hairstyle to one you saw online that looked really good, the most common advice you’re given is to “just bring in a picture!”.

It’s not always that easy though. When I talked to my barber he noted people often bring in a picture that shows a hairstyle from one specific angle, which can be hard to decipher when trying to mimic the hairstyle.

Another factor is most images of hairstyles you see online are taken in very flattering conditions, with perfect styling and angles and no sign of wind and other natural factors.

People’s hair don’t particularly stay picture perfect for long.

All of this contributes to people often being disappointed at the picture they showed to their barber looking nothing like them; and this is ignoring the fact that people often don’t consider SO MANY OTHER FACTORS such as: hair type, headshape, hair color, hair density, cowlicks, hairline, etc.

Which obviously also factors into why you can’t just show up to your barber and expect to get the same haircut as a photo.

So what is the best way to talk to your barber? Learn their language!

Let’s begin with the sides and back

The sides and back of your hair are often cut with a hair cutting mechanism called clippers.

They also can be cut using scissors (often referred to as a “scissor cut“).

Clippers have something called guards. Guards are numbered from 0.5 to 8 and determine the length your hair is being cut at.

0.5 Guard – This is pretty much as close to skin as you can get.

1 Guard – Very Short

2 Guard – Still short, but with a little bit of length. If you like your hair to be nice, clean and short but want to still have a tiny bit of length, I often recommend going with this number.

3 Guard – Pretty much the same thing. Short but with a bit more length. Getting a #2-3 is a pretty safe bet when cutting your hair short.

4+++ – Past this isn’t used as much unless you’re going for a very specific style that requires the length.

Clippers Vs Scissor Cut

The benefit of clipper is the efficiency and accuracy in terms of having your hair all cut to the same length, but a scissor cut can sometimes be just as accurate but have the benefit of giving a more “natural” look.

The Back

There is 2 important terms you need to know for the back of your hair: Tapered and Squared.

Tapered is basically the gradual increase of hair length. For example, if you get a 0.5 to a 2 taper, the hair will start at almost skin length and gradually is blended into longer hair.

Squared just means the length of the hair will stay the same and uniform.


A fade is simply when the hair on both the sides and back start at a shorter length and gradually increases. For example a 0.5 to a 3 would look something like this:

Some examples of things you could say to your barber is:

“Can I have a 2 on the sides and back with a squared neck line?”

“Can I get a 0.5 fade into a 3?”

“Can you taper my neck from a 0.5 to a 2?”

The Top

This is where it can get a little bit more nuanced as you have a ton of different options.

Currently in 2019, the most popular hairstyles are longer on top and shorter on the sides.

Styles like pompadours, side parts, and undercuts probably dominate what most people get at your local barbershop.

A bit part of the battle in achieving the top that you want is knowing exactly what length you need for your desired hairstyle.

This can be a bit tricky to the untrained eye.

For example: A simple pompadour actually requires quite a bit of length on top, so you will need to grow it out for awhile before attempting to get your poor barber to give you a pomp with 3 inches of hair on top.

So take into account the exact length you need for your style before going to get your haircut.

Putting it all together

Say you want to get the following hairstyle:

Here is an example of what you could say to your barber:

“Can I get a 3 on the sides and back and an inch off the top but enough so I could quiff it up, I’ll get the back squared.”

Hope this helps!