What is a fade haircut? What’s the difference between the types of fades out there? What do I tell my barber if I want to get a fade? We’ve got answers for your questions in this guide.

What Is a Fade Haircut?

What is a fade haircut vs crew cut
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Fade haircuts have stood the test of time since they first became common in the 1940s and 50s. They’re not going to fade from popularity anytime soon.

This kind of cut:

  • Looks neat
  • Is simple to maintain and style
  • Offers a lot of versatility

If you’re thinking about getting a fade, it’s good to learn about the variations of this cut, how to know which fade will work for you, and what to ask your barber for. Before we get into that, let’s look at the history of the fade.

History of the Fade

Two things happened that brought fades into popularity. The first was the invention of electric clippers in 1921. Electric clippers with interchangeable guards made it possible to do fast haircuts that gradually tapered in length.

The second was the widespread adoption of the fade by men in the military. In the 40s and 50s, fades were practical hairstyles for men in the military.

According to military standards, soldiers had to wear their hair short and neatly groomed. The fade allowed them to keep a little length on top while keeping the sides and back shorter.

Gentlemen’s Quarterly noted that soldiers in the 40s and 50s came home sporting “close-cropped hair” that looked grown out on the top. This was an early description of the fade we know today.

Today’s modern fades share a lot of those characteristics, but there are more variations and types of fades to choose from. These haircuts are no longer only associated with military service.

Anyone can get a fade. It’s all about choosing the type that will suit you best. Keep reading to learn why you’d want a fade, different styles when getting one, and things to consider before hitting the barber.

Why Get a Fade Haircut?

Not sure a fade is right for you? Chances are, you’ll look great with a fade. It just needs to start at a flattering point on your head. Fades are still popular after all these years for a few reasons. Here’s why you should consider getting it done. 

The Most Versatile Haircut

Stylish modern retro haircut side part with mid fade with parting of school boy guy in a barbershop on a brown background for a piece on what is a fade haircut
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Whether you need to look professional and neat or edgy and fashion-forward, this is a cut with a ton of versatility. Keep the top relatively short to create a clean cut look that’s easy to maintain. Leave the top longer to style a bold pompadour or quiff. 

Perfect Cut While You Grow Your Hair Out 

If you’re trying to grow your hair out on top, a fade is your best bet. This kind of cut allows you to leave the top alone and focus on tapering the sides and back down to a shorter length.

Since fades look great with any length of hair on top – short, medium, or long – you know it’ll look attractive as you wait a few months for the top to grow to the length you want. 

Suits Every Face Shape and Hair Texture

Portrait of white yong guy in gray sweater and short haircut, isolated on gray background.
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Fades are one of those rare cuts that will flatter every face shape and hair texture. Whether you have a round, square, oval, or heart-shaped face, there’s a type of fade that will suit your features. Curly, coily, straight, wavy, fine, and coarse hair are all perfect candidates for this haircut. 

Meets Military Grooming Standards

If you’re a man serving in the military, your haircut has to be shorter than 4 inches. It also can’t touch your ears, collar, or eyebrows. Fades check every one of these boxes as long as the top is kept to the right length. For most, getting a fade is a better option than shaving the head to meet these standards.

Easy to Maintain and Style

The hairdresser does a haircut
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Traditional fades are easy to maintain. Trims are required every 4-6 weeks typically, and if you own clippers, you can easily keep this cut looking good by doing it yourself. The sides and back are much shorter.

So the only area you’ll have to style is the top. Keeping the top shorter makes this even easier. Men with naturally curly or wavy hair might only need to use a dab of styling gel, pomade, or wax on top.

Fade Haircut Styles

There are so many reasons to get this type of tapered haircut. Now, let’s take a look at some of the different types of fades you should consider. The main types are the traditional, low, high, drop, and skin fades. Here’s what you should know about each type. 

1. What Is a Traditional Fade Haircut?

The barber cleans the neck of an adult man with a brush with talc after a haircut on a white brick wall background
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Traditional fades keep a little length on the top with the hair usually 2-4 inches long on top. The sides and back are gradually tapered down to a shorter length starting about midway down the head.

It’s a few inches above your bottom hairline. Traditional fades are best suited for oval and round faces because they add a little height to the top. 

2. What Is a Low Fade Haircut?

As an image for a piece on what is a fade haircut, handsome man with a low fade haircut
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Low fades earned their name because the faded (tapered) portion of the hair starts lower than in a traditional fade. In a low fade haircut, the hair begins tapering off just an inch or two above the bottom hairline.

Typically, low fades have a much steeper tapering, moving from short hair down to the skin quickly because there’s less space to fade the hair down. Low fades look best on oval, oblong, and heart-shaped faces.

Avoid a low fade if you have a square or round face shape. It can add too much volume to the sides of the face and make your jawline appear wider.  

3. What Is a High Fade Haircut?

Person with a high fade haircut and a beard with a green grass in the background
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High fades start the line of tapering and fading much higher up than a traditional fade. In this type of cut, the hair is tapered starting at about the temple or where the head begins to curve.

It’s cut progressively shorter down to the bottom hairline. High fades look best on oval, round, heart-shaped, and square faces. This is a more balanced cut than a low fade so it’s suited for more face shapes. 

4. What Is a Drop Fade Haircut?

Drop fade on a guy a person wearing a hoodie
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The drop fade is becoming a popular variation on a traditional fade. In a drop fade, the hair is tapered in a gentle arc or curve that drops down in the back.

The result is a deeper crown/top section that leaves some of the longer hair intact as it is faded down the back. The sides are typically faded from the midpoint of the head, just like in a traditional fade.

But you can also get a drop fade with a low or high fade. Drop fades are suited for any face shape. Just make sure you choose the right fade starting point – low, high, or traditional – to ensure the cut looks flattering for your face shape.  

5. What Is a Skin Fade Haircut?

Skin fade haircut
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Skin fades can be done on any type of fade – the term just means that the hair is cut down to the skin at the shortest point. You can get a high skin fade. This means the hair would be longer on top, then quickly taper down the skin at about the temple line.

A traditional skin fade would begin midway down the head and taper from very short down to the skin. A low skin fade moves from short down to the skin about an inch or two above the bottom hairline.

Keep in mind that skin fades expose a lot of your scalp. If your scalp is a much lighter color than the rest of your skin, you might not like the high contrast look a skin fade will give you.

Skin fades also make your scalp more prone to sunburns if you spend a lot of time outside. Make sure to apply sunscreen to the exposed parts of your scalp! 

How Much Is a Fade Haircut?

So, how much is a fade haircut going to cost you? Overall, we found that the average price for a men’s haircut in the U.S. is about $40.

The cost of a fade haircut varies quite a bit depending on the city you’re in, the salon or barber shop you visit, and the skill level of the stylist or barber cutting your hair.

You can expect to pay a little less than $40 if you live in a smaller town or rural area. You might pay more if you live in a large metropolitan area or are visiting a highly skilled stylist.

One surefire way to get a great price on your fade haircut? Visit a salon chain like Great Clips or Sport Clips. The prices at these locations are typically lower than other salons. 

At Sport Clips, you’ll pay about $19 for the Varsity cut and $29 for a detailed cut. Clipper designs, a shaved part, and any special detailing you’d like in your fade would make it a detailed cut. See more Sport Clips prices here.

At Great Clips, you’ll pay around $15 for a men’s haircut. When you need a trim to keep your fade looking good, you’ll pay about $5 for it here. See more Great Clips prices here. 

What Do I Tell My Barber If I Want a Fade?

No matter where you decide to get your haircut, you need to know how to communicate what you want with the barber or stylist. It can be a little intimidating to ask for the right thing if you’re not sure how to use the barber terminology. We’ve got you covered! 

1. Type of Fade

The hairdresser unbuttons a hairdresser's cape after a haircut a young guy against a brick wall
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First, figure out what kind of fade you want. Do you want it to start low on the head, midway, or high up near the temples? This will determine whether you want a low fade, a traditional fade, or a high fade.

If you’re not sure which one you want, you can always ask your barber where the fade should start. Make sure you agree before they begin cutting! Now, think about the way you want the fade to look.

Do you want the top and crown section to dip down in the back, leaving a little extra hair at a longer length? If you do, ask for a drop fade. You can show your barber exactly where you’d like the drop to end.

Do you want the fade shaved down to the skin? If you do, tell your barber you’d like a low, high, or traditional skin fade. Again, it’s helpful to point and show the barber exactly where you’d like the fade to taper down to the skin. 

2. Hair Length

Male head with stylish haircut on barbershop background
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You’ll also need to tell the barber how long you’d like your hair to be on top and the shortest you’d like it to go on the sides and back. Most barbers will use clippers for this cut.

Clipper guards determine how far off the head the clipper blades are held to ensure a uniform length. These guards are numbered 1-12 by their length, which ranges from about 1/8” (shortest) on the number 1 guard to about 1.5” (longest) on the number 12 guard.

At-home clipper sets typically come with guards 1-8. This is why you’ll sometimes hear of a “number 3 cut” or something similar. A number 3 cut is one that uses the number 3 guard (⅜”). Most fades use the 1, 2, 3, and 4 clipper guards to taper the sides and back.

If you’re getting a skin fade, your barber will either remove the clipper guard to get very close to the skin or shave the head at the point where the fade tapers to skin. You’ve probably had your hair cut with clippers before or even done it yourself.

Tell the barber how long you’d like to leave the hair on top and how short you’d like the fade to go. It’s good to tell the barber any specifics, like “leave it long enough to side part it” or “long enough to slick back.”

If you can give them your preferred clipper guard sizes, that will be helpful. But you can always tell the barber how short you’d like to go and let them decide which clipper guards to use. 

3. Detailing Options

Right profile haircut model for a piece on what is a fade showing detail options
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You can choose to add a little extra detail to your fade if you’d like. If you want any designs, lines, or letters shaved in, be sure to ask your barber about it first. Some are skilled with doing clipper designs and shaved lines or side parts.

But others may not be comfortable doing it. Be clear about the placement and design you’d like to avoid any miscommunication. Keep in mind that shaved designs will grow out pretty quickly, so if it’s something you’d like to keep for a while, you’ll need to go in for a refresh every 2 weeks or so. 

So, What Is a Fade Haircut?

Now that you know what type of fade you might want, how much it will cost, and how to ask your barber for the right fade, you’re ready to take the next step.

Finding a good barber is always important if you want a great haircut. But it’s especially for a cut like a fade. These require experience and skill. Fortunately, it’s easy to find a good barbershop or salon near you with our database.

You can enter your zip code to see all the salons and shops in your area. Head over to our Salon Finder to find the barber shop or salon you want to visit. Just think. When you started reading this guide, you were wondering “What is a fade haircut?”

And now you’re a verifiable expert on the topic. Celebrate your newfound knowledge of the fade with an appointment or trip to the barber shop and get ready to rock that tapered look. 

Debra Carpenter
Author: Debra Carpenter

Debra is a Nashville-based content creator and strategist. As the daughter of a long-time hair stylist and salon owner, she’s spent most of her life as a guinea pig for new color and cut techniques. Writing for respected publications like Forbes and HuffPost, she’s committed to bringing her passion for great hair to the masses.