Ever wondered how Brad Pitt got his barnet so sleek for Fury? Or how Zayn Malik’s hairstyle looks smoother than the moves he puts on Gigi Hadid in the video for ‘Pillowtalk’? Well, word’s out: it’s called a fade.
Sometimes subtle, sometimes striking, a fade is essentially a next-level short back and sides. It’s a masterful cut that involves subtly blending hair lengths – with a clipper, scissors, or often both – to give the hair at the back and sides of the head a smoothly graduated or ‘faded’ effect.
“A fade is actually a form of tapering the hair, but the hair is cut drastically lower than a regular taper haircut,” says Adam Gore, founder of, and chief barber at, Barberology, 2016’s UK Barbershop of the Year. “The hair is gradually tapered into nothing [i.e. an exposed scalp] from the head’s upper recession to the nape of the neck, giving it a spray-painted effect.”
Still confused? Us too, a bit. So we asked Gore for his top tips on fades, from the styles of fade (yes, there are many) that might suit you to how to keep yours looking sharp.
The Tapered Fade
Clean, classic and versatile, the tapered fade is a crowd-pleaser. It’s sharp, but not severely so, meaning it’ll work as well at your desk as when you’re off-duty.
“A tapered fade goes from nothing [i.e. usually anywhere from no guard to guard two] into a blended length,” says Gore. “The taper starts from the nape of the neck and extends to the parietal ridge, gradually getting darker as it gets higher (the parietal ridge is the top of the head which is defined as the widest area of the head, where the head starts to curve away).”
Who’s It For?
“A great look for someone who needs a smarter haircut and wants it to look slightly more natural.” Also, because the tapered fade lacks any significant scalp exposure, it can be used as the basis for several different styles up top from a neat scissor crop to longer, more dramatic styles.
The Low Fade
Less subtle than a tapered fade, a low fade puts a little more skin on show, offering a finish that’s clearly demarcated, but still far from skinhead.
“The low fade starts extremely low, with skin at the very bottom, and then blends up from that point, following the natural curvature of the head,” says Gore. “A low fade is a great way to showcase hair with more texture, or achieve a wavy look on top, so the hair is often left longer on top for styling.”
Gore also suggests complementing a low fade with a well-groomed beard, which creates a contrast in textures between your fade and your facial hair.
Who’s It For?
“It’s a good option for a more oblong, diamond or triangular head shape.”
The Mid Fade
More noticeable than a low fade, but not as scalp-exposing as its high variant, the mid fade is, well, the perfect middle ground, and unsurprisingly one of the most popular fades men plump for.
“The mid fade starts at the point above the ears, making it distinctive, yet still adaptable to different styling approaches,” says Gore. “It comes with a lot more styling options for, say, the pompadour or a longer quiff, where length on the upper sides is needed.”
It’s also good for creating a harder skin-hair blend line, should you want to take a more ruggedly old school approach to your fade.
Who’s It For?
“The mid fade’s a popular style for all ages, and great when accompanied with a longer beard. Just ensure you use a firm-hold wax or gel to keep your cut neat and under control.”
The High Fade
Like the Fresh Prince but bolder, the high fade is a high-contrast style where most of the hair on the back and sides of your head is shorn back to skin.
“For the high fade, the natural shape of the head isn’t taken into account and a new base line is created around the area from the upper recession to the lower crown,” says Gore. This results in a highly stylised finish that’s anything but subtle, but is sure to turn heads.
Who’s It For?
“A popular cut for American flattops and great for Afro hair types. Good for someone who doesn’t mind extremely short hair, and perfect for square or round face shapes.”
The Scissor Fade
Not keen on clippers? Then swap a buzzed fade for a softer, scissor-cut style.
“The scissor fade is a basic fade that doesn’t use clippers, but scissors, cutting around the nape and progressing upwards using a taper comb to get as close to the skin as possible,” says Gore. “This technique is usually used when a more custom shape is needed to suit the specific head shape.”
Who’s It For?
“A fail-safe and easy to wear option, the scissor trim fade is appealing for those who want to take a subtler approach to this hair trend. This cut requires your barber to gradually cut the sides of your hair with scissors, taking out the elements of the typical fade cut.
“Rely on a great wax or pomade to keep this hairstyle textured and refined.”
Tips For A First-Rate Fade
Don’t go it alone. Resist the urge to save cash by cutting your own hair, and entrust your fade to a barber. Although it might seem simple, a fade’s anything but, requiring precise scissor and clipper work and a lot of eyeballing to perfect that graduated look.
Beware bumps. Let your scalp inform your choice of fade: if you have any conspicuous lumps or bumps in a particular area, then bear that in mind when choosing which fade works best for you.
Stay sharp. Want to keep that expertly blended finish? Then be prepared to visit your barber regularly. “We always advise that the closer the haircut, the more regular you’ll need it re-cut to keep it sharp and clean,” says Gore.
Due to the rate your hair grows at, fades – particularly fades with a lot of scalp exposure like mid and high styles – need to be cut back in every couple of weeks.