‘Bald’ isn’t usually a wise choice of word when describing how you want your hair, even to the best barber. However, add the word ‘fade’ immediately afterwards, and your tonsorial prospects are almost guaranteed to go from grade zero to hair hero.
The bald fade is one of the most popular modern techniques employed by hairstyling professionals. It enables clippersmiths to achieve that surgically precise blended look seen rocked in recent years by everyone from Brad Pitt to Jamie Foxx.
This is barbering at its most technical, so naturally there’s a lot to get to know. With that in mind, we’ve pulled together everything you need to understand about this contemporary classic, including the key variations you might want to consider for your next trim.
Bald Fade Vs. Skin Fade: What’s The Difference?
You’ll often hear the terms ‘bald fade’ and ‘skin fade’ used interchangeably, which can be a little confusing. However, the reason they get swapped out for one another is that they both mean exactly the same thing.
It’s really nothing more than a follicular case of ‘you say tomato, I say tomato’. Which, admittedly, kind of loses its significance when written as opposed to spoken. But you know what we mean. To put it simply: use either and your barber will deliver the same cut.
What Is A Bald Fade?
Think of the bald fade as a modern short back and sides. Fade is the word used to describe the seamless transition between shorter and slightly longer lengths of hair at the back and the sides of the head. In a regular fade, this might be from a grade two up to a grade five. However, in a bald fade, the hair will go right down to skin level.
The technique creates a high-contrast look where the longer hair further up the head gradually fades down until it disappears entirely. However, the point at which this change in length occurs depends on which type of bald fade you go for.
Types Of Bald Fade
When it comes to pinning down the right bald fade for you, there are five key styles to be taken into consideration. However, it’s worth remembering that these styles aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. It’s entirely possible to have a low bald taper fade or even a high bald drop fade. Mix them up and find what works best for you.
Low Bald Fade
The least severe style, a low bald fade starts from just above the ear, gradually increasing in length until it connects with the hair on top. This is the ideal style to choose for a first bald fade.
Mid Bald Fade
For a more noticeable style, opt for a mid bald fade. This will start slightly higher up – an inch or so above the top of the ear – and works particularly well to accentuate length on top in the case of a quiff or flat top.
High Bald Fade
To really dial up the contrast, ask your barber for a high bald fade. The hairless area will be taken right up to around two inches north of the top of the ear. From there, it’s a quick graduation until the back and sides meet with the hair on top.
Bald Taper Fade
A bald taper fade differs from others in that doesn’t rely on clippers alone to achieve the effect. It can be either a low, mid or high fade and transitions through grades before scissors are used, allowing for slightly more length higher up.
Bald Drop Fade
While all fade haircuts tend to slope downwards behind the ear, the drop fade uses this as a defining characteristic. The option lends itself well to a variety of styles, making it the perfect accompaniment to almost any classic short back and sides cut.
Key Bald Fade Variations
Asking your barber for a bald fade on the back and sides is only half the haircut puzzle. The other comes from what’s on top of your head. So to help you complete the job, here are some of the best cuts to accompany it.
Bald Fade With Textured Crop
Thanks to a certain period drama, the textured crop has become one of the most popular haircuts of today. However, the undercut sported by Tommy Shelby can appear quite harsh and certainly isn’t for everyone, so consider toning it down with a fade.
“Ask your barber for a bald fade on the back and sides with a short choppy texture on top and a cropped fringe,” says Joth Davies, master barber and founder of Savills in Sheffield.
“But be warned, skin fades grow out very quickly due to the scalp exposure, meaning most people need to visit their barber on average every two weeks to maintain the look,” he adds.
Bald Fade With Pompadour
As timeless as it is tall, the pompadour is one throwback cut that never seems to lose its appeal, but that’s not to say it can’t be updated for the modern man.
“Ask for a bald fade on the sides and back. A barber will know what you mean and guide you for what is right for your face shape,” says Russell Brittle from Pall Mall Barbers in London. “As for the top, you want a pompadour style, leaving the fringe area longer than the crown. Ask your barber to slice in for added texture.”
When it comes to creating the finished look, you’ll need a blow-dryer, some sea salt spray and a styling hair product. “Wet look is achieved by using pomade,” says Brittle. “If you’re looking for a matte finish make sure you use a pliable clay.”
Bald Fade With Buzz Cut
When receding, leaving too much length on top can actually make the hair look thinner rather than achieve the opposite. That’s when this low-maintenance lid should come in.
“A buzz cut with a bald fade is sharp, simple and with no fuss,” says Dan Glass, a senior barber at Murdock London. “It’s a haircut defined by a clean finish up top, with graduation in length down to the back and sides.
To get the look, ask your barber for a grade one (or two if you’d like a little more length) on top, but don’t stop there. “Ask for the fade to be blunt if you want a quick, rugged distinction between the top and back and sides. Or a clean, stretched out fade if you’d prefer a gradual change. If you want your hairline to be super sharp, ask your barber to razor the edges.”
High Bald Fade With Side Part
From bomber jackets to the Nato strap, men’s style has a lot to thank the military for, and this classic yet contemporary cut is yet another prime example.
“The side part was a very popular haircut in wartime,” says Johnny Shanahan, founder of men’s grooming chain Barber Barber. “This was because it had the strong, neat and masculine military look under the beret but allowed the wearer the freedom to comb and style his hair like the movie stars of the day when he wasn’t on duty.”
Enlisting a bald fade to flank the asymmetrical cut will not only bring the look speeding up to date, but it will also minimise the amount of time spent on styling each morning. Simply use some pomade and a comb to tame the top and add some definition, then you’re good to go.