‘Business in the front, party in the back’ — the mullet’s infamous tagline sounded like a hairy stroke of genius on paper: a mix of fun and formal suited to almost any occasion. However, in reality, the finished look was always less fun-loving entrepreneur, more ‘Alabama truck driver’.
Nevertheless, a more recent trim, known as the low fade, has taken the same basic concept of versatility and somehow managed to keep things classy. It’s smart yet stylish, trendy yet traditional. And, above all else, it’s taking barber shops by storm.
But before you dash off and book yourself a session in the seat, here’s everything you need to know about this simple style, which is fast becoming one of the world’s favourite lids.
Low Fade VS High Fade
Generally speaking, a ‘fade’ refers to the blending of longer and shorter hairs on the back and sides of the head to give a seamless graduation effect. The ‘low’ part refers to how far down the head that transition occurs.
A high fade is quite an extreme look, with the blend sitting at the very top of the head. By contrast, a low fade is a much more subtle style, where the fade between lengths comes in an inch or so above the ears.
What’s All The Fuss About?
Fade haircuts, on the whole, have been growing in popularity for several years, and according to Johnny Shanahan, founder of men’s grooming chain Barber Barber, it looks set to continue.
“The low fade is probably the most requested haircut in barbershops at the moment,” he says. “The reason being is that it’s clean, neat and easy to maintain.”
However, the fade itself can vary from very short (i.e. scalp exposure) to a grade one or two, so it’s important to know what will suit you before getting too comfortable in the barber’s chair.
Is A Low Fade Right For Me?
Picking the right haircut for your face shape can be tricky, but luckily the low fade is something of a ‘one size fits all’ kind of style. The real deciding factor in whether or not it will work isn’t what’s going on at the back and sides, but what’s happening on top.
A low fade is particularly good for men with round or heart-shaped faces, as the closely-cropped sides help to slim the head down. A style with a bit of height – such as a pompadour or quiff – will further elongate the face for a more balanced overall look.
At the other end of the spectrum, guys with rectangular or oval-shaped faces can keep things short with a classic crew cut or some slicked-back length on top to avoid any ‘why the long face?’ jibes.
The Best Low Fade Haircuts And How To Get Them
To help reduce the risk of any awkward post-trim mirror moments, we’ve handpicked the best low fade haircuts and asked some of the world’s leading barbers how you can get each look for yourself.
Low Fade + Pompadour
One of the most popular and enduringly cool styles, the pompadour is perfect for adding length to balance out facial proportions, or just for adding enough extra inches to get onto rides at the amusement park.
“This option features short, tight sides and is a little longer on top,” says Shafaat Zainal of Singapore’s world-famous chop shop The Panic Room, who recommends asking for a skin fade to dial up the contrast.
To style, start by blow drying the hair back with a comb. “Then you have options,” says Shafaat Zainal’s right-hand scissor-man, Hawow Haw. “You can keep it loose and textured with a matte product, or you can slick it all the way back for a neat result using a pomade.”
Low Fade + Ivy League
From the armed forces to the American universities with which it shares its name, the Ivy League has been keeping men all over the world preppy and polished for generations.
The classic cut can appear conservative, so incorporating a low fade is a clever way to bring it up to date. “The low fade, in this instance, creates the shape and clean lines [but with] a contemporary feel,” says Joe Mills of Joe & Co. in London. “Ideally you want to go in knowing how close you want the fade. A 1 or 1.5, not too high on the back, should be a good starting point.”
Mills suggests paying your barber a visit once every three to four weeks to keep things in check. Beyond that, it’s just a matter of using either a sea salt spray for fine or normal hair or a texture spray for thick hair, before blow drying and working the hair into shape. Finish things off with a lick of matte clay, and you’re good to go.
Low Fade + Slicked-Back Length
Slicked-back hair is already trending in its own right, but throw a low fade into the mix, and it takes the look to a whole new level.
“When asking for this cut, simply request a low fade on the sides with a slick back on top,” says Shanahan. Because ‘slick back’ may mean different things to different barbers, it’s worth taking a photo along with you, just to make sure the person wielding the scissors knows precisely what you want.
If you value an extra 15 minutes in bed each morning, this cut may be a good option as styling couldn’t be easier. Blow dry the hair back using a medium heat and a comb. Next, work a pomade through the full length of the hair using your fingers, then finish by using the comb to slick it back and lock things into place.
Low Fade + Short Afro
When it comes to afro hair, any type of fade is always going to be a solid choice, whether you opt for a flat top or a buzz cut.
“It’s all about the contrast between the low fade and the structure and detailing around the hairline,” says Mills. The goal is to leave things looking razor sharp and detailed, so Mills suggests asking for a low fade with a grade one or lower.
You better be committed to your barber if opting for this style, mind, as the shaped-up lines mean it will need frequent attention to stay looking pristine. “Get it trimmed regularly,” says Mills. “Every two weeks at least to keep it sharp.”