Showing your barber a photo of a film star as a point of reference is one of the best ways to ensure you get the chop you desire. Yet no matter how many times you’ve used this tonsorial trick, we’re willing to hazard a guess that you’ve never brought along a snap of Jake Gyllenhaal in Jarhead.
But maybe it’s time you had a rethink, because the high and tight is back on trend – and if you’re all about low-maintenance grooming then the military style may be the cut you’ve been looking for. Teeeen-hut.
What Is A High & Tight?
Clippered high on the back and sides and cropped close and tight on the top, the high and tight is like Ronseal, not just because it’s super-manly, but also because it does exactly what it says on the tin.
Military proponents will tell you that placing a hand flat on top of your head and shaving anything not covered by it is the only method that creates a true high and tight, but in recent years things have thankfully become a little more refined.
Sported by the likes of Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds, this no-bullshit style has been brought up to date with modern variants such as increased length on top, slicked-back styling and skilfully executed skin fades. What was once a hallmark of conformity is now quite the opposite.
A modern high and tight cut with length through top
Photo: Ria Smallwood for The Bluebeards Revenge, styling by Tom Chapman
History Of The High & Tight
Like so many things in fashion – chinos, peacoats, bomber jackets – the high and tight haircut has its roots planted firmly in the military. Favoured for its no-fuss nature and the fact that the patch of hair on top could safely accommodate a combat helmet while maintaining a shaven look at the sides, the high and tight became one of the accepted military regulation cuts shortly after the Second World War.
The style went on to become a military requirement during the Vietnam War, to make grooming and cleaning easier in the field. Along with a ‘no beards’ rule, it also ensured a better fit for soldiers when using protective equipment such as gas masks.
From this point on, the look was adopted by law enforcement officials and other public safety personnel until it eventually began to permeate civilian fashion and was picked up by actors, musicians and that bloke with the thick-framed glasses who sat in Cafe Nero and designed the logo for your website on his MacBook Pro.
Is A High & Tight Right For Me?
A high and tight is a great, low-maintenance haircut, but it’s not for everyone. Before you get too comfortable in that barber’s chair, you’ll want to make sure your face is a good fit. The good news is that due to an increased amount of variations on offer these days, there aren’t many face shapes the high and tight can’t be catered for.
If you struggle to go to the bowling alley without someone trying to put their fingers in your nostrils and a thumb in your mouth then you can probably assume that you fall into the ‘round face’ camp.
But don’t worry, a round head sounds worse than it is. All it means is that you’ll need to be clever about how you sculpt your barnet.
Opt for a variation of the high and tight with a little more length on top, which can be styled up (think quiff or faux hawk) to add height. This will give the illusion of a longer face, which is exactly what you’re aiming for.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, if you’re the type of guy who finds that a shoebox fits you better than any sort of traditional headwear then your face shape could probably be accurately described as square.
The goal here is to soften the harsh lines of your face, which means opting for a high and tight flat top is probably not the best option. Instead, go for something soft and textured on top to break up the angles.
While a heart-shaped face might sound like quite a nice thing to be blessed with, in reality, it actually makes it tricky to adopt any kind of short hairstyle. Tight cuts tend to accentuate the broadness of the forehead and the narrowness of the chin, which is the opposite of what you want.
The only solution, if you still want to try the high and tight, is to go for slightly more length on top and use it to create shape and volume to balance out your face’s proportions. Try a slicked-back style or even a mild pompadour for best results.
The holy grail of bone structures. An oval-shaped face is a barber’s best friend. Pick any cut, stick it on this face shape and it will work. High and tights are no exception, so if you’re blessed with this versatile mug then advance at will.
Key High & Tight Variations
You should now be clued up on this classic military style and whether it is suitable for your needs. With that in mind, we asked some of the UK’s best barbers to break down the key variations and how to style them.
Wavy Textured High & Tight
There’s no getting around the fact that the high and tight is quite an aggressive style, and on the wrong person it can even appear a little intimidating. One way of softening the look is to incorporate some texture, which works especially well with wavy hair. Naturally, though, some elements will need to remain the same.
“It’s still got to be high and tight!” says Tom Chapman, founder of The Lion’s Barber Collective and ambassador for The Bluebeards Revenge. “That fade has to be 0 or below to at least three fingers above the ear.”
But what should you ask your barber for? Well, Chapman advises taking to social media for a helping hand. “Take a look on Instagram for a high and tight and a curly crop and show them both pictures, explaining how you want to join them together,” he says.
“To style, use good pre-styler, like a salt spray or a gel, then use a diffuser on the end of your hair dryer to maintain that movement in the hair. Finish with a matte paste to create separation and natural texture.”
Classic Military High & Tight
The style that started it all is simple, clean and effective. It requires minimal upkeep and has an air of authority about it. If you want your hair to make a statement then this is the chop for you. “This style should always be skintight on the back and sides, and faded above the temples into a very short crop on top,” explains Joth Davies, founder of Savills barber shop.
“The length of the top portion may vary, usually being 5–10 mm (1/4 to 3/8 inch), but is sometimes left long enough to comb. Occasionally the back and sides of the head are shaved completely with a straight razor.”
To get the look, it’s always a smart move to take a picture with you so that your barber knows exactly what you want, but with a cut this iconic, you can probably do without.
“Just ask for a ‘jarhead’, a ‘butch cut’, or a ‘high and tight with a short crop’,” says Davies.
When it comes to styling this low-maintenance cut, you need nothing more than your fingers and a decent matte styling product. “Apply a small amount of clay into towel-dried hair, working from roots to tips, starting at the crown and moving forward to the fringe last,” says Davies.
Slicked Back High & Tight
It might be the hipster favourite, but don’t let that put you off. A high and tight with a bit of length left on top and slicked back is still one of the most contemporary cuts a man can opt for.
“The defining characteristics of this haircut are the tight uniform length back and sides and high corners,” explains Adam Harant, senior stylist at Pimps and Pinups in London. “The differences in length leave room for styling.”
Harant stresses the importance of asking your barber for ‘high corners’. “This will ensure that the crop on the sides will come quite high up,” he adds.
“When styling at home, using sea salt spray or texturising powder before blow drying will allow the style to take its shape more naturally,” suggests Harant. “Then finish with a shine wax or pomade.”