While it’s true that the last decade hasn’t exactly been a pony ride geopolitically or culturally speaking, it has actually been pretty darn good to our hair.
Take the undercut. This simple throwback style has re-cemented its place as one of the most iconic ‘dos around, having been rocked by everyone from the Hollywood elite to soldiers. And when a haircut has an appeal that broad, it’s safe to assume it won’t be getting the chop anytime soon.
But with so many variations to try, it pays to swot up on the key takes before sitting in the chair. To give yourself a head start, here is the complete guide to men’s undercuts.
What Is An Undercut?
At its core, the undercut is simple, stylish and versatile. The term itself refers to any cut that leaves length on top while the back and sides are closely cropped, faded, or buzzed completely.
These days, sculpting the perfect undercut is a precision task for barbers – especially when skin fades and tight graduations get thrown into the mix. However, back in Edwardian era England, an undercut was nothing more than a sign that a man couldn’t afford a haircut from anyone skilled enough to blend lengths. Funny how things change, eh?
How The Undercut Became Popular
Peaky Blinders turned a generation of sartorially confused men onto flat caps and trench coats, but it’s also responsible in part for the new dawn of the undercut.
Joe Mills, founder of unisex hair salon The Lounge Soho, also chalks the return up to a rebellion against IDGAF styles like the buzz cut. “For me, [the undercut] has come back with such momentum partly because of the way men have found their feet and male grooming has found its place in our lives,” he says.
“We have experimented with beards, moustaches and grooming products to the point that the way we wore our hair became a thing again.”
How Do I Know If An Undercut Is Right For Me?
As with any hairstyle, there are a few things to weigh up (the weight of your hair, of course, being one of them) before sitting in the chair.
As well as getting to grips with them yourself, it’s always wise to consult your barber on what they think might suit your face shape, hair type and lifestyle before committing to a cut. After all, they are the professionals.
Any styling choice north the neck – be it glasses or facial hair – is going to be affected by the shape of your face. The same goes when it comes to your hair, which should aim to balance out your most prominent features.
For example, if your face is so long you could give Hugh Laurie a run for his money in the Grand National, it’s a smart move to avoid anything with too much height. Instead, opt for a style that can be worn slicked back, or a short haircut with textured length on top that lays flat.
Lastly, and as is usually the case, people with oval shaped faces will look good regardless. Annoying. Well, for the rest of us anyway.
How curly, coarse, thick or thin your thatch is will serve as another deciding factor when it comes to what undercut style to go for. Luckily, as there are seemingly endless variations, there’s something to suit every type.
As a general rule, lofty styles like quiffs and pompadours are better suited to thick, full hair, while those with curly or very fine hair should opt for shorter, textured styles. Afro hair, on the other hand, lends itself well to loose curls or braids.
Maintenance is the barbershop term for deciding how much you value that extra 15 minutes in bed each morning. If your answer is “a lot”, you’re better off siding with something fairly low maintenance, such as a style that is designed to be worn messy, whereas those who don’t mind putting in some extra work in front of the mirror pre-9am can choose from more sculpted snips.
Maintenance also refers to how often you will need to get your hair cut in order to keep the intended shape. Because each variation of undercut features a short back and sides, it’s advisable to book into the chair at least every two weeks.
Undercut With Pompadour
The pompadour has come a long way from its 18th-century roots. Originally worn exclusively by the type of ladies seen in Baroque-era paintings, the style was brought back into favour and on the heads of men by the likes of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and countless others throughout the 1950s.
“The classic pompadour is defined by two main characteristics,” says Jason Collier, a go-to barber for the likes of Justin Timberlake and Brooklyn Beckham, “a sharp undercut around the back and sides, with the hair worn much longer on top, swept back in a high quiff.”
But will it be your ‘Good Luck Charm’, or could this be a trip to the barber that will leave you ‘Crying In The Chapel’? According to Collier, that’s all down to your hair type.
“It’s all in the styling when it comes to this haircut,” he adds. “If you have thinner, finer hair, then you’ll need to amp up the volume, with some backcombing and volumising product. For thick or curly hair, it’s more about taming the beast, and using strong-hold products to keep the hair in the classic pompadour shape.”
Undercut With Braids/Afro
Due to afro hair’s naturally dry and frizzy nature, the goal is often to make any undercut style as low maintenance as possible, without sacrificing style. This is where incorporating short, tight dreads can be very effective.
“This style is a personal favourite of mine,” says Paul Burfoot, founder of the Fish hair salon and styling range. “l like the contrast of dreads on top with the severity of the short fade on the sides. For a true undercut, there would be a disconnect from the sides to the top.”
This particular style only works on afro hair, so don’t even think about it if you have thin, blonde locks. The last thing you want to do is wind up looking like Justin Bieber circa 2016. However, if you do have the correct hair type and want to give this style a go, Burfoot suggests asking your barber for a skin fade on the sides and back, with the hair scissor cut on top to slightly different lengths to create a textured look.
Maintain your new hair at home by using a shampoo and scalp oil designed to pump strands full of moisture and if you opt for braids, wear a do-rag at night to keep them tidy.
Undercut With Slicked-Back Length On Top
One of the few hipster hairstyles we can get on board with, the slicked back undercut has been a staple of east London tattoo parlours and denim shops for the last decade.
“The main characteristic of this look is the visual difference in length and the fact that it is disconnected with no graduation,” says Mills. “It has a feel of punk about it and is almost along the lines of the old mohawk.”
If that doesn’t sound like a look that will fly in your office, there are a few subtle tweaks that can be made to make the style a little less edgy. “Less severe is to have the back blended into the top,” adds Mills. “This looks more classic, and you can always go shorter with the clippers if you like how it looks.”
As with any style that sweeps the hair away from the face, it works best with thicker strands and a strong hairline. But you needn’t be blessed with the locks of a Greek god. “[Just] don’t go too high on the back and sides with the clippers and make sure you keep as much length as possible on top to help it look thicker,” says Mills.
Undercut With A Quiff
One of the most iconic hairstyles of all time, the quiff has been finding a home on the heads of some of the world’s most stylish names since the 1950s.
There are many different variations of this style, so TJ Hunt, a barber from the award-winning male grooming chain Ruffians, suggests taking a photo with you to the barber shop. “If you have straight hair, it will look sharp and slick, but if you have wavy hair, it will look more relaxed and beachy.”
After all, you don’t want to anticipate looking like David Beckham but leave looking like a Viking. “Avoid this look if you have tight curls or very fine hair,” he adds. “It’s also better for those with a strong hairline as the hair is generally pulled or swept back.”
For home styling, you’re going to have to get acquainted with the hairdryer. “Don’t fret though, it’s quite simple,” adds Hunt. “If you can, use a round brush and dry the hair up and back, if not just use your fingers to pull the fringe first upwards to create volume and then back to get the right direction.” To style, use a pomade for a slicker finish or a moulding cream for a more natural look.
Disconnected Undercut With Textured Length
The longer the hair on top, the greater the contrast with the short sides – and the more dramatic your overall look will be. This makes ear-length hair worn asymmetrically a solid choice for a statement look with more than a hint of grunge about it.
“The key features of this style are that it’s sharp, textured and versatile,” says Mikey Pearson director of London barbershop Manifesto. “Sharp: super-clean fade on the sides and back. Textured: long disconnection on top which gives movement and is workable. Versatility: you can style it in many ways [including loose and casual or slick and smart].”
To get the look, it pays to know a few pieces of key terminology. “Ask your barber to disconnect the top with a horseshoe section to the occipital bone and a short fade on the back and sides,” adds Pearson. “The top should be cut short to long, starting from back to front, but do not connect to the sides and back.”
When it comes to styling, use your fingers to work through a cream-based product after shampooing, then simply leave to air dry naturally for a nice textured look.
Undercut With A Side Parting
Working an undercut into a timeless hairstyle is one of the simplest ways to turn a throwback into a contemporary classic. In few cases is this truer than with a side parting.
“For the classic […] side parting, the defining characteristic is the parting itself,” says Joseph Lanzante, owner of Manchester barbershop The Mens Room.
However, it’s important the guy holding the clippers knows you’re after a modern variation. “When you take a seat in the barber’s chair, ask for a fade up to the recession line with a side parting and length on top,” Lanzante explains. “If you’re not quite sure on the fade, ask your barber to do it in intervals until you find the length that suits you.”
While there is an undercut for every hair type, a side parting relies on sharp lines and so is best suited to guys with very straight, and above all, obedient hair. To keep it in check at home, Lanzante suggests using a pre-styling lotion and hair dryer to create plenty of volume. Then simply work through a pomade, or a powder-based product for those with thinner hair.