As a hairstyle becomes trendy, so the terminology starts to spread. Sometimes, it gets separated from its meaning, so people end up asking for a look without knowing what they’re getting. Like most professions, barber shop services have developed a nuanced language around the different cuts and shaves available.
To the layman, one of the most confusing sets of terms is the fade, taper, and blend. There’s just enough overlap between the effects achieved that they can be confused by those who aren’t familiar. When you’re looking for haircut services, it’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve with your hair – which leads us to this simple guide.
50 Shades of Fade: Unpacking the Classic Cut
Technically a type of taper, the fade became popularized by the sharp military cuts of the Second World War in the 1930s and ‘40s. While the word fade implies a certain gradualness, the earliest fades were crisp and sharp, creating uniform military angles. This was made possible by the recent invention of the electric trimmer. It became especially popular in the Black community in the years after the war and into the ‘60s. Fast forward to the ‘80s and ‘90s, when the high-top fade took the scene by storm, often paired with a square flat top.
Today, the fashions are looser and more individual, so a variety of fade types have become popular. The fade is almost endlessly versatile, ranging from a total skin fade to overlapping with the taper. It can be pulled off at any age and hair type, as long as you pick your fade correctly. Those seeking barber services can now choose how sharp or gentle they want their fade to be. The skin fade tapers the hair all the way down to bare skin, creating that signature precise look. The ability to fade so precisely makes this a great choice for those with thin or thinning hair; the fade makes the rest of your hair look thicker.
There are three main types of fades you need to know: low, mid, and high. As their names suggest, the difference comes in where the fade transitions to the skin. A high fade is the most dramatic, coming in at the point where the top of your head becomes the back of your head. Mid fades stop around halfway down the back of your head, usually around an inch above the ear. Low fades require the most care by the barber, getting the fade effect in the smallest amount of space, just above the nape of the neck where the average haircut would end.
Within the fade style, there are nuances that your barber can use to tailor the style to your individual hair type, face shape, and look. These include a temple fade, which (as you might guess) fades just around the temples to draw the focus upward, to the top of the style, and elongate the face. The shape of your fade can become a feature of the style – for example, the drop fade creates a swoop that ends in a point at the back of your head, an eye-catching detail to say the least. Speak to your barber about other options to bring out the best in your fade.
As noted above, the taper is an umbrella that includes the fade, although it has spun off into its own distinct style over the decades. Essentially, a taper describes a cut that goes from longer to shorter. Most men’s haircuts feature some level of taper, graduating the hair from more length on top to a neat finish at the nape of the neck. A taper doesn’t require as much maintenance as a fade, especially a high fade – it can tolerate much more growing out without ruining the look.
While a taper is a more conservative look than a fade, that doesn’t mean it’s always the tamest choice. It’s a classic for good reason – it can be a stylish addition to just about any look. It gives you a neat look while still allowing for a variety of easy styling choices, especially if you have a long taper, keeping the hair longer as it gets closer to the collar. Keeping your hair in a taper makes it easier to manage, especially if it’s thick. A short taper is where the taper-fade Venn diagram starts to overlap. When people use the non-technical term “taper fade,” that’s often what they mean.
Your taper can be adapted to suit your preferred hairstyle. For example, if you always rock a side parting, your hair can be cut and tapered to lay perfectly when in that position. This is a common choice among corporate professionals, giving a hint of personal style while keeping things work-appropriate. Like the fade, the taper can begin at different points on the head to achieve different effects – high, mid, and low.
The Art of Harmonizing Hair: Meet the Blend
You may have noticed that the hair is getting progressively longer as we move through these styles. Good eye! Next up to the bat is the blend, one of the most important tools in the belt of any professional offering barber services. The blend is key for anyone with a particularly thick or heavy mane. It removes excess hair weight while ensuring that your hair flows naturally through the different lengths of the style.
It gets its name from the basic technique. Your barber will divide your head into two sections and cut each separately, removing excess hair and shaping as needed. Then comes the blending, where any hard distinctions between the sections are smoothed out for an effortless, natural look. It creates harmony among the top, back, and sides of your head while allowing for different lengths to suit your face shape and personal style.
The blend is key to popular modern styles like the long-on-top, short-back-and-sides pompadour. It’s the unassuming backup singer who brings the whole performance together. When the blend takes the hair shorter as it proceeds down the back of the head, you’re entering taper territory.
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No matter what look you’re going for, finding the right barber is the key to getting it. A true professional can take your hair goals and reference images and translate them into a fresh look that will complement your individual look. Knowing what to ask for goes a long way to ensuring that you’re on the same page, which is where being barber-savvy comes in helpful.
The best barbershop services would be incomplete without mastery of these hairstyle choices. The blend, taper, and fade all have their place in the men’s haircut – and in the hands of an expert, they can make magic. Elevate your hair game at the Great-Style Barber Shop: make an appointment or walk in on your time.
GREAT experience!!! Nathan is an “Old Time” style barber who listens to how you want your cut done. Did the hot towel and shave to end my experience…..Worth it!!!!