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Fade Haircut | Types & How to Get One

Fade Haircut | Types & How to Get One

Despite its roots as a military hairstyle, the fade haircut is now one of the most popular hairstyles around for men. But before you decide to rock this trend, it is worth learning about the fade and the different styles that work with it.

What Is a Fade Haircut?

While you can sport the fade haircut in several styles, they all share the same basic fact: shorter hair on the sides gradually fades into longer hair on the top. You can understand the fade easily by understanding its contrast with the buzz cut.

While buzz cuts create the same length all over the head, a fade haircut embraces the more stylish look of different hair densities. And one of the best features of the fade haircut is how flexible it is—there is almost definitely a type of fade cut that fits your taste and styling preference.

Fade haircuts do have the downside of requiring lots of maintenance. Certain shorter cuts need to be neatened up every two or three weeks, but that is the price to pay for the neat and clean look of this hairstyle. Some of the key features of a fade haircut include:

  • Flexibility: There are a ton of fade lengths and styles.
  • Stylish: Most fade haircuts have a bold look that is neat and stylish.
  • Trendy: Fades are extremely popular right now. 
  • High Maintenance: Fades have the downside of requiring frequent trips to the barbershop.

Especially because of its flexibility, do yourself a favor and learn all about this trendy haircut to find the one that best suits you.

Types of Fades

As you now know, the fade haircut incorporates a gradual (aka faded) transition between short hair lengths on the side and longer hair on the top. But within this general concept, there are a surprising number of variations and types of fades that are worth learning about.

Fade Heights

The first variable that you can alter to create different types of fades is height. Altering where you start the fade greatly changes the style and energy of your haircut.

1. Low Fade

Man with a low fade haircut at the barber

Rabizo Anatolii/Shutterstock

The low fade is the most modest fade height you can get with this haircut style. So if you’re a bit hesitant about getting a fade haircut, the low fade style might be perfect for you. A low fade is where the fade begins on the lower half of your head, usually around one-third of the way up.

Because it starts so low, even the shortest skin fade styles will show very little skin. It is a great way to get the feel of the fade haircut—the tight lines and overall neat appearance—without showing as much skin as the other fade heights.

2. Mid Fade

Guy with a mid fade haircut and a hard shaved part


A mid fade, or medium fade, is where the fade from the shortest hair begins at least halfway up the sides of your head. A mid fade can even begin as much as two-thirds up the head. Depending on your face structure, a mid fade might look much better than a low fade.

The key feature to know about the mid fade is that it will naturally make your head look longer. Because of this elongating feature, people who already have long heads might do better sticking with a low fade.

3. High Fade

Russian man with a high fade haircut


The high fade is the most dramatic way to rock the fade haircut. A high fade maintains the shortest hair level—often a skin fade—almost up to the top of the head. Most high fades begin around the top of the forehead.

The key feature of the high fade is that it highlights the difference in length. While a low fade gradually blends into the top, a high fade has little room to gradually lengthen.

Because of this contrast, the high fade is the boldest and dramatic fade height to choose. The high fade is particularly great for:

  • Men losing hair
  • Those who want a dramatic and neat look
  • Men with a square or round face

But if you’re new to fade haircuts and on the fence about which fade height is right for you, consider starting with a low fade to see how that works first. 

Fade Styles

The other variable that people mess around with to create different fade haircuts is the style of the fade. Whatever height from above you choose, the style of your fade will do even more to make your haircut uniquely stand out.

1. Shadow Fade

Shadow fade haircut


A shadow fade is a great style for those that are intimidated by a skin fade. Skin fades, even if they begin low on your head, creating dramatic contrast between the skin cut portion and the beginning of the fade.

There is a sharp contrast between the skin and the hair, which is what makes a skin fade so bold. But a shadow fade doesn’t reveal any skin, and the blend resembles more of a shadow than it does sharp lines of contrast.

Shadow fades can still go quite short on the sides but will do so gradually and never have the dramatic look of a skin fade.

2. Taper Fade

Taper fade haircut

Rabizo Anatolii/Shutterstock

The taper fade is the least dramatic fade style, and it is the lowest and most blended style you can get. A taper fade begins the fade at the neckline and sideburns, creating a long and gradual fade up to the long hair on top.

The taper fade is also a popular choice because of how subtle it is. For men who want a more casual haircut—something that blends in and doesn’t draw attention—the taper fade is the way to go. 

3. Skin Fade

Man getting a skin fade haircut


The skin fade is what it sounds like in that you begin the fade from the shortest possible cut, the skin. While you can use a buzzer for the skin fade, people commonly use a razor to get as short as possible.

The skin fade is all about highlighting the differences in length, and if you choose to do a high fade this difference will be even more obvious. The skin fade is the boldest style here, but it also looks stylish and neat. If you don’t mind taking a risk, this style is worth trying out.

4. Drop Fade

Guy with a drop fade haircut

MDV Edwards/Shutterstock

While most fades hold a consistent line, the drop fade drops the fade line behind the ears and runs low onto your neck. The drop fade allows you to have the neat look of short hair on the sides while keeping some length on the backside.

The standout feature of the drop fade is that the fade line creates an arch that particularly stands out. If you like the idea of drawing attention to the uniqueness of your hairstyle, the drop fade is a great variation that is worth trying!

5. Burst Fade

Burst fade on a black man

Erik van Ingen/Shutterstock

The burst fade is a more dramatic version of the drop fade style, and from certain angles, it is easy to confuse the two. But the burst fade’s distinctive feature is the extra round arch of its fade line.

The name comes from the fact that this style creates a round shape around the ears that resembles a sunrise. If having a unique and dramatic look is a priority for you, think of the burst fade as one of the more risky fade styles you can choose from.

How to Do a Fade Haircut

Like anything these days, the internet is filled with do-it-yourself guides to accomplish a fade haircut at home. While certain haircuts like a buzz cut are quite easy to do at home, you should be aware that many stylists wouldn’t recommend doing a fade haircut yourself.

Depending on the style you want, this haircut can be complicated, and it is easy to make a mistake that will take weeks to grow back. But with that caveat aside, let’s work through the various steps required to the fade haircut.

Whether you are going to try it yourself or you just want to have better communication with your barber, knowing these steps will help you understand the fade style and the various options you have with it.

In terms of equipment, you should set the following items aside before you get started:

  • Clipper and different guard sizes
  • Towel
  • Comb
  • Scissors (depending on the fade style)
  • Spray bottle

Once you have your items ready, it’s time to familiarize yourself with the steps for creating a fade haircut.

Step 1: The Top Section

In most fade haircuts, the top section is left longer and cut with scissors. The exact amount of length depends on your taste and how you want to style it, but generally speaking, cutting with a scissor is best.

You can technically use a comb and your clipper to cut the top, but it’s a lot easier to make a mistake and take off too much hair. But whether you cut the top or use a buzzer, you will want to spray down the hair to make it damp.

For scissor cutting, use a comb to collect a small section of hair in the upwards direction. Use your index and middle fingers to slide up this section of hair until you get to your desired length. With the hair still held upward in between those two fingers, cut that section of hair, preferably with sharp barber-quality scissors.

You can keep repeating the above process until all hair on the top is even in length. If you’re not sure whether the hair is even, just grab around the top of the head and pull the hair upwards to make sure each piece is the same.

One note about the top section is that many people find it easier to wait until the end to cut the top. If you prefer to wait, still wet the top section with a spray bottle and then clip it out of the way before you begin dealing with the sides.

Step 2: The Short Buzz

With the top section out of the way, it’s now time to start buzzing the sides and back. Since you’re doing a fade haircut, you should start with the shortest clipper guard on the bottom part of the hair and work your way up from there.

If you’re planning on doing a skin fade, just make sure you know what you’re doing and remember that you can get close to the skin fade by removing the clipper guard entirely. But the more standard fade haircut might go as short as the #1 clipper guard for this bottom section of hair.

The easiest way to get a nice taper on each section is to have a clipper with a taper lever on the side. With a taper lever, you can start this short section on the longest setting and gradually shorten it as you approach the bottom hairline. 

The exact measurements will change depending on the fade height that you want, but let’s give you the example of a low fade. With the shortest clipper guard and longest taper setting, cut to about one inch above the hairline by making a C-shaped motion.

Then shorten the taper a bit and repeat that C-shape motion while stopping around halfway up the previous section.

After this second round, close the taper lever to its shortest setting and do short cuts just at the bottom edge of the short buzz section. It’s crucial to start with the longest taper setting so that you can gradually go shorter and create the classic faded look.

Step 3: The Medium Buzz 

This step will be similar to the previous step, except you need to switch clipper guards to a bigger size. A good method for determining the right guard size is to go up one number from whatever you used on the short buzz.

In the example of using a #1 guard for the bottom section, use a #2 guard for the middle section. Otherwise, you will be using the same technique that you used in the previous step, including using the taper lever to get a great fade.

Make C-shaped motions across this whole section in three different steps, adjusting the taper lever to be shorter each time.

On the third repetition of this cutting motion, just be sure to stop at the bottom line of this section. Use the same upwards flicking motion to make this bottom third of the medium cut the shortest of the three.

Step 4: The Long Buzz

The top portion of your fade haircut, the part that will have the longest buzz, will be just like the previous step. Move up one number in size for the clipper guard and follow the same technique of gradually shortening the taper set. 

One important note in this step is remembering that you are close to the long hair on top. You do not want to accidentally mess with the top section of hair when making your C-shape motions outward.

So make sure that you clip the top portion of hair out of the way, allowing this step to feel as easy as the previous two. When you finish this step correctly, the sides and back should have a great-looking fade that, at most, needs a few finishing touches to smooth out the transitions. 

Step 5: Transition Line

The last step is to blend the faded sides into the longer hair on top. Depending on your hairstyle, you might decide that having a transition line is part of your look. Many people like highlighting the length difference between the sides and top.

A great example of this style would be the two block haircut. But the standard way to finish a fade haircut is by gently tapering the boundary between these sections until they blend. The easiest and safest way to do this is to use a comb with your clippers.

Move along the transition line and use the comb to pull hair up to the desired length. Slide the clippers over the comb, and repeat until the transition looks gradual enough. You can technically smooth out this transition without a comb, but make sure you feel very confident using the clippers before doing this method.

Frequently Asked Questions

Guy with a zero fade haircut at the barber

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Hopefully, you now have a thorough understanding of what the fade haircut is and all the different styles and lengths you can use with it. But before you decide on your next haircut, let’s answer some of the most frequently asked questions people have about fade haircuts:

What Is A Fade Haircut?

A fade haircut gradually blends shorter hair on the sides and back into longer hair on the top. There are many variations on the fade haircut, depending on how short the bottom is and where you start the fade. But all fades involve some version of this gradual fading of length.

What Does A Fade Haircut Look Like?

Generally speaking, the fade haircut tends to be neat and clean because of how short the sides are. Fade haircuts can also be a dramatic and stylish choice, especially if you choose to do a skin fade or a high fade. This hairstyle is especially visible from the back and sides where the difference in length from the top of the head to the neck is more distinct.

What Is A Skin Fade?

The skin fade has its name because you cut the shortest hair on the sides and back until it’s cut down to the skin. Some barbers will use a buzzer to get down to skin length, but for an uber clean look, you can use a razor to get the shortest possible cut. The skin fade is the most dramatic style of fade you can choose.

How Long Does A Fade Haircut Last ?

While the fade haircut has the upside of looking neat and fashionable, it does have one downside: maintenance. Especially if you want to maintain the tight and clean look of a skin fade with distinct lines, you will need to go in for a haircut every two or three weeks.

What Is A Low Fade Haircut ?

A low fade haircut begins the gradual fading of hair length on the lower third of the head. Because the shorter hair has a much smaller section, the fade line is less obvious in this style. And the haircut is not as dramatic as a mid or high fade. You can still go for the blunt look of a skin fade here, but beginning the fade low helps make any fade style more subtle.

Who Invented The Fade Haircut?

The general style of a fade haircut seems to stem from the US military in the 1940s and 1950s. In this sense, it was a style designed to look good while complying with the strict hair standards of the military. But the more modern fade haircut, along with its many variations, has a long and confusing history. By the 1980s and 1990s, iconic artists like Larry Blackmon and Will Smith helped to popularize this hairstyle.

What Is A Taper Fade Haircut ?

The taper fade haircut usually works best for those that want to keep longer hair on top. The long hair gradually tapers into the short hair on the sides, usually in a low fade height. And the best part about the taper fade is its flexibility. It works well with so many different types of hairstyles, textures, and lengths.

How Long Does A Fade Haircut Take ?

Compared to the average male haircut length of twenty minutes, fade haircuts tend to take a bit longer. The fastest fade haircuts will be the low taper fades, and the slowest style will be those that involve skin cuts and other intricate details. Whatever cut you choose, a fade haircut should never last more than 45 minutes.

What Is A Drop Fade Haircut ?

The drop fade haircut is the style that fades as usual on the sides but maintains longer hair on the back of your neck. This difference in length means that the fade line creates an arch curving from the sides to the longer hair behind your ears. The drop fade is one of the more dramatic fade styles you can choose.

What Is A Zero Fade Haircut ?

The zero fade haircut closely resembles the skin fade, except you usually won’t use a straight razor with this style. The idea with the zero fade is to get as short as possible while still leaving some stubble on the bottom parts. This haircut is a good option for those intimidated by sporting the intense look of a skin fade.

How To Style A Fade Haircut?

There’s no right or wrong way to style your fade haircut, and answering this question depends on the type of fade you have and your face shape. Generally, you should try to style your fade in a way that brings out its best features of neatness and contrast. Short hairstyles usually work best with the fade, but it is gradually becoming more popular to blend the fade style with long hair on the top.

Is a Fade Haircut for You?

You probably didn’t realize just how much information there is about this style of haircut, and it is one of the more flexible styles out there. Whether you want the bold look of a high skin fade or the subtle approach of a low taper fade, there’s bound to be a fade haircut that will work for you!