The Best Crew Cut Hairstyles For Modern Men

In the world of men’s hair, there are few trims that enjoy the same status as the crew cut. This classic military style has been keeping gents sharp and time-rich for close to a century, thanks to its neat appearance and easy styling.

This is one of those rare haircuts that looks the part, but also that your grandma could get on board with. Its clean finish and trademark subtlety mean there’s nothing not to like. Which is probably why it has become one of the default, set-menu trims at barbershops from here to the most far-flung corners of the earth.

The crew cut is a true Goldilocks hairstyle; it inhabits the comfortable middle ground between longer-length, natural hair and an all-out buzz cut; it’s short, but not too short; it’s long enough to style, but not so much so as to be time consuming.

Here we delve into the intricacies of a bona-fide tonsorial heavyweight, including who suits it best and how to get the key variations.

What Is A Crew Cut?

Head to any back-alley barbershop, ask for a “short back and sides” and it’s likely you’ll walk back out of the door sporting something that looks a lot like a crew cut.

This closely-cropped, low-maintenance ‘do was born as a result of the invention of electric clippers. It features a buzzed back and sides, with a slight taper towards the top. There’s some extra length radiating out from the crown, normally to the longest point at the top of the forehead, which is often styled into a short pompadour or a quiff. In general, the hair on the top of the head is just long enough to be cut with scissors, as opposed to clippers.

Like so many great things in men’s fashion and grooming, the crew cut has its roots in the armed forces. The trim’s neat, tidy appearance and cropped length have seen it earn a place among the list of regulation cuts accepted by the military in many countries – most notably the United States, where it is one of the most common military cuts.

Who Suits A Crew Cut

One of the many pros of the crew cut is how adaptable it is. It’s simple design and short length means it works well with any face shape. Those with rounder faces can team it with a short boxed beard to help balance and lengthen their proportions. Just don’t to too long with the facial hair or it will appear bottom-heavy.

Determining whether a crew cut is right for you isn’t just about aesthetics, though. This style is particularly well suited to those who prefer not to invest too much time in their morning grooming routine. It’s extremely quick and easy to style, making it a good option for those who value an extra 15 minutes of pillow time in the AM.

The Best Crew Cut Variations

As is the case with most classic hairstyles, there’s more than one type of crew cut. Here we take a look at some of the key variations.

Classic Crew Cut

Favoured by everyone from military officers to Hollywood movie stars, the classic crew cut is as timeless as a hairstyle can be. Buzzed close to the head at the back and sides, this iconic take leaves just enough length on top to style into a short quiff.

Any barber you visit will likely have cut his teeth executing countless crew cuts. It’s one of the most popular styles of the last century, which means most professionals are highly familiar with it. That said, if you’ve seen a particular variation you like the look of, it wouldn’t hurt to take a photo along. This will give your barber a point of reference to work with, particularly when it comes to defining the length.

Styling-wise, things couldn’t be simpler. Just towel dry, apply a small amount of your preferred styling product to the palms of your hand, rub together to warm and then work through the hair from root to tip, shaping the front up and away from the forehead slightly.

Crew Cut Fade

For a contemporary twist on tradition, the crew cut fade offers a clean and striking alternative. Up top, this trim is much the same as the classic crew cut. The difference is in the back and sides, which are buzzed much closer, graduating up in length towards the top of the head to create a fade.

Simply telling your barber that you’d like a crew cut with a fade on the back and sides should be enough information for them to get the job done. If you want to go really short, creating a skin fade. Or, for a slightly less dramatic juxtaposition, ask for a taper fade, which will likely incorporate some scissor cutting near the top for a more natural gradient.

In terms of styling, just follow the same steps laid out for the classic crew cut and you’re good to go.

Crew Cut With Side Part

The crew cut is quite a smart hairstyle as it is, but adding some extra length through the top and combing into a side parting can help elevate it to the next level, making it ideal for client-facing roles or those who want to bring a sense of polish to their everyday appearance.

Ask your barber for a short back and sides with a side part. It’s up to you how long you leave the hair on top, but to stay true to the style it’s best kept relatively short. You want just enough weight that when you comb into a side parting it will stay in position.

When it comes to styling, start by blow-drying the hair loosely into shape – your natural parting should soon become apparent based on the way the hair lies. If you have particularly thin hair you can add a salt spray or texture powder before frying to add control and volume without clumping the hair together (which can make it appear sparse). Next, work a small amount of wax/pomade (shine finish) or clay/paste (dry finish) through the hair and use a comb to create a neat side parting, running along the top of the head from front to back.

The Ivy League

Though not a crew cut in the strictest sense, the Ivy League (also known as the Harvard Clip or Princeton) is essentially a grown-out version of this cropped, military cut. It’s perfect for those who want a conservative style, but are put off by the shortness of a crew cut.

Again, any barber worth their clippers will know exactly what you mean when you stride in and request an ivy league. That said, it’s always best to take a photo along with you for insurance (think JFK or Ryan Gosling’s shorter styles).

To style, blow-dry using a vented brush to tame the hair back and away from the face. Then simply finish with some styling cream or paste and loosely comb into place.

Paddy Maddison

Paddy Maddison is Ape's Style Editor. His work has been published in Esquire, Men’s Health, ShortList, The Independent and more. An outerwear and sneaker fanatic, his finger is firmly on the pulse for the latest trends, while always maintaining an interest in classic style.