High Fade Haircuts: What They Are & The Best Versions In 2021

Sharpening up your image doesn’t have to be difficult. All you really need is the right haircut. Take the high fade: a modern styling touch that can be incorporated into almost any short hairstyle, instantly creating a cleaner, more dynamic look.

Fades are well on their way to becoming ubiquitous in the world of men’s hair. These graduated trims have become the de facto setting for men all over the world, and are frequently used by barbers and stylists to give classic cuts a new lease of life. There are many different types – low fades, skin fades, taper fades, scissor fades and drop fades to name a few – but the high fade is the most striking of them all.

If you want a modern and distinctive new style, then read on as we explore the whats, whos and hows of the high fade. From who it suits to which variations to consider, here’s everything you need to know about one of contemporary barbering’s coolest cuts.

What Is A High Fade?

Before we get stuck in, let’s examine the basics. The first thing to understand is that a fade is not actually a haircut in its own right. What it is, is an element that can be incorporated into any given haircut to achieve a sharper, more modern look. The term ‘fade’ in fact refers only to the hair on the back and sides of the head.

In simple terms, a fade is the blending of hair of different lengths. A fade graduates from your neck and ears into longer hair further up, creating a smooth transition from the shortest hair on the back and sides of the head to longer hair on the top. It gets its name from the faded appearance it results in.

So, what about the ‘high’ part? This refers to how far up the head this blending of lengths begins. In a low fade, the graduation starts around or just above the temples. In a high fade, it begins much further up the head. This makes for a more striking, aggressive look, with David Beckham, Michael B Jordan and Ryan Reynolds among the A-list advocates. (For something softer, try a taper fade instead.)

Will A High Fade Suit Me?

A high fade won’t suit everyone. So how do you know if it’s the best option for you? The first thing you’ll need to establish is what sort of face shape you have. There are five key shapes: round, square, rectangle, heart and oval. Look into a mirror with your head facing straight forwards and decide which of these best describes the outline of your face.

High-fade styles are defined by their short back and sides. A lot of the time, they’ll feature some degree of length or volume on top. What this means is that high-fade hairstyles can often end up elongating the head. If you have a long, rectangular face already then it may not be the best option for you. Or you at least want to consider a variation that’s short on top too.

For everyone else, the high fade should work nicely, depending on what sort of style it’s paired with. Those with wider faces, like round or heart shaped, will benefit from the short sides combined with some height on top. Styles like pompadours and quiffs work well for this.

If you have an oval-shaped face then you pretty much have carte blanche. You can choose whichever high fade and hairstyle combo you like (within reason) and it will suit you just fine.

Key High Fade Styles

It’s possible to marry a high fade with almost any short hairstyle. However, there are some cuts that will always look the part. If you’re struggling for inspiration and need a nudge in the right direction then consider these high-fade styles that will never let you down.

Pompadour With High Fade

This classic mid-century haircut has experienced a huge resurgence over the last decade. This is thanks, in part, to the increased prevalence of fades and the fact that they’ve been able to bring a throwback trim bang up to date.

For the uninitiated, a pompadour is a lofty style that employs a blowdryer and pomade to style hair up and off the face, creating volume at the front of the head. Elvis did it. Beckham did it. There’s a good chance your grandad did it. Traditionally, the hair would be kept longer on the sides too and combed back to a point at the back, but throwing a high fade in gives the pompadour a cleaner, modern edge.

Regular maintenance trims will keep the fade looking fresh. Aside from that, it’s just a case of brushing up on your blow-drying and combing skills.

High And Tight With High Fade

Everyone knows that many of menswear’s classic garments have their roots in the military. Hairstyles are no different. A surprising amount of classic men’s cuts started life in the forces, including the high and tight.

This traditional military hairstyle has successfully infiltrated civilian life, but unlike the crew cut or the ivy league, it still screams marine corps drill instructor. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of opinion. What isn’t up for debate is that this is a timeless classic of a haircut that looks even better with a high fade.

This is a low-maintenance style with little to no styling required, but you will need to have the fade touched up regularly to stop it from growing out.

Crew Cut With High Fade

The crew cut is about as classic as hairstyles come. Its another style whose roots are firmly planted in the military, but over the years it’s become something of a stock haircut for men. Head into any barbershop, ask for a short back and sides and you’ll probably come out with a crew cut.

It’s difficult to improve on a haircut this timeless, but a high fade can lend this traditional hairstyle a contemporary edge. It’s a great option for anyone looking for a cut that’s sensible without being stuffy.

Use a wax, clay or pomade to style, and make regular trips to the barber to keep the back and sides in check.

Textured Crop With High Fade

Tommy Shelby has a lot to answer for in our opinion. Some of the more dubious style trends of the 2010s – we’re thinking flat caps and pocket watches – belong in the early 20th century. But Peaky Blinders made them look cool, so what are you going to do? The revival of the textured crop is one thing we’re happy to let slide, though.

This short, choppy style was repopularised by Shelby in the gang in the UK series. He wore his with an undercut, but if you’re looking for something a bit more refined and modern, a high fade would be an excellent way to go.

This cut can vary so it’s best to take a photo of exactly what you want along to the barbers. This way, there’ll be no nasty surprises in the mirror at the end. Styling-wise, it’s pretty low maintenance. Simply work your preferred styling product through the hair in order to achieve a tousled look.

Afro With High Fade

The trend to proudly grow out natural hair and revive afro styles of the past shows no signs of letting up. And why should it? They can involve a lot of work to maintain but the look is full of character. It also works with a high fade, the sharply tapered sides adding clean lines and drama to the style on top.

There are endless options for finishing the look because you can keep it shaped and sculpted or let it grow out. For inspiration, check out what Marcus Rashford, the Weeknd, Khalid or Odell Beckham Jr have done with the style.

Buzz Cut With High Fade

Once upon a time, when a barber took the clippers to your head, they would give you the same grade all over. The fade has changed that. But old and new combine in in this style, sharpening up the classic buzz cut with some contrast between the top and sides.

For best results, go slightly longer on top. If you have afro hair, consider a wave to make the style even more distinctive.

Dreads/Twists/Braids With High Fade

Dreads, braids and twists are among the most individual hairstyles you can get. Add a high fade and you’ll bring out the personality even more as the sharply contoured sides dramatically set off the style on top.

Again, the options are broad and you can style the same cut in a number of ways. Stack or tie the hair on top, braid it, or let it all hang over an undercut a la A$AP Rocky.

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.