Short back and sides, please. It’s been the default setting for men’s hair since, well, the beginning of time presumably. Sure, there’s been the odd exception – Jesus, Jason Momoa, basically anyone from the 1970s – but on the whole, if you’re male, you’re probably rocking a cropped cut.
It sounds simple enough, but the word ‘short’ is actually an umbrella term for myriad different styles, each with its own set of rules. Picking one out isn’t always easy. There are more considerations – regarding face shape, styling and all the rest of it – than most expect. Which is why we’ve put all the information and visual inspiration you need in one convenient place.
Whether you’re wondering what hair trends to jump on this year, or just need some visual cues to nudge your barber in the right direction, you’ll find everything in Ape’s ultimate short haircut guide.
Key Short Haircut Terms
Before we go any further, it’s worth being clued up on the short-hair lingo. It’ll help you decide what you want and help your barber give it to you. Here are the terms you need to know when it comes to getting the chop.
A barbering technique using clippers whereby hair is graduated from very short – sometimes to the skin, known as a ‘skin fade’ – to something slightly longer. This usually occurs on the back and sides of the head and is used as a way to blend different lengths smoothly.
Similar to a fade but working with longer lengths. A taper typically requires a combination of clippers and scissors to blend the back and sides into longer hair on the top of the head.
The clue’s in the name. A taper fade is a combination of the above techniques allowing hair to be graduated from very short to a significant length on the top of the head. It’s often paired with short hairstyles that lean towards the longer end of the spectrum, such as a pompadour or an Ivy League.
Have you ever noticed how Drake’s hair is weirdly straight and perfectly precise around the hairline? That’s called a shape up and it involves cutting along the natural hairline removing stray hairs to create a straight line.
As the name suggests, an undercut is traditionally where the back and sides of the hair are cut short, often buzzed, underneath longer hair coming from the top of the head. Today, however, the term is commonly used to refer to any style where the back and sides have been cut much shorter than the top.
This refers to having two different lengths of hair that haven’t been blended or graduated in any way. For example, you might hear someone talking about a ‘disconnected undercut’. That’s a style with very short back and sides and longer hair on top, but without the use of a taper or a fade to connect the two.
Picking A Short Haircut For Your Face Shape
Naturally, the first thing to consider with a new short haircut is whether or not you like the style. The second is whether or not it’s going to complement your face shape.
The good news is, short haircuts are pretty versatile. They’re close to the head and don’t add much height, which is good if you have a long face. That said, anything involving a quiff or a pompadour is best avoided for those with rectangular faces as that extra bit on top can make the face appear even longer.
Conversely, if you have a very round head, short styles with a little height on top can balance out proportions. Try a pompadour with the sides kept short and close to the head. Avoid a buzz cut unless you want to look like a golf ball.
If you’re lucky enough to be blessed with an oval-shaped face, there’s not really anything that’s off limits. Go wild.
Key Short Hair Trends For Men
Take It All Off
Good news for anyone who enjoys an extra 10 minutes in bed in the morning. The most low-maintenance of trims is trending hard and has been for a good few years. From Becks’ high and tight to Zayn Malik’s all-out, grade-two buzz; down-to-the-bone trims are all the rage. To be honest, they can’t really go out of style.
This trend is perfect for those who find themselves thinning on top. Taking the hair short makes it appear thicker, and a close shave will always trump a wispy combover.
Texture Is Everything
When it comes to hair, texture is just as important as style, particularly when dealing with shorter trims. The less length there is to play with, the more of a difference choppy scissor work and well-placed product will make.
Highly textured styles have been doing the rounds for some time, both on the red carpet and the high street. Aside from getting a good haircut in the first place, two of the best tools to help you achieve the look are a matte clay and a sea salt spray. Use the latter while blow-drying and the former to style.
Peaky Blinders has got a lot to answer for when it comes to mainstream menswear in the 2010s. However, while we’ll gladly sidestep the unironic flat caps and unfortunate return of braces, one thing we can get on board with is the hair.
The French crop and disconnected undercut combo will go down as the chop that defined the decade. As a result of its popularity, undercuts have become some of the most Googled hairstyles, as well as one of the most frequently requested at the barbershop.
Keep It Neat
Crew cuts, Ivy Leagues and high and tights – the sort of haircuts your mum would approve of are also the coolest trims in town. Gyllenhaal, Gosling, Reynolds… some of Hollywood’s most stylish men have been claiming this look as their own, and cementing its place as a tonsorial phenomenon.
For those of us who can’t rock up to the office sporting a disconnected undercut or a bleach-blonde buzz cut, opting for a neat, classic hairstyle is a good way to stay in your boss’ good books without sacrificing your style credentials.
Maintenance & Styling
Compared to their lengthier, loftier counterparts, short hairstyles are relatively fuss-free when it comes to maintenance. However, there are a few tricks and tools you’ll need to have up your sleeve.
Styling products like paste, pomade, wax and clay are essential and should be selected based on the look you wish to achieve. Pomades and gels tend to give a wet, glossy finish, while clays, pastes and waxes are better for texture. Think pomade or gel for pompadours, slick backs and quiffs, and wax or clay for a textured matte finish.
It’s also well worth investing in a set of hair clippers. Obviously, we’re not suggesting that you should just go to town on your own hair. Still, having a set on hand makes it easy to do quick touch-ups to edging. Plus, if you’re going down the buzz cut route, there’s no reason you can’t learn to cut it yourself.
The Best Short Haircuts For Men
If you’ve ever asked your barber for a “short back and sides”, this is most likely the cut they delivered. The crew cut is about as classic and timeless as a trim can be. It features (you guessed it) a close, tapered cut at the back and sides of the head with slightly longer hair on top which is often styled forward into a small quiff at the front.
Keep your outrageously oversized pompadours and rockabilly sideburns. For us, the hairstyle that truly encapsulates the essence of the 1950s is the Ivy League. Also known as a Harvard clip, or Princeton, this classic preppy style is essentially just a grown-out crew cut with a neat side-parting. It’s the haircut Ryan Gosling has had for a decade – timeless and steeped in American heritage.
Haircuts don’t come much simpler and easier to maintain than the buzz cut. Named for the no-going-back noise of the clippers, this fuss-free style can be anywhere between a grade one and a grade six. Keep a uniform length all over or sharpen it up with a fade on the back and sides.
High & Tight
Many of the best short hairstyles have their roots in the military, and the high and tight is no exception. With close-cropped back and sides and a slightly longer patch on top, the style is timeless and masculine. Channing Tatum, Denzel Washington and Matt Damon all do it well.
One of the most popular haircuts of the last decade, the textured crop is a tousled style that’s playful up top while keeping things crisp at the back and sides. Styled with a textured wax or clay, the style is usually pushed forwards with a short fringe at the front.
At the longer end of the short-hair spectrum, we have the pompadour. In contrast to the other styles listed, this 1950s favourite does actually require some decent length on top. The longer hair is brushed up and back and combed into place with pomade to create height and shine. It can be paired with a taper or fade at the back and sides, or if the hair is kept longer, it can be slicked back behind the ears to a point at the back of the head.
A little brother to the pompadour, the quiff follows the same principle of creating height at the front but in a less dramatic fashion. Worn short at the back and sides, longer hair on top is worn forwards and styled up and to the side using some product and a comb to guide it into place.
This style does exactly what it says on the tin. Hair is grown out and then combed back and styled into place with some pomade or gel. Think of it as a pompadour but without the loft, making it a lot more low maintenance. Keep the sides long and slicked back or worn with an undercut for a modern touch. Depending on how you style it, it can either be the definition of establishment (think Michael Douglas in Wall Street) or a sign of something tougher and more rebellious (see Brad Pitt in Fury).