Barbering has come on leaps and bounds over the past few decades. As modern men have grown more interested in grooming, new cutting techniques, hair styling tricks and general tonsorial wizardry have become commonplace in the modern barbershop. It’s a shift that has yielded sharper styles, cleaner lines and, most importantly, a way to seamlessly blend long hair into short hair without looking like you went to your mum for a bowl cut. Say hello to the taper fade.

This handy technique enables something as dramatic as a skin fade on the back and sides to be subtly worked into a much longer style – like a pompadour or Ivy League crop – up top. It’s a way of graduating through drastically different lengths of hair while ensuring the overall look remains balanced and smooth.

Because of this, it’s immensely versatile. This is a technique that can be incorporated into a wide variety of different hairstyles, offering an easy way to put a fresh spin on classic cuts. Here we break down everything there is to know about the taper fade, including precisely what it is and why you should ask for one at your next haircut.

What Is A Taper Fade?

The clue is in the name. The taper fade is a mashup consisting of two similar barbering techniques: the taper and the fade. The best way to explain how it works is to look at each of these two elements individually.

First off, a fade is a clipper technique used by barbers to blend short hair into even shorter hair. Sometimes even into no hair at all (i.e. a “skin” fade). Meanwhile, a taper achieves a similar goal but for slightly longer hair, using both scissors and clippers to graduate from short to long.

The amalgamation of the two results in a tapered, wedge-like appearance that can be used to bring almost any mid-length haircut bang up to date.

Who Suits A Taper Fade?

Because the taper fade can be deployed for such a vast array of men’s hairstyles, whether or not it will suit you has a lot to do with what you go for on top. Lofty styles, like quiffs and pompadours, are better suited to oval, round or square faces, as they add height. This also means they’re best avoided if your face happens to be a little on the long side; the last thing you want to do is create additional length.

For the same reason, a taper fade lends itself particularly well to a rounder face. The short, closely cropped length at the sides has a slimming effect and, combined with some length through top, can drastically improve overall balance.

As for who should avoid a taper fade, it’s best given a wide berth by those with heart-shaped faces. The wedge-like outline it creates will only accentuate the forehead, making the difference in size between the top and bottom portions of the face even more pronounced.

The Best Taper Fade Hairstyles For Men

Taper Fade Pompadour

The pompadour has been around for hundreds of years, but only in its shorter, more wearable form since around the 1950s. In recent years the pomp has been given another timely update via the taper fade, bringing a contemporary feel to a timeless look.

Your barber will no doubt be familiar with the style, but you can still offer some guidance as to how drastic the fade should be. If in doubt, a photo always serves as a handy point of reference.

In order to keep things looking sharp, regular trips back to the barbershop are necessary. This has less to do with the length on top and is more about keeping the fade from growing out and looking unkempt.

When it comes to styling, you’ll need a vented brush, hair dryer and either a pomade (slick finish) or textured paste/clay (matte finish). Blow-dry the hair while using the vented brush to style it up and back, then simply work your choice of styling product through the hair from root to tip, using the brush to whip it into shape.

Taper Fade Slick Back

A tonsorial cornerstone of hipsters, mid-length, slicked-back locks, worn with an undercut, have long been a common sight in the coffee shops, pubs and record stores of east London. Don’t be put off, though. Adding a taper fade into the mix is enough to soften this aggressive-looking trim’s edges, without taking away any of its trademark attitude.

Ask your barber for a slick back with a taper fade at the back and sides. It’s really up to you how long or short to keep the hair on top, but it needs to be long enough (and have enough weight) to lie down when combed back into place.

In terms of styling, a good blow dryer is a must, along with a comb and a wet-look product like a wax or pomade. Simply tame the hair back using the dryer and the comb, then run your product of choice through from root to tip. Finish with a strong-hold hairspray if you find that it becomes unruly throughout the day.

Taper Fade Afro

A full afro can look great, but it’s not for everyone. If the look appeals but the thought of the maintenance leaves you in doubt, a taper-faded, neatened-up version could be the perfect alternative.

First things first: you need to find a barber who is experienced in dealing with afro hair. There are plenty out there, but even non-specialist barbershops will often have a resident scissorsmith who understands its specific needs. Once you’ve found one, explain that you’d like a short, neat ‘fro that incorporates a taper fade on the back and sides.

If cut well, the hair will keep its shape naturally, but it doesn’t hurt to have an afro pick on hand throughout the day to ensure it looks its best. Afro hair is also naturally prone to drying, so ensure you use a moisturising shampoo and conditioner regularly, as well as applying a moisturising oil to give it a healthy shine. If you really want to embrace your natural hair texture, consider adding a curl enhancer to damp hair.

Taper Fade Textured Crop

It’s difficult to think of a more popular haircut over the last decade than the textured crop. This throwback cut rose to prominence thanks to the popularity of Peaky Blinders and it’s protagonist Tommy Shelby (played by Cillian Murphy), but unlike the flat caps and waistcoats that accompanied it, the textured crop is much more versatile and timeless.

Tommy Shelby’s trim is worn with an undercut, something that was commonplace before barbers developed the ability to effectively blend different lengths of hair. Today, however, you can ask your hairstylist to incorporate a taper fade to achieve a more polished look.

To style, simply spritz some salt spray into damp hair, leave to air dry and then rub a small amount of matte clay or paste through the hair, using your fingers to create separation and texture while pushing it forward slightly.