The military has long been one of menswear’s biggest influences. From bomber jackets and pea coats to cargo pants and desert boots, the list of garments inspired by or borrowed directly from the armed forces is long and quite often surprising. And it’s not just clothing and footwear either – a lot of popular haircuts have military roots, including the smart and fuss-free high and tight.
The high and tight has long been one of the go-to trims for U.S military personnel and law enforcement. It’s an extreme version of a classic crew cut, usually buzzed as opposed to being cut with scissors.
Since the 1980s, the style has been making its way off the battlefield and into civilian lives. Popularised through hip-hop culture in the States, young black men put their own spin on the high and tight, adding sharp edges, skin fades and volume.
Today, the high and tight is still very much alive and makes a great option for anyone looking for a stylish, low-maintenance cut. Here’s everything you need to know about this military mainstay, including what exactly it is and the key variations to consider.
What Is A High & Tight Haircut?
The high and tight is a short hairstyle that’s cut using clippers. The back and sides are buzzed, often right down to the skin, and there’s a patch of slightly longer hair left on the very top of the head.
A fade is often incorporated to smooth the transition between the two lengths but the style can also be worn ‘disconnected’, whereby it goes from one length directly into another.
During the 80s, variations like the high-top fade gave the high and tight a loftier appearance and made the style popular in hip-hop and B-boy culture.
Who Suits A High & Tight Haircut?
When determining if a high and tight is the right style for you, the most important factor to consider is face shape.
The shape of your face affects how different styles will look. The goal is to balance out the proportions of the head, and the first thing you’ll need to do is find out which category your face falls into.
Face shape can be classed as round, oval, square, rectangular or heart. To determine which yours is, stand in front of a mirror and pay attention to the outline of your face and the shape it follows.
The great thing about the high and tight is that it works across pretty much the full spectrum. The only thing to be wary of is adding additional height to the top of the head for those with long, rectangular faces. Outside of that, the close-cropped nature of the trim means it’s a good option across the board.
Another thing to consider is your lifestyle. The high and tight is a good option for those with limited time on their hands as it generally requires very little styling, and maintenance is limited to a trip to the barber every few weeks for a touch up.
The Best High & Tight Haircuts
Buzzed High & Tight
This is the high and tight in its purest, simplest form. It’s buzzed down to the skin on the back and sides of the head and left very slightly longer on top. This variation is so short that it requires little to no styling and makes an excellent option for anyone who likes the low maintenance of a buzz cut but wants some degree of variation in length.
Any barber worth their clippers will know what you want if you walk in and ask for a classic buzzed high and tight, but you can always take a photo along with you to make sure. In fact, if you hone your own clipper skills, there’s no reason this cut can’t be performed at home.
Short-Length High & Tight
This slightly longer variation stays true to the high and tight’s trademark shortness while adding a touch more length on top. The sides are still buzzed close but with enough hair on top of the head to enable a small degree of styling.
This added length is still short, but sufficient in order to be styled into a small quiff, combed to the side or tousled and styled forwards into a short crop. A fade can also be incorporated to smooth the transition between the two lengths.
The key to keeping this style looking sharp is to visit the barber regularly to keep the back and sides neat and freshly trimmed.
Mid-Length High & Tight
Adding yet more length to a high and tight increases the cut’s versatility. With more hair on top, styling options increase significantly, opening up the possibility of elements like pompadours, longer quiffs and even slick-backs if the length is sufficient. This is where the line between the high and tight and the crew cut becomes blurred – the general distinction being that the transition in length occurs further up the head in a high and tight.
Mid-length high and tight styles vary a lot, so the most effective way to get the look you want is to find a picture you like and show it to the barber. This ensures you’re both on the same page before you even sit down in the chair.
High & Tight With Shape-Up
The term ‘shape-up’ refers to the practise of precision trimming around the natural hairline, straightening it up. It’s a simple way to give a high and tight an even sharper appearance and works particularly well for thicker or afro-textured hair.
In terms of styling, again, this cut is extremely low maintenance, but the addition of the shape-up means regular visits to the barber will be necessary to keep those edges sharp.
Afro High & Tight
A high and tight is a great option for those with afro hair who want to show off their hair’s natural texture while keeping it short and controlled. It can be buzzed or worn with additional length on top to create volume and aid styling. For those opting for more length on top, a fade can be incorporated for a clean transition between the two lengths.
Again, the best way to get what you want is to find a picture and take it along to the barber with you. In terms of styling, aside from the usual afro advice (moisture, moisture, moisture), there’s nothing to worry about other than making sure it’s kept sharp with regular touch ups every few weeks.