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Men’s Hairstyles: What’s the Difference Between a Taper and a Fade?

With our archives now 3,500+ articles deep, we’ve decided to republish a classic piece each Sunday to help our newer readers discover some of the best, evergreen gems from the past. This article was originally published in October 2020.

When communicating with your barber on what kind of haircut you’d like, it’s important to know the meaning of the terms that can be part of that conversation.

Two common barbering terms that often get confused by the layman are “taper” and “fade.”

It’s easy to confuse these hairstyle descriptors because, as we’ll soon explain, all fades are tapers, but not all tapers are fades.

To ensure you never ask for a fade, when you meant a taper, read on.

What Is a Taper Haircut?

A taper haircut gradually changes your hair length, typically starting out longer at the top of the head and getting shorter as you go down to the natural hairline on the nape of the neck and sides of the head. The length of a taper can vary. You can have a really long taper (hair is longer) or a short taper (hair comes down closer to the skin).

Unless you’re growing your flow out or you got a buzz cut, most haircuts for dudes will involve some sort of taper.

What Is a Fade Haircut?

A fade is a taper that gradually takes the hair down to the skin, so that it looks like the hairline on the sides and back of your head “fades” away before it reaches the natural hairline.

Basically, a fade is a really short taper. Hence, all fades are tapers, but not all tapers are fades.

Fades are a bit trendier and give your face and head a bit of an “edge” — both in terms of its literal lines as well as in the overall impression or vibe the hairstyle gives off.

Fades can start low, mid, or high. Low fades start fading closer to the ear, mid fades start fading just above the ear, and high fades can start fading way up high on the head. Which fade you choose will come down to personal preference and the look you’re going for.

The one downside with fades is that they do require regular maintenance to keep that faded-to-skin look fresh and sharp.

There Is No Such Thing as a “Taper Fade” So Quit Saying It

A lot of people ask their barber for a “taper fade.” When you tell your barber that, he’s probably going to ask you (if he’s a good barber), “So do you want a taper or do you want to fade down to skin?” Remember, a taper is longer; a fade fades to skin.

Now that you know the distinction between a fade and taper, rather than confusedly putting the terms together, you can use them to convey your desires to your barber more clearly.

So which one do you want to try? taper hair cut or fade?

Let's book your session with Bali Barber:

article written by Brett & Kate McKay for artofmanliness


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