What Does 'Fade' Mean in Men's Hairstyles?

VIEW LARGER PHOTO Photo © Dave Alexander. Hair by Dave Alexander.

Your barber may talk about giving you a 'fade' cut when you go in for a trim. What does he mean and how will your hair look? 

The 'fade' hairstyle is a popular short cut for men and it's sometimes also called 'military reg.' It simply means that your hair tapers from the bottom to the top and it can be as close to the skin as you like.

What is a 'Fade' Hairstyle?

The term 'fade' originated in ethnic barber shops and has become the popular term for an aggressively tight taper in men's hair.

Hair at the sides and back is cut as close as possible with clippers and "fades," or tapers, up into almost any length on top.

The hair on top can be styled neatly or given a messy texture with gel, paste, or pomade.

In some cases, this haircut is mistakenly called a "military reg." This is misleading because each branch of the service has different regulations regarding hair length. 

Types of Fade Cuts for Men

Admittedly, some barbers and stylists are better at the fade than others. It can be tricky and the key is to get a nice, even taper all the way up the head. Quite often, it takes a combination of trimmer and blade sizes to achieve a great fade, so it requires patience from both you and the barber.

'Skin fades' are the cuts that begin almost right down to the skin at the back of the neck and slowly (or quickly) taper to longer hair as it works up your head.

  • A 'high skin fade' may almost reach the crown of your head before it gets longer, which leaves a lot of exposed skin.
  • A 'medium skin fade' will begin to get longer right around the middle of your head.
  • A 'low skin fade' reveals very little skin -- just a little on the upper neck -- and leaves short hairs that get longer as it runs up to the crown of your head.

If you have blemishes or anything else you want to hide on your scalp, opt for the lower fades.

This leaves just enough hair to cover things up while maintaining a close crop.

Fades Don't Have to Be Skin-Tight

Though it is standard to get a fade as close to the skin as possible, it doesn't have to be so dramatic. Some fade haircuts have a very shallow skin-tight area that may last for only an inch at the back of the neck. This does require quite a bit of skill from the barber because you need to get a great, smooth taper in a shorter space, but it's a great look for many men.

For instance, the classic 'caesar cut' is a close crop that we typically associate with movies about the Ancient Greeks. It's a stylish cut that can reveal as much skin as you like. Some men choose to run the taper down the neck while others bring the skin up to the crown. It also looks great with either short or medium length hair on top, which can be slick and styled or messy chic.

The 'blowout' is another fun style, especially for young guys. It has that sort of choppy, spiked look and it's often best with a low skin fade, leaving lots of room for a growing mop of spikes. Be prepared to use styling products with this cut.