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Fade Vs Taper: The 4 Main Differences

photo of man at barber shop with long fade haircut

There’s a lot expected of you when it comes to hair. Aside from actually going through the motions of shampooing, conditioning, applying product, and styling your hair every morning, you’re also expected to look into your barber’s face and perfectly describe the haircut you’d like to have on your head. It’s not enough to just rattle off the names of celebrities who also have the cut—no, you also have to know the name and the technique.

That’s where we come in. In the wide world of men’s haircuts, there are two terms that get tossed around an awful lot: the taper and the fade. Both are techniques used to create flattering cuts for men, but which one should you ask for? In the battle of fade vs. taper, let us do the deciding for you.

Read on to discover everything you need to know about the differences that set these buzzy cuts apart.


Fades and tapers may look identical to the untrained eye, but that’s not the case. Though both styles feature graduated length and are often treated as interchangeable buzzwords, a fade is actually a kind of taper. Tapers are generally left longer, with the lengthiest strands on top of the head. They’ll get a bit short by the time your barber has reached your neck.

Unlike the taper, the fade is usually done in much shorter lengths. You’ll see low fades as well as bald or skin fades (these actually involve cutting the hair all the way down to the scalp). They’re designed to create a beautiful transition from the long hair at the top of the head to the bare neck.


It’s not just the length that separates the fade from the taper. Barbers can also choose to create each of the two styles with distinctly different tools. Because tapers often require more length, your local barber will probably use shears (think fancy scissors for much of the cut).

By contrast, most low fades require your barber to make use of clippers to achieve the very short lengths he or she is aiming for. For cuts that incorporate totally shaved areas, don’t be surprised to see a straight razor.


Although they have a similar look, taper cuts and fades require very different techniques. Working with a different tool for each style, your barber will attempt to build graduated length. If you’re bold or interested in the latest styles, that may even mean a taper that leads into a braid or bun. Fades, on the other hand, require much more precision because your trusted pro must work next to your scalp.


When it comes to men’s cuts, we generally say that more customization means a better (and longer-lasting) style. While women have to option to throw their hair in a ponytail, all most men can do with their short hair is apply a little product and hope for the best. If you tend to like a more traditional length (about 1-2 inches of hair), a refined taper is probably the right pick for you. To highlight a defined jawline, cheekbones that can cut glass, or any other facial features, an edgy fade may be the best choice.

Not sure which style is best for your face and lifestyle? Schedule a consultation with your barber. He or she is the ultimate authority on a personalized cut for you.

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