The Complete Guide to Getting a Haircut
Everyone loves a great haircut, right? The feeling you have when your barber hands you the mirror and you think to yourself, “yes, this is it”. For some, a really great haircut can seem hard to come by, and when a trip to the barbershop goes bad, many think the experience was not in their control.
The aim of this article is to put you in control of getting that great haircut, so you can stop leaving it up to chance. At least 50% of a great haircut relates to communication, and the other 50% is on the barber and their skill set. That means that all 100% is in your control! You're communicating, and you’re choosing the barber.
The following is a step-by-step, fool-proof plan for how to get a great haircut every time. We’ll break it into two sections, 1. how to communicate with your barber, and, 2. how to choose the right barber for you.
Section 1: How to Communicate with your Barber
At Church Barber, our crew of world-class barbers know that the first step of any haircut is a very thorough consultation with the customer. We always speak in layman's terms, and get clear confirmation of what you're looking for, before we start the haircut.
That said, it helps when communicating with your barber, to know the language. There are many terms that fly around in the barbershop, like “taper”, “shadow fade”, or “weight”, for example. These are the basics you need to know.
Clipper Guard Numbers
Generally speaking, when discussing clippers, you’ll hear your barber talk about guard numbers #1 - #3. For anything longer than a #3, most barbers prefer to use scissors, or a technique called “clipper over comb” (using the comb as an ever-adjustable clipper guard). Often we hear customers say things like, “let me have a #1 on the sides, with a fade, and a #3 on top.” But when we clarify and confirm, explaining that a #1 will show skin, the customer might say, “I dont want to go that short - no skin”.
So remember, #1 will show skin, #2 - #3 will not show skin. And scissors or the clipper over comb technique are for anything longer, which is better explained by talking in terms of inches, rather than clipper guard numbers.
Barbers and hair stylists who use scissors often talk in terms of weight, technique, and texture, for example, “taking weight out of the top”, “point cutting”, or “texturizing”. While most technique talk, like “point cutting”, is probably not necessary for you to understand, the following is a general overview:
Weight - hair density at the top of your head can make your hair fall flat. To create a more voluminous look, your barber or stylist can “take weight out” of the hair at the top, allowing the hair to fall more naturally. This is usually achieved by “point cutting” or using thinning shears (scissors which cut some hair while leaving the rest in place), or a feather razor.
Texture - if a haircut is too perfect, meaning all of the hair is cut perfectly even, it can actually look a bit boring. Many people prefer a more natural look, and one way to achieve that is to get a textured haircut. To “texturize” is to intentionally cut just a bit unevenly, to accentuate the hair and add character. Feather razors are also commonly used by barbers and stylists, when texturizing the hair.
Different Types of Fades
A common miscommunication that leads to a poor haircut experience, happens when you and your barber haven’t properly gotten on the same page about the type of fade you want. Do you want a high fade, a low fade, mid-fade, or something else? Understanding the many types of fades is key. These are the most common types of fade lengths and fade types.
Bald fade - also called a skin fade, this means your barber will literally “bald” your head down to the skin, at the bottom of the fade, using an electric razor. Bald fades are a very popular request because they last a long time… when you go down to the bald skin, your hair takes a while to grow back. It also goes through the fade stages as it grows (another benefit).
Shadow Fade - if you’re not going with a skin fade, the next step up is a ½” or 1” clipper guard, assuming you want to show skin. If you don’t want to show skin, it’s not so much a fade you’re getting, but a gradient cut.
High Fade, Low Fade, or Mid Fade - where do you want the fade to begin? At the top of your ear (low), middle of your head (mid), or way up top (high). Most people prefer a low to mid fade.
Burst Fade - a burst fade creates a semi-circle, or sunburst shape around the ears. The middle of the neckline remains.
Drop Fade - a drop fade is contoured to the shape of your head, rather than continuing straight across in a line.
Taper Fade - a taper fade is a fade that is only at the sideburns and at the neckline. The middle of the head remains longer. This is a great finish for a scissor cut, or for anyone who prefers a longer, more grown-in look.
Temple Fade - also called a “temp fade”, a temple fade is higher than a taper fade, reaching up to the temple. When you ask for a “temp fade" or a “taper fade” you're specifying that you want the fade to stay around the ears, and not to the sides and back of your head.
Your barber will usually ask if you want your neckline “tapered, rounded, or squared”, and if you want to “keep the side burns” or not.
Taper - like a mini fade, it’s a way to give a gradient finish to the back of your neck, rather than a hard line. It’s a very natural look and because the hair has no clear edge, it grows-in naturally as well.
Rounded, or Squared - if not a taper, than you need to decide if you want rounded edges on the back of your neck, or square lines. Again, a taper avoids these decisions entirely.
Side burns - these are hairs that grow in front of your ears. Unless connecting to a beard, we would always suggest keeping the side burns very short. Again, opting for a taper finish at the side burn is a nice touch.
More Tips from the Church Barber team
Bring a picture
"If you’re going to bring a picture - which is a great idea”, says barber Brandon Faulk, “be realistic, and make sure the person in the picture has your same hair texture”.
Barber Cameron Wickliffe adds, “my best tip for getting a good haircut is to come in with 3 reference pictures of haircuts you like. Maybe you like the sides in one photo, and the top in the other photo. This can help guide us to a style that will suit your hair and meet your end goal”.
Know when you got your last haircut
Our barber Jasmine Diederichs says, “when I have consultations with clients, I assess their hair and I usually ask ‘how much are we taking off today?’. I want to know how much hair we’re taking off— if it’s a maintenance cut, or a whole new hairstyle.”
Embrace your hair type
Olivia Gomez, 20 year veteran barber, says, “if you have a cowlick (for example), you should let it grow in versus trying to chop it off. The goal is for it to lay."
Parker Catalano, barber and son of a stylist / salon owner, says, “I want to know what you don’t like about your hair, that way I can solve for that. I also want to know your capacity - are you high or low maintenance? And I like to look at your style - are you clean cut, slick, or natural?” Thinking about the answer to these questions in advance can help you settle on a style that suits you best."
Meelo Cervantes, barber of 8 years, adds, “Knowing if you want a longer haircut with scissors that will provide flow and works well with pomade, or if you want a shorter haircut with clippers that will be a little less maintenance is a good starting point”.
Section 2: How to Find a Barber
Now that you know how to communicate with your barber, it’s time to find your barber! The following tips will help you find the right barber for you.
Make an Appointment
If you want a really good haircut, find a barber who takes appointments. First of all, if your barber is available right this second, there’s a good chance he or she is not in-demand. Second, if you’re going to a walk-in only place, there’s a high likelihood that your haircut will be rushed, which means your barber likely won’t have time for a thorough consultation. There’s also a chance that the barber you’re hoping for will not be available once it’s finally your turn.
Start by Googling “best barber near me”. Look at Yelp and Google reviews, city guides, and lists. Once you find a promising shop or two, check out their websites and see if you can view the barbers, and the services they provide online. Often barbers will have a portfolio of their haircuts online, or link to an Instagram profile with haircut images there. Try to find a barber who's portfolio fits the hairstyle you're looking for. For example, if you want a scissor cut, look for someone with a lot of images of scissor cuts.
Cheat Code: Take a look at Church California partner shops first - we only sell our products at the very best shops. If you see a shop near you, you’re in luck!
Have a friend with hair like yours, and a hairstyle you like? Ask them who cuts their hair. Remember though, it could be that your friend just wears their hair in a way that really suits them. This style may not suit you. Also, even if they rave about their barber or stylist, you should do your own research too.
The keys to getting a good haircut are, 1. clear communication, and 2. finding the right barber for you and your hair type.