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How to talk to your barber

How to Talk to Your Barber

A great barbershop is to men what a nail salon is to women. It’s our special place – free from distraction, judgment, and criticism. The barber is the new psychologist – scrap that – barbers have been around for longer, and they’re much better listeners. A trip to the barber can turn a bad day into the best time, a frown into a wide grin, and a dorky mop into a tight fade that’d make Conor McGregor envious.

There comes a time when we all have to grow up and make the trip to a proper barbershop. Forking out the extra dosh on a quality cut goes a long way. For one, a place-you-go-to-get-your-hair-cut is exactly just that. Plain, uninspiring. The hairdressing equivalent of Lowes. A barber is like a tailor. They find your needs and deliver them every time. And like how a tailor over time becomes your tailor, a barber soon becomes your barber. He’s your guy in the ring, he’s on your team, and he’s got your back.

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If you’ve ever found the idea of chatting shop with a pro, here’s our handy glossary of barbershop lingo to get you on your way to a fly do. Oh and always remember to tip your barber! Here’s the barber terminology that will make your next experience even better.


When you first visit a new barber, they’ll most likely give your head a good once-over before getting the clippers out. This is to check the ‘angles’ of your head, don’t be too freaked out. Not every cut or style works for every head shape, so if they tell you that the cut you’ve asked for won’t turn out like the photo of Brad Pitt you’ve handed them, listen.

Beard Oil

Hair needs nourishment. The stuff on your head generally gets plenty from your scalp, and the conditioner you so diligently use (you do condition, right?). Face hair, however, doesn’t get quite the same love, and the thicker, more wiry beard hairs easily become brittle and dull. A few drops of beard oil will give you softer, shinier facial hair and help you to maintain your mane.


The easiest of the lot – if you’ve got the head for it you can do this one on your own with a decent set of clippers, but for best results it’s still a good idea to visit a pro. The short of it (heh)? Get rid of all hair at an even level, below a number 2. Don’t go completely to the scalp unless you can grow some sweet designer stubble to counter-balance the bald.

Crew Cut

Like a buzzcut but with a li’l left on the top, this is your typical military cut. Can be pulled off at varying lengths, but super short sides are key to this regimented style. If you like to mess up the top and give it a little more steeze then opt for something a little longer like a crop (read on, sailor).


A bit like a crew cut after it hasn’t been trimmed for a while. Short at the sides and a bit longer on top, this is a much easier cut to style. Adding a matte product and pushing it forward to create a voluminous, textured look is an easy way to keep your look fresh, talk to you barber about the best product to use if he offers a crop.


A fade or ‘grading’ refers to the blending of different lengths at the back and sides, giving an even gradient between the short (or razored flat) hairs at your neckline and the longer locks left on top for styling. The best look if you’ve got a real job and want something that can be mussed on weekends but needs to make you look like an adult Monday to Friday. A great barber will pull this off with aplomb, but it’s probably the easiest thing on this list to f*ck up, so maybe don’t ask for one at your local Supercuts.


Look, we included it here because it’s technically a thing, but it’s almost impossible to pull off without looking like Justin Bieber c. 2011, so be wary if it gets mentioned. Also known as bangs, your fringe sits over the forehead and frames your mug, but isn’t a common look for us blokes.


Ever heard someone ask for a number 2? that’s called the grade. ‘Grade’ is the number given to the clipper attachment which controls the distance between the blade and the scalp – the lower the number, the shorter the chop. Different grades will be used to give a fade effect, if you’re unsure and don’t want to goo too short too soon, ask for a fade down to a number 2 to begin with – you can always take more off. If you can talk to your barber correctly you will get exactly the look you want.

Hot Towel Shave

Basically the man-version of a mani-pedi, do it at least once a year – even if you can’t grow a proper beard. The hot towel is like a cuddle for your face and it’s by far the closest shave you’ll ever have. Barbers use disposable razors nowadays which are super-sharp, so it’s a safe affair – just stay still!

Man Bun

If your barber suggests this, walk out.


This is generally up to the barber, but how you’d like your hair to end and neck to start is an important factor to consider. If you’re going for a fade then your natural hairline will do the hard work for you, but you’re likely to get asked about it while you’re in the chair, so know the difference between square, rounded and tapered (all pretty self-explanatory, right?). These hair cutting terms can make all the difference in your ultimate cut.


This is where the barber will use the point of the scissors at an angle to snip away hairs at varying lengths, creating a more textured look to the cut, and also thinning out your mop in the process. A much cleaner look than using thinning scissors, though a skill not all barbers will have mastered.


Big and boofy, a classic pomp is loosely swept up and back, high above the forehead to create a style full of volume and flair. If you’re going to opt for this, talk to your barber about how long you’ll be able to manage, and what product is going to work best to enhance the look.


The stuff you put in your hair. The different options are many and varied, from powders that boost volume and offer a loose hold to waxes, greases, water based pomades, clays and hairsprays. Different products are essential for different styles, so it’s important to get this right – your barber will be able to hold your hand and lead you the right way, so don’t be afraid to try something new.

Pyrithione Zinc

The active ingredient in anti-dandruff shampoo. While dandruff can be an embarrassing topic to broach, if your barber gently informs you you’ve got some, acting on it properly will clean it right up. Dandruff is a bacterial yeast infection of the scalp which affects production of the natural oils your roots need to flourish, resulting in unsightly white flakes and, in extreme cases, an itchy rash. A shampoo with pyrithione zinc, like Head & Shoulders, will stop the infection and clear up the scalp in just a few easy washes.


The tighter, slightly cleaner younger brother of the Pompadour, this look requires some blow-drying, comb skills and a quality pomade to nail, but is well worth the effort. Some hair types are easier to style than others – if you’ve got thin, light hair it will be easier to get height with less product. Thick hair is harder to get styled, but will achieve a fuller look once mastered.


Seriously? Super f*cking sharp surgical steel that makes the difference between a good haircut and a great one.


A style of cutting where the barber will use a comb to set the desired length between their fingers and then chop with scissors. Generally how they’ll achieve an excellent crop.


Similar to a fade, but without going as close to the skin at the neckline, a taper can be done with clippers set at varying grades, or entirely with scissors, depending on the desired result and the skill of the barber.


In five words? Michael Pitt on Boardwalk Empire. The hair on top is kept relatively long and slicked back while the back and sides are cut right down to barely anything left. Despite its popularity waning after WWII, it’s made a resurgence of late and looks great (on the right head that is).

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