How to Communicate With Your Barber

Last Updated: Mar 14, 2021

So you’ve finally decided on the cut you want. You walk into the barbershop or a hair salon with an idea of a hairstyle but you have no way of verbalizing it to the other person in a way that’ll get them to understand exactly what you want. You end up using vague terms, the person cutting your hair tries to make the most of your description, and then you end up with something far removed from the image you had in your head.

You might be confused about how to properly communicate the type of haircut you want especially if you:

  1. Don’t get your hair cut too often.
  2. Don’t understand barbershop lingo
  3. Are too afraid to correct the person once they start cutting.

Learning some of the more common terms outlined below will allow you to make the most of your barber’s skill. They’re definitely worth memorizing to avoid misunderstandings.

But first let’s begin by saying that the most effective way to get the message across to the other person would be to bring in a picture of your desired cut. Preferably one that shows different angles of the head. This will help the other person visualize what look you’re going for and how it’ll look on your head. You can also bring pics of styles that are similar but that you definitely don’t want so you eliminate more guesswork.

And for those of you who are wondering whether something like this is awkward… it’s certainly not. Walk into a SuperCuts or any chain hair salon and you’ll find lookbooks with the latest styles trending in the waiting area. They use these to help people decide on a cut so if you bring your own picture it’s really not that big of a deal.

Anyways let’s begin.

Barbershop Lingo You Should Know

Clipper Guard Numbers

If you ever hear someone say something along the lines of “I just got a number 2 haircut”, they’re referring to the clipper guard used on their hair.

Hair clippers are great for cutting hair a uniform size. The measurements are pretty standard so no matter which barbershop you visit you’ll get your haircut to a similar length.

Outlined below are the basic measurements. The lower the number, the shorter your hair will be cut.

  • 0- Fully shaven
  • 1- 1/8 of an inch
  • 2- ¼ of an inch
  • 3- 3/8 of an inch
  • 4- ½ of an inch
  • 5- 5/8 of an inch
  • 6-  ¾ of an inch

…and so on.

It should be noted that each company will produce plastic guards with slightly different measurements. For example, a 3 using an Andis guard is 1/2 of an inch while a Wahl guard is 3/8. Just remember that the smaller the number, the shorter your hair will be. If you’re looking to get it cut an exact length it would be best to tell your barber how much hair you want left. Then they can use the appropriate guard.


Now that you know what the different clipper guard lengths are, you know that if you tell your barber/stylist “I want a 2 on the sides and back”, they’ll cut your hair a uniform length and leave ¼ of an inch behind on your head.

But what if you don’t want it to be the same length? You may even be asked if you want a taper. A taper is a gradual fade in length which leaves the hair near the top of your head longer and gradually becomes shorter as you go down the sides and back. Tapers are useful for a more natural “grown in” look.


The neckline isn’t an area most of us give much thought about since we can’t see it ourselves but anyone looking behind you will so you shouldn’t completely neglect it either. While it won’t make or break your hairstyle, an unkempt appearance and extra hair going down your neck to your back can make you look unkempt. Better safe than sorry.

Anyways, you will probably be asked whether you want a “square” back or a “grown-in tapered/natural” look.

These are exactly what they sound like. The squared look will form a block with a straight line going across your neckline while the tapered look will gradually increase in length as you go further up the neck.

A minor benefit with the tapered back is that as your hair grows in, it’ll look “neater” as the neckline blends in with the regrowing hair. For the most part, this area is pure preference so choose whichever you like best. The important thing is to make sure you get the extra hair going down the back and keep it tidy.


When you want to get your sideburns cut you ask “Can you bring up my sideburns?” and when they ask how much, you can either answer by pointing with your finger or in reference to your ear. If you want them brought up high, then say to the top of your ears. You can also say to the middle or bottom if you want them to go lower. In general, wider face shapes (round and square) will want their sideburns close to their head while longer face shapes (oblong and sometimes diamond) usually look better with heavier sideburns.

You can also ask to get them squared and have the person cut your sideburns in a straight line across or you can get them thinned and create some angularity pointing downwards. This area is also mostly preference and completely up to you.

Ear Arches

You can bring up the arch going around your ears up higher if your hair grows back really fast or you can opt for the natural arch. Make sure you don’t have too much hair growing over your ears (although this really depends on your hairstyle so it’s not a rule).


If you have extra thick, voluminous hair, and need it to be reduced then you’ll want to ask to get your hair “thinned”. To thin out your hair, your barber will use thinning scissors which are like regular scissors except they have “teeth”. These thinning scissors will cut some hair follicles longer and leave others shorter.

For the most part thick, strong hair is good unless it’s completely ridiculous. If your hair is extremely bushy, to the point that it looks like you have a bird’s nest resting at the top of your head then you probably want to get that handled.

If your hair is receding, or naturally thinning then AVOID thinning scissors. You want to make the most out of whatever hair you still have. Use your best judgment here.

Razored Edges

Razoring the edges of your hair simply means that instead of scissors, the person cutting your hair will use a razor to reduce bulk. This will create a softer, flatter texture to your hair. Razored edges are good if you have long, straight hair and want a more “wispy” appearance.

Scissors create a clean, sharp cut. Razored edges are more “free form” and create angles because razors can’t get you as precise of a cut. This technique is mostly used for layered cuts and the typical “scene” hair that was popular several years back.


Layering can be thought of as the opposite of thinning. If you want to add volume (or at least the illusion of it) you’d ask to get your hair layered. Different parts of your hair will be cut at different lengths. For example you could have much longer hair resting on top of shorter hair. You could also have multiple layers cut in to create a more dynamic look. If you’re balding, try out a layered cut to see if it adds some extra “depth” to your hair.


This is basically all you need to know to be able to effectively communicate with your barber and get a decent cut. Of course if you want, you could use the name of a specific hairstyle along with these terms to get something more precise.

The only thing to remember with hairstyle names is that the other person might not be familiar with the term. Please don’t go into a place and ask to get a “Hitler Youth”. Asking for an undercut would be better and saying “Give me a 1 on the sides with a tapered back. Cut about a half an inch off the top with scissors. And bring my sideburns up just a bit.” would be best.

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| Last Updated: Mar 14, 2021