How to Tell Your Barber What You Want

Hudson / Hawk

We’ve all been there. Your barber asks what you’re looking for, and you . . . have no clue what to say. Although you can visualize what you want your hair to look like, you struggle to put the idea into words. Instead, you say something vague and end up with a haircut that is, quite frankly, a disappointment. It happens to the best of us! But that ends today. If you’re wondering how to tell your barber what you want, you’re in the right place. Let’s review some handy tips.

Tips for Communicating with Your Barber

Do your research.

No one likes homework, but if you spend a few minutes researching hairstyles, you’ll feel far more at ease at the barber shop. Learn to speak the barber’s language by researching some basic terminology:

  • Guard Numbers: Generally, the numbers you’ll hear at a barber shop represent 1/8 of an inch of length. For example, 2 equals 2/8 inch (or ¼ inch), 3 equals 3/8 inch, 4 equals 4/8 inch (or ½ inch), 5 equals 5/8 inch, and so on. Higher numbers will result in a longer haircut. If you’re not sure what length you want, ask your barber to start with a longer setting and then get progressively shorter until you find a length you like.
  • Taper: A taper is a basic form of gradient haircut. It provides a seamless, smooth transition between hair lengths. Longer hair at the top of the head becomes shorter closer to the hairline, but it doesn’t fade into the skin. Most men’s haircuts involve a taper of some sort.
  • Fade: A fade is a gradient haircut that makes it look as though the hair is “fading” into the skin. You can choose where you want the fade to occur on your head. A low fade ends close to your hairline, while a high fade stops above the ears.
  • Neckline Shapes: Do you want a tapered, squared, or rounded neckline in the back? A tapered neckline follows the hairline, creating a more natural look. A squared neckline, also known as a block neckline, cuts straight across. Finally, a rounded neckline cuts straight across but uses rounded corners for a softer look.
  • Sideburn Lengths: Know your desired sideburn length. Barbers often communicate the length by saying, “top of the ear,” “mid-ear,” or “bottom of the ear.”

If you’re going for a specific look, “short on the sides, long on top” just won’t cut it. Barbers aren’t mind readers, so these terms can be incredibly valuable.

Try to cover a few basic points.

Haircuts can be hard to describe, so try to break your ideal haircut down into a few basic elements:

  • The length of hair you want on the top, sides, and back of your head
  • The type of gradient you want (i.e., taper or fade) if you’re going for a shorter style
  • How you want to style your hair (lots of product, low maintenance, swept to the side, etc.)
  • How you want your neckline cut (i.e., squared or tapered)
  • Words that describe your desired haircut (classic, trendy, casual, professional, flowy, sleek, etc.)

This information provides an excellent roadmap for a barber.

In addition, be ready to answer the question, “How long has it been since your last haircut?” Barbers ask this to get an idea of how quickly your hair grows and what it might’ve looked like after your last haircut. On that note, be sure to tell your barber if you want your new haircut to look similar to your last haircut or if you’re going in a new direction.

Provide photo examples.

Photos can help ensure that you and your barber are truly on the same page. Try to have at least two or three photos ready, and explain what you like about the styles. These could be photos of celebrities, models, friends, or even photos from the barber’s social media. Keep in mind, however, that the exact haircut in your photos might not be a great fit for you. Your barber can help explain how a style will work on you and how you can tailor a haircut to suit your face shape and hair texture.

Finally, when you get a haircut that you like, remember to take a photo of it! You can use that photo during future appointments.

Ask your barber for advice.

Although it’s great to walk into your appointment with a strong idea of what you want, keep an open mind. Your barber may offer invaluable advice regarding what hairstyle will best suit your head shape, your hair type, and your preferred level of maintenance. Consider choosing some top style contenders and then consulting with your barber to make a final decision.

Check out the barber’s website.

If you’re still feeling a bit aimless, the barber’s website might provide some direction. For example, the Hudson / Hawk services page provides a wealth of information about the haircuts we offer. You might be a good fit for the “Stay Sharp Cut,” which gives your barber enough time to use their experience and expertise to provide guidance, ensuring that you get a haircut that suits your hair texture and thickness, your aesthetic preferences, and your lifestyle. So, even if you’re feeling uncertain, you can rest assured that an expert has your back.


Now that you know how to tell your barber what you want, you’re ready to stride into your next appointment with confidence. Good luck!

Looking for a barber shop that promises good vibes and a quality cut? If you live in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, or Oklahoma, stop by your neighborhood Hudson / Hawk. In our modern, comfortable spaces, people of all ages enjoy stylish haircuts and good conversation. We offer a variety of cuts — from zero fades to shear cuts and everything in between — as well as shaves, beard grooming, and waxing. Book your next haircut today.