2 on the sides haircuts are very common but poorly understood. Confusion around what it really means often leads to disagreements between barbers and their clients.
You’re about to learn everything you need to know about the style and its many variations. After reading this and seeing the photos, you’ll have a much better idea of what you’re asking your barber for.
Lengths, clipper guards, what it looks like, and more.
Let’s get to it.
1. 4 On Top 2 On The Sides
The 4 on top and 2 on the sides is where the hair on top is trimmed using a number 4 clipper grade (1/2 inch) and the sides and back are trimmed using a number 2 clipper grade (1/4 inch).
It’s what could be considered a medium-length buzz cut. For men looking to try buzz cuts out but don’t want to commit to anything shorter, it’s often a good stepping stone.
The style is also known as the “finger-length on top and 2 on the sides”, as finger-length is generally around ½ an inch.
The length is short enough to immediately be identified as a “buzz cut”, but not so short that the scalp shows through much.
Contrasting the length between the hair on top (#4) and that on the sides and back (#2) is a good way of adding a slimming effect to the face and jawline.
Plus, it grows out in a very natural and aesthetically pleasing way. Compare this to trimming everything down to an even number 4 with no tapering of the sides and back.
Although this can look fine, it sometimes grows out with a sort of “fuzz ball” appearance. Having the sides and back a couple of grades shorter (like the 4 on top and 2 on the sides) is a good way of preventing it and having it grow out in a more natural manner.
It’s also a pretty easy style to DIY.
Although it won’t be as easy as trimming everything down to a #4, for instance, trimming the sides and back down to a #2 doesn’t take much technical skill unless you’re looking to go for a fade or taper.
2. 3 On Top 2 On The Sides
The 3 on top and 2 on the sides is where the hair on top is trimmed using a number 3 clipper grade (3/8 inch) and the sides and back are trimmed using a number 2 clipper grade (1/4 inch).
It’s a length where the real benefits of a short buzz cut really come into play.
The number 3 length is incredibly simple. It’s impossible to style with and having choices this limited makes things easy in a lot of ways.
Washing and drying also takes no time at all.
Having the hair this short is also often beneficial for balding and receding men. When the hair is super short, thin or bare patches on top become less noticeable as they don’t stand out as much.
In addition, fading the sides (such as a high 2 fade) almost absorbs the receding temples and makes them look less obvious.
Although there isn’t much contrast between a #3 length on top and a #2 on the sides, there’s enough to have a slimming and narrowing effect on the face and jawline.
Precautions with the 3 on top and 2 on the sides:
It’s pretty short for someone’s first buzz cut. If your hair is quite long at the moment, it may not be a good idea to jump right into a #3 length. Try a #4 or a #5 length first (with a #3 on the sides) and gradually go down shorter if you like the look.
Having hair this short also makes face and head shape a bit more important.
Trimming a buzz cut this short often exaggerates the face shape. Because you can’t do anything with the hair on top to add height (eg. a small quiff), if you’ve got a rounder or shorter face shape it can look even rounder or even shorter.
Although this can still look good, it may not be what you were expecting. Because of that, bear it in mind when making your decision.
3. 2 On The Sides Long On Top (Scissors)
The 2 on the sides and long on top is where the top is left considerably longer and scissor-cut, while the sides and back are trimmed using a number 2 clipper grade (1/4 inch).
The options are endless.
The only thing they have in common is that the sides are buzzed down to a #2 length.
However, even #2 on the sides can vary. For example, you could have the sides and back gradually increase in length up to a #2 like what you’d see with a fade.
Or you could have a very sharp and sudden transition from a #2 length at the sides to scissor-cut long hair on top.
This is what you’d get with an undercut.
Ultimately, you can do whatever you want with this broad style range. It’s worth asking your barber what scissor-cut, long style on top would suit your face best with a #2 length on the sides.
4. 8 On Top With 2 On The Sides
The 8 on top and 2 on the sides is when the top is trimmed using a number 8 guard (1 inch) and the sides are trimmed using a number 2 guard (1/4 inch).
Trimming an #8 on top is dependent on the use of hair clippers and so should technically be called a “buzz cut” – just like the first two styles on this list.
However, it’s so long that it often isn’t obvious that it is. In other words, it doesn’t immediately come across as a “buzz cut”.
What the 8 on top and 2 on the sides is useful for is buzz cut variations where you’ve got long hair on top but short hair on the sides.
For example, crew cuts – where the hair on top is left long and gradually tapered shorter from front to back.
Or butch cuts, where the hair on top is more horizontal without the tapering you’d find with crew cuts.
Overall, the contrast in length between a long #8 on top and a very short #2 on the sides and back can be very striking and attention-grabbing.
This may be exactly what you want. However, if you’re looking for less contrast consider clipping the sides and back down a bit longer like a #3 or a #4.
At these lengths, you’d still get enough contrast to produce a nice and tapered look with a slimming effect on the face.
But the contrast between the top and sides isn’t so striking that it’s the first thing that people notice.
It’s all down to personal preference.
5. Low Fade 2 On The Sides
The low fade 2 on the sides is where there’s a gradual increase in length up to a #2 (1/4 inch) on the sides and back. The transition point into the #2 length would be around an inch above the ear.
This would be a good option for men that are into fades and like that tapered appearance instead of having the whole length of the sides an equal #2.
Gradually increasing the length up to a #2 on the sides and back with a nice and blended look would be a number 2 fade.
The transition point of a fade is the point where the hair becomes its longest length (in this case – #2) at the sides and back.
With a low fade, this transition point is around an inch above the ear. In contrast, with a high fade, the transition point is all the way up near the temples.
A mid-fade would be the mid-point between these two points.
Ultimately, when you’ve a low fade 2 on the sides, you can do whatever you want with the hair on top. You could buzz it down short or leave it long.
6. Undercut With 2 On The Sides
An undercut with a 2 on the sides is where the sides are buzzed down to a number 2 length (1/4 inch) and the hair on top is left long. There is typically a sharp and sudden transition from the sides to the top.
It’s the sharp transition that defines the undercut and distinguishes it from other short back and sides looks.
The sides aren’t blended gradually into the top. It goes from very short to long without gradually easing into it.
You can do anything you want with the hair on top. Style it into a pompadour, a man bun, or something completely different.
As long as the sides are buzzed down to a #2 and the transition into the top is sharp and sudden, you can reasonably call it an undercut with a 2 on the sides.
There you have it. You’ve got the length and you’ve got the look.
If you’re interested in any of them, have a chat with your barber if you aren’t keen on going DIY on the simpler ones.
They’ll be able to take your face shape, personal preferences, and other factors into account and come up with a 2 on the sides haircut that suits you best.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.