You could have fantastic hair up top, but knowing what to do with the sides is just as important. Here’s everything you need to know about 3 on the sides haircuts.
Let’s get to it.
What Does A 3 On The Sides Haircut Look like?
Here’s what a 3 on the sides haircut looks like:
In a 3 on the sides haircut, the sides are clipped down using the #3 clipper guard down to 10mm (3/8 of an inch).
As you can see from the photo above, the top has been left much longer to form a textured comb over.
The sharp transition from the #3 on the sides to the long hair on top almost forms an undercut aesthetic, but not quite.
Having some real contrast in length between the short, clipped sides and long hair on top is a great way to give even more prominence and attention to the top.
But you can really do anything with the hair on top, as you’ll soon see. For example, you buzz the top down to a length longer than the 3 on the sides, such as a #4, #5, #6, and so on.
Or you could pair the 3 on the sides with big and bold styles on top such as pompadours, or slick and defined like side parts and slick backs.
The options are endless – all that ties them together is the fact that the sides are clipped down to a gloriously neat #3 length.
The sides can also be faded so that they gradually increase in length from the bottom to the top. For example, it could gradually increase from a #1 length at the bottom of the sides, into the #3 length further up top with no harsh lines.
It’s a great way to make a #3 on the sides a little more eye-catching.
Now, let’s take a look at some more examples.
3 On The Sides Haircut Styles
This section should serve as a source of inspiration. You’ll soon see just how many styles can be combined with a #3 on the sides.
4 On Top 3 On The Sides
The 4 on top with a 3 on the sides has the top trimmed down to a #4 length (1/2 inch), while the sides are trimmed down to a#3 length (3/8 inch).
You could call it a number 4 buzz cut because the top is essentially buzzed down to a #4 length.
However, the sides are trimmed down a grade shorter – more specifically, to a #3.
This does have its benefits over simply trimming everything down to a #4 length, including the sides.
Trimming everything down to the same length when going for a buzz cut can sometimes look fine, especially when you’re going very short like a number 0 or a number 1 buzz cut.
But with the longer buzz cut lengths, doing so can often lead to a sort of fuzzball appearance as it grows out. It often doesn’t look great.
So, when going for a #4 haircut, for example, trimming the sides down a grade shorter creates a nice, tapered effect at the sides.
This allows it to grow out in a more aesthetically pleasing way.
So, when going for a 4 on top, strongly consider combining it with a 3 on the sides.
Long On Top 3 On The Sides
A long on top 3 on the sides haircut combines a #3 length at the sides with significantly longer and scissor-cut hair at the top. This hair could be styled to any length and to any style, including comb overs, quiffs, and pompadours.
In this example, the hair on top is styled into a small quiff.
A 3 on the sides is a great option because it produces a nice tapered effect and gives additional prominence to the longer, scissor-cut hair on top.
It also reduces fullness at the sides, which has a narrowing and slimming effect on the face, as well as a defining effect on the jawline.
There’s a subtle fade here, as the sides gradually increase into approximately a #3 length.
It blends seamlessly into the heavy stubble, ultimately producing an end result that’s eye-catching while remaining incredibly simple at the same time.
7 On Top 3 On The Sides
The 7 on top with a 3 on the sides has the top clipped down to a #7 length (7/8 inch) while the sides are clipped down to a #3 length (3/8 inch).
You could say this was a “long buzz cut” style as it’s clipper-dependent.
The hair on top is long enough to be considered a crew cut. The benefit of crew cuts over shorter, induction-style buzz cuts is that you can style them.
You can’t do much with them. But the hair is usually long enough to benefit from a small amount of styling product. Short quiffs, for example, are usually possible.
The reason a #7 length on top works well with a #3 on the sides is that the contrast in length is pretty significant, more so than a 4 on top/3 on the sides, for example.
This produces an even more noticeable tapered effect, once again, having a slimming effect on the face and defining the jawline.
It wouldn’t be a good idea to trim everything down to a #7 length (including the sides), simply because it won’t grow out in an attractive way.
Trimming the sides down to a #3 is a great option. It’s subtle, but still short enough to remove a good amount of fullness at the sides.
3 On The Sides Taper Fade
A 3 on the sides taper fade is where the sides gradually increase in length from the bottom up to a #3 length (3/8 inch) further up.
It’s a great way to make the sides a little more attention-grabbing. The typical “fade” effect is produced by gradually blending different lengths together.
The length will incrementally increase from the bottom to the top. Barbers will be able to move from one length to another seamlessly and with no harsh lines in between the different lengths.
This is what produces that typical blurred effect of the fade.
Fades can be low, mid, or high, depending on how high up the sides they go.
3 on the sides low fades start to transition in length around half an inch above the ear.
Mid fades do so around an inch above the ear, while high fades do so around the level of the temples.
As you’d imagine, high fades are the most eye-catching, bold, and in-your-face, because so much of the sides and back are trimmed down to their shortest length.
It’s up to you how high up you want your fade, but they all work well with a 3 on the sides.
3 On The Sides Scissors On Top
A 3 on the sides with scissors on top is any style where the hair on top is scissor-cut and left considerably longer than the sides which are clipped down to a #3 length (3/8 inch). The long hair on top can be styled in many different ways.
The beauty of the 3 on the sides with scissors on top is that you’ve got huge amounts of freedom and options to do whatever you like with the hair on top.
While this is great, it does make communication with your barber even more important. It isn’t enough to just say “scissors on top” because it doesn’t tell them how short you want the top or how you want it cut/styled.
You’ll need to be more specific.
Using photographs is a great way to get your point across. Terms like “comb overs” and “pompadours” can actually mean different things to different people.
To avoid getting a style you never wanted, consider using photographs to get your point across. That way, you can be sure that the 3 on the sides haircut is combined with scissor-cut hair on top that you actually want.
How To Ask For A 3 On The Sides Haircut
When asking for a 3 on the sides haircut, you’ll need to specify whether you want the sides faded and also what you want to do with the hair on top.
The great thing about asking for a “3 on the sides” is that it’s pretty self-explanatory.
You’ll get a #3 length on the sides – that’s simple enough.
But do you want any embellishments? More specifically, do you want the sides “faded”.
If asking for a fade into a number 3 on the sides, you’ll need to specify how short you want the shortest length of the fade to be before it starts to transition into the #3 length further up.
For example, a “#1 into a #3 on the sides”.
If you want a fade into a 3 on the sides, you’ll also need to let the barber know how high up you want this fade to be. Do you want a “low” fade, “mid” fade, or a “high” fade?
Once you’ve cleared up what you want to do with the sides, be very clear about what you want to do with the top.
If all you want is a buzz cut on top, it’s easy enough. For example, a “#4 on top with a #3 on the sides”.
But if you want scissor-cut hair on top to go with the 3 on the sides, be as clear as possible.
Examples include comb overs, pompadours, quiffs, slick backs, crew cuts – the options are endless. That’s why it’s important to let them know how much length you want taking off the top and how you want it cut.
As I mentioned earlier, the most useful thing you could do is show the barber a photograph of the style you want up top. They’ll let you know if it’s possible or not.
There you have it.
Hopefully, everything you ever wanted to know about the 3 on the sides haircut. What it looks like, how short it is, potential styles to combine it with, and more.
Ready Sleek founder. Obsessed with casual style and the minimalist approach to building a highly functional wardrobe. Also a fan of classic, vintage hairstyles.