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How To Ask For A Buzz Cut (The Right Way)

Asking for a haircut seems simple enough until you find yourself in that barber’s chair. Suddenly, the pressure is on and you find yourself unprepared. So, how do you ask for a buzz cut? 

When asking for a buzz cut, you’ll need to specify exactly what clipper guard length you want the top, sides, and back trimmed down to. In addition, let the barber know whether you want the sides faded or not. Using photographs to guide the barber will always be helpful. 

That’s the super short version. For some of you, it may be enough. 

But if you want to make sure you get it right each and every time, read on for step-by-step instructions (and more). 

Let’s get to it. 

Essential Buzz Cut Terminology

Ultimately, a “buzz cut” is a term that can refer to several different styles that are all short and dependent on the use of a hair clipper

classic buzz cut
A classic induction buzz cut

Image From 123RF 

Before we get to the meat of this, here are some key terms you should really get to grips with. 

  • Induction Buzz Cut – A style where all of the hair (top, sides, back) is trimmed down to the same length (or nearly the same length). This is what most people think of when they hear the term “buzz cut”. 
  • Crew Cut – A buzz cut variation where the hair on top is scissor cut, tapers backwards, and longer than the clipped hair at the sides and back. 
  • Butch Cut – Similar to a crew cut, but the hair on top is usually shorter, clipper-cut, and also more even in length. 
  • Fade – Where the hair at the sides and back gradually increases length from the bottom to the top. The different lengths blend seamlessly into each other. 
  • Skin Fade – Where the shortest length of the fade is shaved all the way down to the skin. 
buzz cut with mid fade
A buzz cut with a mid skin fade

Image From Deposit Photos

Common Buzz Cut Lengths

Whether you choose to have an induction-style “all over” buzz cut or you want some contrast in length between the top and sides, it’s useful to understand clipper guard lengths. 

For a more in-depth post on how clipper guards work, read this article

But here’s a summary of just how short the most common clipper guards trim down to. 

To check out what the “longer” and less common buzz cut lengths (#5, #6, #7, and #8) look like, read this article

Plus, here’s a guide on choosing the right buzz cut length if you needed some more help with this. 

How To Ask Your Barber For A Buzz Cut [6 Steps]

Use this as a guide to get the exact type of buzz cut you want. They aren’t all the same, unfortunately. 

A messed-up buzz cut is often due to poor communication. Not knowing how to express what type of buzz cut you want is often the problem. 

After reading this, it’ll never be a problem again. 

1. Decide On A Buzz Cut Variation

I’ve mentioned a few of these already – specifically the induction buzz cut, crew cut, and butch cut

Most of you will probably be looking for an induction buzz cut where all of the hair on the top, sides, and back is clipped down to the same length. Alternatively, where the sides are a clipper grade or two shorter than the hair on top. 

This is by far the most simple type of buzz cut, but it’s still important to know how to ask for the type of induction style buzz cut you want. 

number 1 buzz cut fade
Another induction buzz cut with a subtle fade

Image From Shutterstock

Here’s an example of a crew cut: 

crew cut example
A classic crew cut 

Image From Deposit Photos

But here are a couple of others you should get familiar with. 

The “high and tight” is a style where the sides are clipped down very short (or completely shaved) and brought up very high to a point above the temples. The hair on top is slightly longer and forms a strip-like appearance when viewed from above. 

The Ivy League is a haircut that’s similar to the crew cut, but the scissor-cut hair on top is usually just about long enough to form a side part. Essentially, it’s a longer version of the crew cut. 

2. Take A Photo With You 

Not much more to say on this, but it really is a great way to get the look from your barber. 

Showing them a photo in addition to telling them what you want should reduce the risk of miscommunication. 

Search online, flick through some magazines – whatever you need to do. Find a look that’s similar to the one you want and take it with you. Most barbers would appreciate the additional information. 

It’s especially important when you’re asking for a buzz cut variation where the sides and top are often lengths that are significantly different. 

3. State How Short You Want The Top

If you want the same length all over (top, sides, and back), it’s pretty simple. You just ask the barber for a “number ___ all over”. 

Fill in the blank space with the clipper guard number you want. The barber will then simply trim all of the hair down to that length. 

But if you want a buzz cut with different lengths at the top and sides, let them know. 

Start by telling them what you want to be done with the top. 

If you want it clipper-cut (eg. with induction cuts), tell them what clipper grade number you want it trimmed down to. 

Eg. a “number ___ on top”. 

If you want the top scissor cut (eg. with crew cuts and Ivy Leagues), tell them how much length you want to be taken off the top. 

Using your fingers to specify how much you want taken off, or showing them a photo of the look you want is usually the best way of achieving this. 

4. State How Short You Want The Sides

After you’ve told them how short you want the top, the sides and back come next. Usually, you’ll want the sides and back the same length, so we’ll take this as a given. 

With induction cuts, it’s often best to trim the sides down slightly shorter than the top. They’re still similar enough in length to be considered an “induction cut”. 

But trimming the sides (and back) a clipper grade or two shorter will lead to the buzz cut growing out in a much better way. 

Trimming everything down to exactly the same length is fine, but will often lead to the buzz cut growing out in a fuzzball sort of way. 

Trimming the sides down slightly shorter than the top will result in the buzz cut growing out in a neater, more tapered fashion. 

Here’s an example: 

A “number 3 on top with a 2 on the sides”. 

Or, a “number 4 on top with a 3 on the sides”. 

If you wanted a buzz cut variation where the top is significantly longer than the sides (eg. crew cuts, butch cuts, and Ivy Leagues), the same principle applies. 

You’ll simply need to tell the barber how short you want the sides by telling them what clipper guard length you’d like there. 

5. Tell Them If You Want A Fade

Fades don’t need to be complicated. But once you’ve told the barber how short you want the sides (and back), it’s important to tell them if you want them faded or not. 

Remember, a fade is where the sides and back gradually increase in length from the bottom to the top. 

Let’s take 3 on the sides as an example. 

If you want all of the sides clipped down to a #3, that’s absolutely fine. 

But if you’d prefer a more graded appearance when the sides gradually increase in length from the bottom up to a #3, it’ll often be more eye-catching. 

So, if you want a fade, let them know how high you want the fade, and how short you want the shortest length of the fade. 

Fades can be “low”, “mid”, or “high”. This refers to the point at which the shortest (bottom) length of the fade starts to transition and blend into longer lengths further up. 

“Low fades” transition around half an inch above the ear. 

“Mid fades” transition around an inch above the ear. 

“High fades” transition around the level of the temples. 

If you want some more information on this, here’s an article comparing low fades and mid fades and an article comparing mid fades and high fades

Then, tell them how short you want the shortest length of the fade to be. 

Using our “3 on the sides” example again, if you wanted a fade, how short do you want the shortest length at the bottom before it starts to transition up into that #3 length further up? 

For example, you could have a “1 into a 3” – this is where the shortest length is a #1 length at the bottom before it gradually transitions into a #3 length further up the sides (and back). 

Alternatively, you could have a “2 into a 3” where the shortest length is a #2 before it gradually transitions and blends into the #3 further up. 

You could do this with any clipper guard lengths at the sides and back. 

You could even get a buzz cut with a skin fade, where the shortest length of the fade at the sides and back is shaved all the way down to the skin before it transitions into longer lengths further up. 

6. Decide On Lineups And Patterns

At this point, you’ve pretty much told the barber most of what they need to know. In fact, you probably won’t need much more than what you’ve already given them. 

But you can also get buzz cuts with embellishments and patterns. Consider these the “finishing touches” for your buzz cut. 

If you want them, it’s better to tell your barber at the beginning as opposed to the end. 

A “lineup” or “shape up” is simply where the edges are made very sharp as opposed to being left natural. It’s often done using a straight razor. 

It’s a great way to make a buzz cut look bolder and more eye-catching. 

You can also get patterns shaved into buzz cuts as well. This may just be a “hard part” where the side part is emphasized using a shaved line. 

Or, you could get fancier patterns and lines shaved into the sides (or even the top). It’s pretty difficult to properly express exactly what you want using words alone, so photographs are pretty essential if this is what you want. 

buzz cut fade with goatee
A buzz cut with a subtle line pattern

Image From Shutterstock

In addition, they’re pretty easy to mess up, so it’s really important that you trust the barber you’re asking to do it. 

But at this point, you’re pretty much done asking for your buzz cut. 

Sticking to this stepwise approach should help you get the look you’re aiming for without any mistakes. 

Conclusion 

As you can see, it’s pretty simple – but not that simple. 

There are plenty of examples of buzz cuts gone wrong out there, but it’s just important to step back and ask yourself why they may have happened. 

Sure, it may have been due to an inexperienced barber. But more often than not, it’s due to poor communication between barbers and clients. 

The best thing you can do is prepare and get familiar with the correct buzz cut-related terms. 

Doing so should reduce the risk of these lapses in communication from happening. 


Enjoy.