Taper vs Fade Haircut: The [Surprising] Difference

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Are you wondering what the difference is between a taper and fade haircut? You’re not alone. In fact, these two terms are often used interchangeably to describe these fade hairstyle trends, even by pro barbers.

But while they may look similar, there are actually some big differences between the taper and fade.

So if you’ve been wondering about how they differ, read on. We’ll clear up any confusion, help you choose the right haircut and teach you how to ask for the style like a pro.

Taper vs Fade Haircut

Difference Between Taper and Fade

A taper is where the hair transitions gradually from a longer length to a shorter length. The fade is shorter and more dramatic variation of the taper that fades to skin level.

Both styles are very trendy, with the taper having a more subtle look where the fade has an impressive high-contrast look.

While each cut use a gradient or graduated style that blends into your natural hairline, the type of fade you receive is based on a fade line and starts off with a clean shave or skin fade, whereas a taper is shaven down to a focal point.

Unique Styles

Taper and fade hairstyles provide a sense of dimension and shape to the hair, which can enhance its visual appeal in a way that’s both modern and versatile. Unique qualities include:

  • Taper and fade haircuts are similar, but have subtle differences that change the look and style.
  • The Taper is where the hair length and depth changes from higher to lower gradually, giving the haircut its smoothe transition look.
  • The Fade is typically shorter on the sides than a taper and finishes by fading into the skin.

The Visual Difference

Looking for a taper haircut? You’ll get a longer buzz cut on the sides with a tapered back that has a graduated look, but it’s not faded into clean skin.

Prefer the fade? You must specify a fade line (ie – low fade) and decide if you want a bald fade (also known as a skin fade). These typically work well for long and short hair looks.

traditional taper cut
Taper haircuts are longer, with a clean neck in the back and around the ears.
fade haircut
Traditional fades start off with a bald fade shave and blend up to a fade line.

We’ll explain the difference in shaving and trimming a fade vs taper cut below, and show you how to combine these styles with the taper fade look.

The Similarities

  • Both taper and fade haircuts are achieved by using a clipper, scissors, or both.
  • They both gradually reduce the length of your hair to form a gradient hair length.
  • They are both used to accent other hairstyles.

Which is the Best Style?

When it comes to choosing between a taper and fade haircut, it can be tough to decide which style is best. Both haircuts offer a clean, stylish look that can be tailored to suit your individual taste.

  • A taper is a safer and less risky haircut, while a fade is the more daring and dramatic option.
  • A taper is a more sensible choice if you spend most of your time in a professional setting, while a fade is better for casual occasions.
  • If you want to regularly change your look without being committed to hairstyles, then try a taper instead of a fade.
  • A fade is more comfortable in a chilly season, like winter or fall, while a taper is more comfortable in summer or spring.

How to Choose between a Taper or Fade

When choosing between a taper or fade, it’s important to consider what look you’re going for. A taper is a more sensible choice if you rarely go for flashy haircuts and want something less risky.

A fade is the more daring and trendy haircut, but it’s also the riskier option and may not be suitable for all occasions. If you want to start with a bang, go for the fade. A taper is more casual and versatile, while a fade will demand more commitment.

If you still cannot choose, then start with the taper. If you find it’s not dramatic enough, then you have to option to keep trimming and style into a full fade.

History of the Taper and Fade

Fades and tapers can date their roots back to U.S. military of the 40s and 50s, then saw a resurgence in the 80s and 90s with the likes of Grace Jones and rapper Doug E Fresh. The fade then gained more mainstream popularity in the early 2000s.

Grace Jones with the early fade haircut trend
Grace Jones (with flat top fade) – Nightclubbing Album, Released May 11, 1981

Now, the latest looks are much trendier and customized, with side parts and shaven designs that create unique hairstyles for men and women.

What is a Taper Haircut?

A taper haircut reshapes your hair length gradually, commonly starting longer on top while getting progressively shorter down the sides and back of the head to the neck. This type of haircut can be achieved with scissors or clippers, and is a popular choice for those who want a clean, polished look.

See our Complete Style Guide for Taper Haircuts.

Low Taper

A low taper is a gradual haircut that starts at the hairline and reduces the hair length gradually until it reaches the lower point on your head. This type of haircut can be beneficial for those looking to create the illusion of a smaller face.

traditional low taper haircut
Low Taper Haircut

Mid Taper

A Mid Taper has the hair gradually getting shorter as it goes from the top of the head to the middle of the head. The overall taper length is shorter than the low taper and slightly longer than the high taper.

Groomed Stubble Beard with mid taper
Mid taper looks still have longer hair but gradually buzz hair around the ears, top of the head, back of the head, and neckline.

High Taper

A High Taper is where the hair is cut to a maximum of 2 inches from the top of the head, then tapered high on the sides. This type of haircut is often seen in military haircuts, as it provides a very clean and professional look. The overall taper length is shorter than the mid taper.

Crew Cut with High Taper
Crew cut, hair pulled forward with high taper.

Skin Taper

A skin taper is a type of haircut in which the hair is tapered down to the skin around the sides and back. The result is a clean, layered look that can be tailored to a variety of styles.

Tapered Neckline

A tapered neckline creates a natural termination of a haircut. The hair is typically cut gradually to a squared-off, U-shaped or V-shaped taper down the neckline.

What is a Fade Haircut?

A fade is a haircutting technique that aggressively blends the longer hair on top down until it “fades” into the level of the skin. This haircut is unique over the taper as it displays a sharp “fade line” that’s skin shaven around your entire head. The fade is sometimes referred to as the Military Regulation cut.

Low Fade

A low fade is a fade haircut variation, where the hair on top tapers sharply down the sides to just above the ears. The low fade line follows the lowest part of the natural hairline and may start off with a small bald fade that graduates to the low fade.

low fade hairstyle
Men’s haircuts with cool low fade.
low bald fade
Low fade with medium length hair – Image source: Olive Gents Salon

Mid Fade Haircut

A mid fade is a hairstyle with the fade line falling somewhere between a low and high fade – midway down the sides. It’s best suited for people who can’t decide whether they want a low or high fade.

mid fade haircut
The mid fade has a longer buzzed look. This cut shows off a tapered back.

High Fade

A high fade starts approximately two-thirds up the side of the head to the highest point of the natural hairline. The fade line falls around the height of the temples or eyebrows to frame up the face perfectly.

high fade cut
Longer buzzed look with a high fade all around. Image source: barbeariadaavenida.pt.

Skin Fade

A skin fade is a type of haircut where the hair is faded down to the skin. The hair is cut very close to the head and then gradually gets longer as it goes down the sides and back. This type of fade is also known as a zero fade or bald fade.

Skin fade haircuts start off with a clean-shaven approach that blends into a fade.

Depending on the fade line, the style can be blended in to longer hair on top and paired with a faded beard.

skin fade hairstyle
Mid Skin Fade – Image source: Choicebarber.com
low skin fade
Low skin fade – Image source: Choicebarber.com

Faux Hawk Fade

The faux hawk fade is one of the most popular types of fades. The hair on top is styled into a faux hawk, while the sides are faded clean. This look can be achieved with any length of hair on top, but it looks best with 2-3 inches for maximum contrast.

Drop Fade Haircut

The drop fade is a variation of the traditional fade, where the fade line drops as it passes behind the ear down towards the nape of the neck.

Undercut Fade

The undercut fade is a hairstyle that features a disconnected fade on the top, with shorter sides than the bottom. To execute an undercut fade, first create a hard part or disconnected cut on the top of the head.

Then, use clippers to fade the hair on the sides and back down to shorter lengths. The result is a stylish and edgy hairstyle that looks great with long hair!

V Fade

A V-Fade isn’t really a haircut style but more of a complimentary feature. Like the squared-off or U-shaped fade, the V fade is a way to finish the haircut at the back of your neck. So your neck hairline is cut into a “V” shape and faded.

This is an expert technique that requires a skilled barber to pull it off. It can also have other designs and lines cut into it as well for added flair.

Shadow Fade

A shadow fade is a type of fade that’s cut very close to the head, creating the illusion of a shadow-like effect. This is an extreme look requiring a highly trained barber.

Burst Fade

A burst fade is a contemporary twist on the regular fade haircut. It starts by carefully trimming hair from behind the ears and neck into a curved shape while precisely fading and blending into the surrounding hair. The finished look is a trendy faded circular arc behind the ear.

Temp Fade

A temp fade is a subtle look fading just the areas around the temples. It has just enough style without being too dramatic.

What is a Taper Fade?

The Classic Taper Fade haircut incorporates the best parts of the fade and taper haircuts, respectively. The taper fade is the best combination when looking for neat lines and edging, as well as a skin fade.

A taper fade has a longer graduated look with a clean fade around the bottom of your hairline around your neck into a point. In contrast to a low fade, the taper fade happens much lower down on your neck. This style can create a variety of looks, from a clean and polished look to a more relaxed and casual look.

See our Complete Style Guide for Taper Fade Haircuts.

Classic Taper Fade Haircut
Classic Taper Fade Hairstyle.

Taper Fade Comb Over

This style takes the traditional comb over and adds the taper fade. It’s become popular because it offers a more natural look than other hair styles and is easier to manage.

taper fade haircut with comb over
The taper fade combines a longer crew cut with low fade and tapered back. See more comb over hairstyles. Image source: Salonone.com.

Faux Hawk Taper Fade

The faux hawk and taper fade are combined to form a truly unique style. Not as drastic as a classic mohawk, the faux hawk will still provide the heavy hair streak down the middle with the added appeal of the taper plus fade.

Faux Hawk Taper Fade
Image courtesy of Men’s Hairstyles World – Faux Hawk Taper Fade.

Benefits of Taper Fade Hair

The benefits of a taper fade are that it’s easy to get and maintain, plus it’s versatile, and looks good on most face shapes. It also has the added benefit of being able to pair with many longer style haircuts as an added design feature.

Taper vs Fade or simply choose both.
Taper vs Fade or simply choose both.

Taper or Fade: Barber Style Reference

So now you know taper haircuts and fades aren’t exactly the same. They’re in fact similar and why they’re often confused. However, the subtle differences between these two styles make all the difference if you ever go to a barber or want to create these looks at home.

When going to the barber, here’s how to ask for the right style:

Whereas most fades start off with a clean skin shave, tapers usually follow your natural hairline, cut with a longer #2 or #3 guard around the sides and back. The hair is typically “tapered” in the back, forming a clean, short hairline.

Fades and tapers, both use clippers, but tapered haircuts are mostly trimmed and blended with barber shears and fingers. You can customize a taper to fit any look, or you may want to opt for the taper fade.

So now you know taper haircuts and fades aren’t exactly the same. They’re in fact similar and why they’re often confused. However, the subtle differences between these two styles make all the difference if you ever go to a barber or want to create these looks at home.

How to Ask for a Fade Haircut

For the ultra-hip and risk takers – Start by asking for a fade haircut. Then specify your fade depth like a skin fade (clean-shaven approach) or guard size – if you know it. ie – 0 fade or 0 to 1 fade. Then specify the fade line (where you want the fade to start and end.)

There are low, mid, and high fades. For example, they may say, “I would like a low fade haircut that starts at my temples.”

How to Ask for a Taper Haircut

For the slightly more conservative but in need of a style boost, – Start by asking for a taper haircut. You’ll want a higher buzz cut all around with no fade around your sideburns, ears, back, and neckline. Then specify the taper line (where you want the taper to start and end.)

There are low, mid, and high tapers. Say something like, “I’d like a high taper inline with my eyebrows and tapered down to my neck.

How to Ask for a Taper Fade Haircut

For the ones having trouble deciding, do both – Start by asking for a taper fade haircut. A modern barber can combine a fade on the sides and a taper on the back. Again, specify your fade line and ask for a tapered back with a clean or low fade. — If you want a fade on the sides and longer hair down the back, ask for a taper fade.

When in doubt, bring pictures to your appointment and show the barber exactly what you want.

Note: These styles can also be used to hide thin hair spots, scars and other imperfections.

Conclusion

So, which is better – taper or fade? The answer really depends on your personal preferences and the look you’re after.

If you want a classic, clean-cut look, a taper may be the best choice. But if you’re looking for something a little more modern and stylish, a fade is a better option. Whichever style you choose, we’re sure you’ll look great!

FAQ

Which is better taper or fade?

If you’re looking to play it safe, start with the simplicity and restrained look of the taper haircut. However, if you’re looking for a trendier look with a little attitude, then go with the fade.

Are tapers and taper fades the same?

No, tapers and fades are not the same. A taper is a gradual reduction in hair length from the top of the head down the sides and nape of the neck. A fade, on the other hand, changes length more abruptly and the hair is cut very close or even shaved at the bottom to the skin.

How would I ask for a taper fade?

When asking for a taper fade, be specific about what you want tapered, the start and end of the taper line, and what you want faded, being specific about a low, mid or high taper.

Should I get a taper or a fade?

When choosing between a taper and a fade haircut, it really depends on the look you’re going for. If you want something classic and clean-cut, then a taper is the way to go. But if you’re looking for something a little more modern and edgy, then a fade is the better option.

By Eric Melillo

I'm the co-owner of B&B. I live in Guilford, Connecticut and I've been obsessed with bald & beard styles & trends for over 20 years..