Taper vs Fade Haircut: Learn the Difference + How to Choose

The haircut makes the man or woman, and today’s trend choice are taper and fade haircuts. If you go to an old school barber, you may not know how to get the exact look you want. The best way to get a taper or fade hairstyle is to share pictures and talk about the look and length.

When you head to the barber, you’ll sound like a pro just by knowing how to describe the exact cut you’re looking for. Learn about these hairstyle trends below.

Taper vs Fade Guide

Taper vs Fade

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 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.

traditional taper cut
Taper haircuts are longer, with a clean neck in the back and around the ears.

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.

fade haircut
Traditional fades start off with a bald fade shave and blends 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.

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 early 2000s.

Grace Jones with the early fade haircut trend
Grace Jones (with 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 Fade Haircut?

A fade haircut is a shorter version of the taper that traditionally starts with a clean shave or low cut that gradually blends into longer hair. These hairstyles also have a significant “fade line” that’s shaven around your entire head.

See our Complete Style Guide for Fade Haircuts.

While both hairstyles use a gradient or graduated hairstyle 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.

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

There’s also a variety of trendy fade haircuts, such as an undercut or buzz cut fade. Line work is also especially important to a successful fade.

Tip: When in doubt, just remember that you’ll need to specify a fade line for a true fade cut. Your fade line typically starts above the ear, but you can also opt for a low fade or taper fade. See examples below for each type.

Skin Fade

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

skin fade hairstyle
Image source: Choicebarber.com
low skin fade
Image source: Choicebarber.com

Low Fade

Low fade lines start just above the ear. These may start off with a small bald fade that graduates to a low fade.

low fade hairstyle
Men’s haircuts with cool low fade.
low bald fade
Image source: Olive Gents Salon

Mid Fade

Somewhere between a low and high fade, the mid fade line is higher above the ear but not quite up to the top of your hairline, which is where a high fade would be.

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

High Fade

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

What is a Taper Haircut?

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.

See our Complete Style Guide for Taper Haircuts

Fades were often confused with tapers when they first started becoming popular in the 2000s. Taper cuts have longer hair around the ears and back. Barbers typically use clippers to edge and clip hair down to a point in the back. There’s very little fade though the neck may be clean-shaven.

Low Taper

traditional low taper haircut

Mid 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

Crew Cut with High Taper

Barbers have been creating tapered comb over and crew cut looks for more than a century.

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.

What is a Taper Fade?

A taper fade has a longer graduated look with a clean fade around the bottom of your hairline around your neck. In contrast to a low fade, the taper fade happens much lower down on your neck.

See our Complete Style Guide for Taper Fade Haircuts.

Classic tapered looks tend to have longer, buzzed hair around the ears and down to the back. The taper fade is the best combination when looking for neat lines and edging, as well as a skin fade.

Taper Fade Comb over

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

Classic Taper Fade

Hair is gradually faded at the bottom but it follows a tapered back, fading thick hair down to a point in the back.

Basic Taper Haircut

Faux Hawk Taper Fade

Faux Hawk Taper
Image courtesy of Men’s Hairstyles World. See more Faux Hawk Fade Styles.

Want to combine a fade or taper with your beard? Check out our beard fade guide for more tips and pictures.

Barber Terms and Style Guide

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.

Taper Fade Haircuts to Try

Going to the barber, here’s how to describe what you want:

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.

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.

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 in 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.

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

So Fade, Taper or Taper Fade?

All 3 styles, along with their variations, are a matter of personal preference and should ultimately compliment your personal style.

Given their versatility and adoption into style culture, you can just about where it anywhere and gives an enormous boost over the norm. Good Luck.

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..