Men's Taper vs Fade: What's the Difference & How to Choose the Right Cut

Written by: Piers Le Moignan



Time to read 11 min

If you're thinking of getting the chop and updating your hairstyle, tapers and fades are two popular haircuts that you've probably come across. But what exactly are they, and how do you know which will suit you best?

Both a taper and fade haircut are very versatile and work with just about every hair type and face shape. They're also easy to style with product or simply leave au-natural if you're blessed with low-maintenance locks and natural texture.

If you're not quite clued up on the different barber terms and techniques, these two trims may seem very similar – and they are, to an extent. But there are also some subtle differences that make each cut unique.

What is a Taper Haircut?

A men's taper haircut is a style where the hair is longer the closer it is to the top of your head, and it becomes gradually shorter towards the neckline. This usually involves blending different lengths of hair together with clippers, resulting in a smooth and gradual transition.

A lot of men consider it to be more polished and smarter than a fade, so it's a great choice if you like to keep yourself looking sharp and clean-cut. The style can also be adapted to suit different men’s hair types and lengths, making it suitable for almost anyone.

Some celebrities you may recognise who have sported a taper haircut include David Beckham, Ryan Gosling, and Chris Hemsworth.

man getting haircut
Image by Oleksandr113 from

What are the Different Types of Tapers?

Taper is a broad term that encompasses various styles and lengths. 

When you go to your barber or stylist, they'll look at your hair texture and length to determine the most suitable taper for you and your desired look. These trims vary in length and how gradually or quickly they fade into the shorter hair at the sides and back of your head.

Some of the most common types of taper include:

  • Low taper – A low taper is where the hair tapers (starts to get shorter) just above the ears.

  • High taper – In contrast, a high taper will start much higher on the head, usually two or three inches above the ears.

  • Mid taper – A mid taper is in between a low and high taper, typically tapering around the temples.

  • Skin taper – A skin taper is where the hair is tapered down to the skin, creating a sharp and clean finish.

  • Side-part taper – This is a style where the hair is tapered on one side, creating a distinct parting and asymmetrical look.

  • Undercut taper – The undercut taper involves shaving or buzzing the sides and back of the head while leaving longer hair on top.

  • Neckline taper – A neckline taper is where the hair is tapered at the back of the neck, creating a clean and well-defined neckline.

What is a Fade Haircut?

Fades are pretty similar to taper haircuts. Just as a taper goes from long to short, a fade also gradually blends hair to shorter lengths but is cropped much closer to the scalp and creates a more defined contrast. The skin is visible on the sides and back of the head, creating a sharp and clean look.

Fades are also often combined with other hairstyles, such as tapers, undercuts, and even pompadours and modern mullets.

They do require a fair bit of maintenance, though, as the hair needs to be regularly trimmed and shaped to keep its faded length.

John Boyega, Zayn Malik, and Ryan Reynolds are just a few of the many male celebrities whose go-to hairstyle is a fade.

fade haircut
Image by puhhha from Getty Images from

What are the Different Types of Fades?

Fade haircuts can also vary in terms of how high or low the fade is placed and the length of the hair on top.

Some of the most popular include...

  • Low fade – This type of fade starts lower on the head, typically around ear level, and gradually tapers down to the neckline.

  • High fade – As the name suggests, this fade starts higher on the head, around the temples or even closer to the hairline, and gradually fades into a shorter length at the neckline.

  • Skin fade – A skin fade is the shortest type of fade, where the hair is buzzed down to the skin at the bottom.

  • Drop fade – Unlike a classic fade that follows a straight line, this type of fade drops down at the back of the head for a trendier look.

  • Undercut fade – An undercut fade combines an undercut (where the hair on top is longer and disconnected from the sides) with a fade on the sides. Think Tommy and Arthur Shelby from Peaky Blinders.

So, What's the Difference Between a Men's Taper & Fade?

The terms "taper" and "fade" are often used interchangeably. While they both involve cutting the hair shorter at the sides and back, they do differ.

Taper Haircuts
Fade Haircuts

Longer hair length

Cropped closer to the scalp

Looks smarter

More modern

Require less barber trips

Requires regular trims

More styling versatility

Less styling versatility

Can be combined with other haircuts

Can be combined with other haircuts

fade haircut
Image by danielmegias from

Fades are Closer-Cropped than Tapers

The main difference between a taper and a fade lies in how gradual or abrupt the transition from longer to shorter hair is. A taper refers to a gradual length change, while a fade refers to an abrupt or sharply defined transition.

fade is also typically cut much closer to the skin than a taper, particularly in the lower portions of the hair.

Tapers are More Clean-Cut, Fades are Trendier

The overall look of fades and tapers is different, too. Tapers are considered a bit smarter than fades, giving a more polished and clean-cut appearance. Fades, on the other hand, have a more edgy and modern feel to them.

Of course, this can vary depending on the type of fade or taper chosen and how it’s styled.

Fades Require More Barber Trips

Fades are cut closer to the skin, so you'll need to have your hair clipped more often to maintain the look. You can let the hair grow out into a tapered style, but to keep a fade looking sharp, you'll have to visit your barber or stylist more regularly.

Tapers Have More Styling Options

Since tapers have more length on the sides, there are more styling options available. You can comb it back for a classic look, sweep it to the side for a trendy style, or even add some texture with product, like a sea salt spray or styling compound , for a more modern feel.
taper haircut
Image by puhhha from Getty Images from

What is a Taper Fade?

If you thought you'd finally sussed out the difference between fades and tapers, we're about to throw a curveball at you – the taper fade.

It's pretty self-explanatory, though. Essentially, a taper fade is a combination of the two styles. The haircut features longer hair on the top that gradually tapers down to a shorter length on the sides and back that you'd see in a regular fade, similar to a skin taper.

With this trim, you get the best of both worlds – the length and versatility of a taper, combined with the clean and sharp look of a fade. It's a great option for those who want to add some dimension and texture to their hair without committing to a full fade or buzz cut.

How to Choose Between a Taper vs Fade Haircut

It's all well and good knowing what taper and fade hairstyles are, but how do you know which will suit your mug better?

Your personal preference is obviously a big factor in deciding on a haircut and probably the one that'll sway your decision most. If you tend to go for a more modern style and aesthetic, a fade will suit you well. You can combine it with other on-trend hairstyles, like a mullet or textured quiff.

Conversely, if you prefer a classic and more traditional look, a taper might be more up your alley.

But aside from personal preference, there are also other factors to consider when choosing between the two.

Hair Type

Tapers, fades, and taper fade haircuts can all be done on any hair type, which is what makes them such versatile choices. However, certain hair types may lend themselves better to one style or the other.

For example, if you have thick and coarse hair, a fade looks really sharp and clean. Men with type 4 hair, which is tightly coiled and textured, can also rock a fade with ease.

On the other hand, a taper can be good for men with type 1 hair, which is straight and fine, as it adds more texture and dimension to their hair.

Find out what your hair type is in our guide to men’s hair types.

close up haircut
Image by Roman Budnyi from

Face Shape

Face shape is another important factor to consider when choosing between a fade and taper haircut. Both styles can be tailored to suit different face shapes, and that's what your barber will help with.

But generally, a fade works well for men with round or oval-shaped faces, as it helps to elongate and balance out the face.

Tapers can be great for men with square or heart-shaped faces, as they soften their angular features and add some roundness to their face shape.

Read more about choosing the right haircut for your face shape.

Haircut Maintenance

Both tapers and fades require fairly regular maintenance – usually needing a trim every 2 to 3 weeks to maintain the original length. However, your hair growth rate and preferred length will also play a role in determining how often you need to visit the barber.

Generally, though, a fade will mean more frequent trips to the barber than a taper. This is because fades involve shaving hair much shorter, so as it grows out, it becomes more noticeable and needs to be trimmed.

Tapers, on the other hand, are more gradual and don't have such an obvious difference in length as they grow out.

child getting haircut
Image by RDNE Stock project from Pexels from

How to Ask Your Barber for a Taper or Fade Cut

When asking for a taper or fade cut at the barber, it's important to communicate clearly and have a clear idea of what you want. Any good barber will discuss with you and give suggestions based on your hair type and facial structure, but it's always best to have a general understanding of the desired outcome.

We always have a couple of screenshots or saved Instagram posts on hand to show our barber the desired look. If you don't know exactly how to tell your barber what you want, showing them a few pictures can be really helpful. 

Just remember, your hair may not look exactly like the picture due to differences in texture or thickness, but the barber will use their skills and expertise to create a similar style that suits you.

You should tell your barber whether you want a fade or taper but also try to be specific about the sort of length you want on top. Don't worry about the numbers; just describe the length in the way you'd like it to look.

Summary: Taper vs Fade Haircuts

Tapers and fades are both great options for a clean, stylish haircut. 

While they’re pretty similar, they do create a different look. Both trims are very versatile and can suit any hair type or length, so you'll look great no matter what. Just make sure to communicate clearly with your barber about the specific length and style you want, using pictures or descriptive words.

Head over to our blog for more men's hair tips and advice on how to achieve your desired look.


Is Taper or Skin Fade Better?

Neither is better; it simply depends on personal preference and the look you are going for. A taper leaves more length on the top of your head, resulting in a softer, more gradual transition. A skin fade, on the other hand, creates a more defined and dramatic contrast between the longer hair on top and the closely shaved sides.

Is Skin Fade & Fade the Same?

A skin fade is a type of fade that involves cropping the hair extremely short on the sides and gradually blending it into longer hair on the top. A classic fade still involves trimming the hair shorter on the sides but not as close to the scalp as a skin fade.

Should I Get a Low or Mid Fade?

A low fade is a little 'smarter' looking than a mid fade, leaving you with slightly more length on the sides and back. A mid fade is more modern, with a sharper contrast between the longer hair on top and the closely cropped sides. 

It ultimately depends on your personal style and the look you are trying to achieve. Both low and mid fades can be versatile and suitable for any hair length or texture.

What is the Difference Between a Fade & a Mid Taper Fade?

A fade refers to the gradual blending of hair from very short at the bottom of the head to long closer to the top, while a taper specifically refers to the gradual blending of hair from shorter to longer. A mid taper fade is a combination of both techniques, with short hair on the sides gradually fading into longer hair on top. The fade will usually begin around the temples.

Do Tapers Last Longer Than Fades?

Tapers and fades both require regular maintenance to maintain their shape and look. However, tapers tend to last longer than fades as they don't have as much contrast between the hair lengths. Fades usually have a more noticeable difference between the short and long hair, which can become more obvious as the hair grows out. But this also depends on the individual's hair type and how quickly their hair grows.

Piers Le Moignan

Piers Le Moignan is the founder and CEO of Salt Grooming, an award-winning British luxury men’s haircare and styling brand. 

Founded in 2018, Piers has quickly grown the company into a global brand that has distributed to 43 countries and counting.

Headquartered in London, Piers leads an agile workforce of 10 employees and consultants, including the company’s formulation team which features some of the UK’s leading cosmetic scientists. Piers is responsible for overseeing logistics, supply chain, and performance marketing, and is the driving force behind Salt’s product innovation and brand/creative direction. 

Previous to foundership, Piers spent a decade at some of London’s leading creative agencies, developing global brands and communications for the likes of Adidas, Jaguar Land Rover, British Airways, and more.

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