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Difference Between Taper and Fade

Men’s haircuts are relatively straightforward affairs. Barbers are trained in several techniques to cut hair according to the customer’s preference, and many of these techniques have become staples over time – particularly the fade and taper cuts, two terms which can confuse customers and barbers alike.

How is a Fade different from a Taper?

The main difference between a fade and a taper haircut concerns the way that hair changes in length as it goes down your hairline; a taper is a gradual shortening of hair from top to bottom, while the fade is a taper in which the hair is already short at the top, and is cut further so that the hair seems to “fade” into one’s hairline.

What is a Taper?

An Example of a Taper Haircut

A taper is a common feature in most haircuts for men. In the most basic sense, it refers to the gradual transition in hair length, in which hair is cut shorter from top to bottom, eventually “tapering off” as it approaches the hairline, which results in a clean and orderly trim.

Traditionally, a barber will cut a man’s hair to taper at the sides and back of the head: the taper at your sideburns reaches across the hairline above your ears to meet the one at the nape of your neck. 

Tapers can vary in length; there are short and long tapers, depending on the choice of either the customer or barber.

What is a Fade?

A Basic Fade Haircut

A fade haircut is actually a type of taper – albeit one in which the cut is much shorter. When viewed closely, hair from the top of a fade quickly shortens as it goes down the hairline, which creates the appearance of hair that “fades” into nothing. 

Unlike with tapers, fades are normally applied all the way around the head, while the top can be styled in any way that the customer pleases. The resulting cut is neat, and can feel light and fresh due to the skin at the sides now being exposed to air.

Fades can be incorporated into many other cuts. It is common to ask for shaved lines over a fade cut to create a more prominent edge. 

Differences Between a Fade and a Taper

Cut Hair Length

A fade haircut is distinguished by a quick transition from the longer hair at the top of the head to very short hair as it approaches the hairline. In essence, it is a much shorter variation of an ordinary taper. The hair at the edges of a fade can resemble a buzz cut.

You will generally see more hair in a taper – for the most part, the hair running down its length will not be as short as with a fade. As a result, a classic taper will appear more natural and “lived-in.” 

Aesthetic Appeal

Both cuts are fashionable in different, but occasionally overlapping ways. 

Tapers are versatile; they can be styled to create a cut that is casual, comfortable, conservative or trendy. Cutting and maintaining a taper is easy. Barbers take special care in creating tapers – especially at the sides – to produce an appealing symmetry in the customer’s cut.

Fades are great canvasses for fine details and intricate shaved lines. A good fade is smooth and precise, and can appear both professional and fun depending on the need.

Edges

A quick glance at both hairstyles reveals a key detail that sets them apart: simply examine the edges of the cut. 

A taper has more prominent edges; the hair doesn’t have to be trimmed to its base as it meets the hairline. Sometimes, the edges of a taper will consist of a thin layer of very short hair.

In contrast, the edges of a fade cut are thicker and less defined, like a gradient. More short hair is often present here, creating a contrast with the style of the top part.

Areas

Barbers utilize the taper cut as a neat way to style and tidy up the hair at a customer’s sideburns and back. The hair above the ears is usually not tapered; it is instead cut to create a neat, sudden edge between hair and skin.

By convention, most fades are created all the way around the head. The size and thinness of a fade largely depend on the customer’s taste; while long fades are trendy, fashion-conscious students will occasionally opt for shorter ones to comply with academic policies.

Ease

Tapers are generally easier to create – even for beginner barbers. In contrast, fades can pose a challenge due to the level of precision needed to achieve a good-quality cut. Furthermore, regular maintenance is needed to retain the sharpness of a fade.

Tools Used

Clippers are the easiest and most convenient tool to create tapers, although many hairstylists prefer the use of their fingers and shears as they help provide a more natural look to a taper cut.

Barbers make a fade cut using clippers and a blade; their manual finesse of these tools is necessary to create a decent fade. 

Comparison Chart: Taper vs Fade

AreasTaperFade
Cut Hair LengthGradually shortens down the hairlineFades into very short hairs down the hairline
Aesthetic AppealCasual, symmetrical and versatileSmooth, trendy and detailed
EdgesProminentGradient
AreasSideburns and napeAll the way around the head
EaseEasierRequires precision
Tools UsedClippers, or fingers and shearsClippers and blade

How are Fades and Tapers Similar? 

Fades are ultimately still a type of taper. Both taper and fade cuts are similar in that they are created by shortening hair from the top of the head to the bottom. These features are intended to provide a cleaner, more detailed look in a haircut.

In addition, fades and tapers are versatile and can be found in the haircut repertoires of most barbers – with variants ranging from trendy to several that are acceptable at school, work or other, more formal settings.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did fades become popular?

The popularity of fades in modern times can mislead people into thinking that it’s a recent trend – in actuality, fade haircuts had already been popular in the U.S. military as early as the 1940s as a clear-cut and professional style for service members. 

In the following decades, fades would continue to spread and evolve among Black and Hispanic barbershops, with techniques such as shaved lines and different top styles adopted by several barbers in the process.

By the 1980s, fades were becoming increasingly common, with the 1980 album cover to Warm Leatherette bringing Grace Jones and her hip hi-top fade further into the limelight.

Which hairstyles should my face shape get?

Face shape can make or break a haircut, and vice versa. Hairstyles and head shapes complement each other through balance, angles and other aspects. Here are recommendations for haircuts to suit different male facial structures.

- Round face: needs cuts that add height and length, e.g. quiffs, French crops, faux hawk, pompadour.
- Heart face: needs to balance your chin and forehead, e.g. side part, quiffs, textured fringes.
- Diamond face: needs to bring out cheekbones and angular features, e.g. messy cuts, fringes or side parts.
- Square face: needs to emphasize jawline, e.g. quiffs, undercuts, side parts.

Conclusion

Fades and tapers are among the most popular techniques incorporated into male haircuts. Fades are a subcategory of tapers, but there are key differences to distinguish both from each other.

Tapers gradually shorten hair from top to bottom at the sideburns and nape of the neck, creating prominent edges and often retaining more hair on the head. A taper is versatile, and can be casual, trendy or conservative. A barber can use clippers for an easier cut, or their fingers and shears for a more natural appearance.

Fades create a gradient of hair all the way around the head that steadily becomes shorter as it moves down the hairline. Its edges are less distinct. Fade cuts are popular due to their clean and precise look, and they can be further customized with shaved lines (edge-ups) and other details. However, they are harder to pull off.

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About the Author: Tom Vincent

Tom Vincent graduated with a bachelor's degree in economics and social studies. He then started his higher education at the University of François Rabelais in Tours with a DUT Information Communication. To expand his knowledge, he also followed a professional degree in e-commerce and digital marketing at the Lumière University of Lyon. On this project, he is in charge of articles covering language, industry and social.
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