When you get a trim, your hairdresser may ask you a question like this: “how does a number 5 sound?” When they say this, they’re referring to a haircut number, which is a common way to categorize the common clippers and hairstyles for men. This system is a reliable way for barbers to cut hair and avoid giving you a bad haircut.
But unless you’re a barber yourself, you likely don’t know what all of these numbers mean. If you’ve ever wanted to unravel the mystery behind them, we’ve compiled this short and useful guide to haircut numbers.
What Do The Numbers Mean?
One thing we need to get out of the way is to differentiate what your barber means when they mention numbers because they don’t always mean the same thing. Those numbers can refer to two things:
Hair clipper sizes, which are based on the size of the guard in a clipper set
Haircut numbers, which are based on how much hair is left after using a specific clipper
Barbers use these numbers interchangeably, so most guys only have to remember their haircut number and nothing else. You don’t have to think about hair clipper sizes too much if you’re not looking to cut your own hair. But in case you are, we’ll talk about those further below.
It’s hard not to bring up other hairdressing jargon when you’re talking about haircut numbers. Here are a few terms that we’ll keep referring to throughout this guide.
A fade is a way of cutting your hair where it tapers to an almost invisible point. If you want to keep your hair long on the top and keep it short on the sides, a fade is the best way to do it. It’s a trendy look that you can customize in a lot of ways, especially when you change how you cut your neckline.
The neckline refers to the part of your hair at the back of your neck after a cut. There are several ways you can cut a neckline; from natural fades into your skin to short tapers that can grow out with your hair. You can clip your neckline to understate or emphasize your neck, which can help shift your head shape.
A taper is like a fade because it changes your hair’s length from short to long, but it leaves a little bit of hair dangling at the edges. Unlike fades, barbers usually taper with scissors. The best way to distinguish fades from tapers is that fades will ‘fade’ all the way down to your skin.
Also known as the military haircut, buzz cuts are characterized by their short tops, faded sides, and thin necklines. Depending on the clipper size, your buzz cut can be long or short. If your barber mixes clippers, you can even combine different lengths of buzz cuts into one blended hairstyle.
Closely related to the buzz cut, a crew cut features slightly longer hair on top from the longest at the hairline and the shortest at the crown. It creates a flat look for your hair, and is considered a sharper look than a buzz cut. It also uses generous amounts of tapering rather than fades, especially at the front.
High And Tight
A variation on the buzz cut, the high and tight hairstyle is popular with most men because it doesn’t need a lot of maintenance. Leaving an inch or a half-inch of hair on top, the look comes with close-cut fades at the back, neckline, and sides.
Using different clipper sizes on the hair, the asymmetrical cut is a high-maintenance yet striking haircut that requires a lot of skill with a clipper and scissors to pull off. It’s popular with men who have plenty of time to get their hair groomed and usually use a combination of fades and tapers for a flattering cut that’s suited to the shape of their head.
Hair Clipper Sizes
Hair clipper sizes are determined by the guard on the clipper which affects how much hair it leaves on your head after each pass. The lower the value, the less hair remains. While different brands have a few centimeters of variation between their clipper sizes, this is the amount of hair that remains after you’ve used that kind of clipper:
- Number 1: one-eighth of an inch
- Number 2: one-quarter of an inch
- Number 3: three-eighths of an inch
- Number 4: one-half of an inch
- Number 5: five-eighths of an inch
- Number 6: three-quarters of an inch
- Number 7: seven-eighths of an inch
- Number 8: one inch
So if your barber says you’re going to get a Number 2, that means that you’ll have one-quarter of an inch left on that area of your hair when they’re through with it. Barbers will sometimes combine different clippers for even more versatility in hairstyles, like the ubiquitous 2×3 haircut.
So now you know the relationship between clippers and haircut numbers, what does each haircut number actually look like? Here’s a brief breakdown of each one.
Number 0 Haircut
A number 0 haircut means that your barber won’t use any guards at all when they cut your hair, which cuts your hair right down to the scalp. This is the most efficient way to get a bald haircut, though more skilled hairdressers will use a Number 0 clip to finish a fade.
Your barber can also use a Number 0 for a very short bald cut, a skin fade, or any other cut where you want to expose your scalp. It doesn’t get rid of all your hair, but it’s the shortest cut you can get without your barber shaving all of it clean off your head.
Number 1 Haircut
Number 1 is a staple of most buzz cuts, but it can also taper some asymmetrical cuts too. It’s rare to see a full Number 1 haircut since appearance-wise it’s not much different from a Number 0. Barbers will use a Number 1 guard to transition from one cut to another, especially if they’re looking to blend haircuts.
This cut also shows a fair bit of scalp, but it’s also reliant on how thick or thin your hair is for the overall texture and look of your hair. We recommend this number for men with thick hair who want to keep it short and maintenance-free.
Number 2 Haircut
Looks good and easy to maintain, the Number 2 haircut is the cut that most men go for, primarily because it’s a close cut that avoids showing the scalp. It’s a great fit for thin and thick hair and works especially well for balding men. It gives you a fuller hairstyle without sacrificing too much hair, and you can even cut it yourself with enough practice.
The Number 2 also mixes well with a lot of other cuts out there, since it provides a good transition between long and short fades and cuts. It’s a popular pick for the length of backs and sides and works well with longer lengths of hair with tapering.
Number 3 Haircut
Number 3 is the longest of cuts that you can use to make fades and buzz cuts. If you want a fade that’s just verging on the edge of becoming a taper, your barber will probably use a Number 3 to style it. It also mixes better with longer haircuts, since it provides a good line to transition between different areas.
It also works well with any kind of hair type, since it’s low-maintenance yet still defined enough for a clean look. It shows off the shape of your head without using a comb to maintain.
Number 4 Haircut
A Number 4 haircut is the middle ground between short and long hair and can be styled in various ways depending on how thick or thin your hair is. You’ll end up with a crew cut or a brush cut, which is a slightly longer buzz cut that has fades on the sides and back. It’s another low-maintenance look that works on both thin and thick hair.
Since most clippers usually have a Number 4 guard, most barbers and hairdressers will default to using it unless you ask otherwise. It leaves you with a reasonable amount of hair that you can style, but it’s not too long that you need to use a lot of product to hold it that way.
Number 5 Haircut
Most people use a Number 5 haircut to add more contrast to shorter hairstyles without cutting it too close to the scalp, but it also works as a great way to taper longer hair. If you’re looking for more complex hairstyles like parted fades or even asymmetrical hairstyles, this is the number you should look at.
The Number 5 is great for longer and thicker hair that you want to wax but isn’t long enough to style with a comb. If you’re looking for a casual, no-frills hairstyle that you can still jazz up with a little product, then this cut is the one for you.
Number 6 Haircut
Barbers mostly use this clipper size to help give tapers a clean look before using scissors on the sides. You can still get a buzz cut with this hairstyle, but it’ll look more like a crew cut, especially once you fade on the back and sides.
This is also a cut that can change how your neckline looks for rounded and square styles. Your barber will probably use a lower number if you’re asking for a fade, but most tapering will work with a Number 6.
Number 7 Haircut
The Number 7 is the prime length needed for a crew cut, though your hairdresser will still use lower clippers to make sure that the back and sides look tidy. It’s ideal for buzzing off the top part of your hair if you don’t want to use scissors, and pairs well with thick hair.
It’s also a cut that you can apply products like gel or wax quite easily, since you’ll only get a short trim that can still leave your hair long enough to style in plenty of ways. If you’re looking for a look that you can experiment with, the Number 7 is the cut to go for. Just remember that it’s also a cut that requires regular maintenance.
Number 8 Haircut
If you’re looking to trim the edges of your hair without cutting it too deeply, your barber will use a Number 8 guard. It works great with fade hairstyles because longer hair contrasts well with a short back and sides, though you definitely need a holding product to keep that look in place. Most crew cuts and business cuts will use this clipper size since it leaves a lot of room for the barber to work with scissors.
Most hairdressers will pair this cut with a clipper size on the low end of the clipper scale to balance out the overall length. But if you want a somewhat casual, devil-may-care look to your hair, you can skip the usual side and back fades and ask for a generous taper instead.
3 Versatile Clippers That Can Give You The Look You Want
The beauty of haircut numbers is that once you’ve gotten the hang of them, you can start cutting your own hair at home. It takes a little practice, but you’ll end up saving a lot of money if you do. Here are 3 clipper sets that you should put on your shopping list:
Wahl Professional 5-Star Magic Clip #8148
Wahl has been a trusted name in clippers for a while, with their products boasting high performance, superb construction, and smooth handling. The Cordless Magic clip lasts long and cuts well, with the bonus of being one of the most portable models on the market.
Powered by a lithium-ion battery, it can run for 90 minutes from 2 hours of a single charge. That’s enough for most haircuts and a little more. But don’t worry if you’re being meticulous about your haircut: there’s also the option to use it corded in case you run out of power.
With a dedicated taper lever on the side of the blade for fine-tuning cuts, it’s an excellent model to use if you’re looking to blend or fade cuts together. Once you get the hang of it, you can even use the higher guard clips to make tapers.
What we like about this product is that it’s one of the easiest clippers to work with. It’s lightweight so you don’t get fatigued if you use it for a while. It’s also efficient at using its power thanks to its battery type, and outputs a steady amount of cutting power thanks to its rotary motor.
One thing we will note is that getting a Number 0 or 1 cut with these clippers can be a bit tricky since the blades are very sharp and can easily cut through your scalp if you aren’t careful. We suggest sticking with guard clippers 2 and above if you aren’t experienced with using clippers quite yet.
Oster Classic 76 Universal Motor Clipper 76076010
The Oster Classic 76 is a trusted clipper that many professional and amateur hairstylists trust, a throwback model that can still keep up with its sleeker contemporaries today. Encased in a sturdy valox resin housing, this powerful clipper can cut through the thickest of hair while remaining practically unbreakable.
While it needs a cord to work, this model can output an impressive amount of power to compensate thanks to its efficient rotary motor. You’ll never experience dips in speed or any outside power interruptions thanks to its heavy-duty 9-foot power cord, and the high blade speeds cut your hair cleanly and easily without leaving bumps.
One thing to note is that your base purchase will only come with two guard clip sizes, so if you’re looking for a longer cut or more blended hairstyles, you’ll have to buy Oster’s Professional 10 Universal Comb Set. This won’t be a problem if you’re just looking to keep a shorter hairstyle, but the combs are cheap and they give you more options.
What we like about this model is that everything from the construction to its performance feels solid. This is the clipper that you’d expect to see at your local barbershop that’s operating for years: a reliable model that will last for ages.
But if you’re worried about wrist fatigue or want a model with more included options with your purchase, this product might not be a good fit for you.
BaBylissPRO Barberology MetalFX
A premium model that can work on almost any kind of hair, the BaBylissPRO Barberology MetalFX can give you professional-grade cuts with minor effort. It’s one of the best hybrid models in the market, able to give you the look that you want on-demand without the usual issues such as razor bumps or pulling and tugging.
Its lithium-ion battery is one of the most efficient power-saving models on the market, able to go beyond 4 hours of runtime on a single charge. It’s also great at venting off excess heat through the casing to avoid overheating, giving it a significant edge over other long-use clippers of its type.
The brushless motor combines optimum cutting speeds with a whisper-silent operation, with nothing more than a gentle purr that isn’t obtrusive to your ears or your surroundings. But don’t be fooled by its quiet buzzing; the motors are designed by the same people who make racing engines. You’ll never doubt that you’re getting anything less than the power you need.
Keep in mind that such a powerful model will need regular maintenance to keep it working at peak condition. Fortunately, all the things that you need to clean and oil this model are included with your base purchase, with other accessories relatively easy to find and buy online.
Educating yourself on haircut numbers is a great way to improve your haircuts. It makes it easier for your barber to cut your hair even if they aren’t your usual hairdresser.
Once you’ve picked a haircut number and gotten used to it, the right clipper can also help you cut your own hair at home. It’s a great way to cut down on costs with grooming, and it’s a handy skill to have if you need to cut your hair and your hairdresser isn’t around.