How to Talk to Barbers Like a Pro: Insights from Expert Barbers

Trust me, I've been on both sides of the chair. I can't count the number of times a client has sat down and struggled to explain what they want.

The result? A haircut that's good, but not great.

Here's the deal:

Mastering the art of "how to talk to your barber" can be a game-changer. You don't want to sound pushy, but you also want to leave the shop loving your look. So, let's cut to the chase.

Joining us for this guide is Sunny Kambo, a master barber and my colleague at Wise Barber, who has an impressive 14 years of experience under his belt. We're teaming up to provide you with the ultimate guide for effectively communicating with your barber.

Are you ready to finally get the haircut of your dreams? Let's dive in.

Clearly Communicate the Haircut You Want

Listen, you might think you're being clear, but "short on the sides, long on top" can mean a hundred different things in barber speak. I've had clients leave thrilled, and others, well, not so thrilled—all because of a simple miscommunication.

Here's the game-changer:

Know your terms. Seriously, it's like learning a new language, but it pays off. Do you want a fade? Great, but do you know the difference between a high, mid, or low fade? It matters. The last thing you want is to glance in the mirror and realize you got a different fade than you pictured.

So here's my advice:

Before you slide into that chair, do a little homework. Knowing the haircut terminologies can be the difference between getting a haircut you like and a haircut you love.

To point you in the right direction, let's dive into five popular haircuts that often get lost in translation. Trust me, the next time you're in the chair, you'll know just what to say.

FadeYour hair is cut short at the back and sides and gradually lengthened as it ascends to the top.
French cropThis cuts your hair at the back and the sides short, leaving the top long and brushed over your forehead to form a fringe.
Buzz cutYour hair is cut close to the scalp all around and is usually about ⅛ -1 inch long.
Slick backThis features long hair that's stylishly combed back and brushed down with a styling gel.
TaperA taper leaves your hair at the top long and full, keeping the sides short.
High Fade Haircut

Tell Him How Much Hair You Want to Take Off, and Where 

I've lost count of how many times a client has told me, "Mike, just give it a trim." Then, halfway through, they're wide-eyed in my chair realizing that their idea of a "trim" and mine were worlds apart.

Remember this:

Specificity is your friend. If you're envisioning shorter locks on top, say it. If you dream of a neat contour at the back but full-bodied sides, speak up! And when it comes to inches, be clear. Do you want half an inch off, or maybe two inches?

Let me break it down further:

To help bridge this barber-client gap, let’s dissect some length terms. Understand what you're asking for and what we, the barbers, hear:

Common TermsMeaningStandard Length
TrimCutting off split or damaged ends of your hair to boost hair growth and keep your haircut neat.Usually cuts off ¼ - 2 inches of hair.
Close shaveCutting your hair very short and close to your scalp.About ⅕ of an inch to 1 inch long.
ShortCutting close to your scalp also but slightly longer than a close shave.About 1.5 - 2 inches long.
MediumA medium cut usually leaves your hair at the chin level and tapers off the rest.About 2 - 4 inches long.
LongThis cut leaves your hair at your neckline or shoulders.About 4 - 8 inches long.

And a golden nugget from Sunny, a fellow barber I've shared countless stories:
"When in doubt, start small. Ask your barber to trim just a little, then assess. You can always take off more, but adding it back? That's a trick even we haven't mastered."

Tell Your Barber How You Like the Sideburns

Alright, let's get real:

Sideburns are the unsung heroes of a great haircut. They can make or break your look, and I've seen it happen. So, when you sit in my chair, don't forget to mention them.

Trust me, I've had guys come in, thrilled with their haircut but shocked by their sideburns—simply because we didn't chat about it.

Types of Sideburns—A Quick Breakdown:

Sideburn TypeDescription
Short SideburnsThis style stays short and neat and ranges from stopping below the top of your ear to falling short of your ear lobe. Short sideburns are suitable for those who want their faces to look smaller.
Long SideburnsLong sideburns extend below your ears and sometimes below your chin to frame your face nicely. They're great if you want sideburns that elongate your face. 
Thin SideburnsThis involves trimming your sideburns until they resemble thin, straight hair strips on the sides of your face.
Wide Sideburns Wide sideburns involve thick hairs that extend in width from your ear area to your cheeks, depending on the length.
Tapered SideburnsTapered sideburns start thin and get thicker as they get longer, like a regular taper. They're usually long enough to be paired with beards.

Know what you want before you walk in. If you're unsure, no worries—I love when clients ask for advice. It's your look; let's make sure we get it right.


Explain How You Want Your Neckline to Look

True story:

I had a regular named Tim who'd been coming in for years. Nice guy, but he always left slightly dissatisfied. One day, we figured it out—it was his neckline. We'd been going with a blocked style, but it never really suited him.

Switched it up to a tapered neckline, and boom—game changer. He loved it.

So here's the deal:

Your neckline is more important than you think. Blocked, rounded, or tapered, each style offers a different vibe. And trust me, choosing the right one can make or break your entire look.


Next time you're in my chair, let's talk necklines. It's a small detail with big impact. Don't let it be an afterthought.

Blocked NecklineRounded NecklineTapered Neckline
This means cutting a straight line across your neckline to make it look square-shaped.This involves tracing your neckline to make it look oval-shaped.

This involves gradually reducing the hair length from the top of your neckline to the bottom.


It makes your neckline appear thicker and wider.


It gives your neckline a softer appearance as there are no sharp square edges.

It makes your neckline appear slimmer.


A blocked neckline requires a weekly trim to keep it tidy.Rounded necklines also require weekly trims.Tapered necklines can be trimmed occasionally.

Listen to Your Barber

It's not all about you, believe it or not. I've had decades of snipping and styling, and my fellow barbers have too. So when we make a suggestion, it's coming from a place of expertise.

Case in point:

I once had a client who insisted on a specific fade, even though I knew it wouldn't complement his face shape. After a gentle suggestion and a bit of back-and-forth, he took my advice. He left with a grin, loving his new look.

Here's the insider tip:

You might think you know what you want, but sometimes we see things you might not. As Sunny puts it, "A skilled barber has a good eye for what will suit your face and hair type."

So, listen up:

When we're mapping out your cut, be open to some professional input. If we propose an alternative, don't take it as an insult. Take it as a cue that we're looking out for you, drawing from years of experience to give you a cut that turns heads.

Know the Ideal Clipper and Guard Size for Your Haircut 

I'll let you in on a little secret:

Not all clippers are created equal. Just last month, I had a guy come in asking for a tight fade. I could tell he knew what he wanted. The problem was, he'd been to another shop that used subpar clippers. The fade? More like a failure.

So, listen up:

Your barber's skills are one thing, but the tools in their hand? Just as crucial. And we're not just talking clippers—we're talking guards. These plastic attachments dictate how much hair gets chopped.

Now, let's get real:

You don't have to be a barber to know a #1 guard from a #4. A little knowledge goes a long way. Do you want that fade tight? Tell your barber you're thinking of a #1 on the sides. It helps us help you.

Sunny, a master of the craft, puts it this way:
"Knowing your ideal guard size not only makes you a more informed client but also makes our job easier. It's a win-win."

So, next time you're eyeing that chair, take a minute to think about your guard size. Trust me, your haircut will thank you.

4 Tips for Effective Communication with Your Barber


While talking to your barber, some factors can help make your conversation smoother.

From showing a picture to tipping, here are 4 ways to improve communication with your barber.

1. Bring a Picture

We've all been there. You try describing the 'do you want, but words fail. Trust me, I've seen that struggle far too often.

Here's the deal:

Bring a picture. It's a lifesaver both for you and me. I remember a customer, Alex, who spent 15 minutes trying to describe a "sort of like, kind of layered but also short" cut. Imagine his relief when another client showed me a photo and got exactly what he wanted in seconds.

My buddy Sunny, a master barber, puts it best: "A picture's worth a thousand words in the barber's chair."

So, for the love of good hair, snap a pic of the cut you're craving and bring it to your appointment. You'll thank me later.

2. Be Honest with Your Barber

There was this one time a client of mine, Tim, came in. He just pointed at a picture and said, "I want that." Halfway through, he kept wincing but didn't voice his concerns. And guess what? He wasn't entirely happy with the end result.

Here's the deal:

It's your hair. Your style. Your image. If you see me veering off the path, don't just sit back and hope for the best. Tell me. I'd much rather you speak up during the cut than leave unhappy.

So here's my golden rule: 

Always, always be clear about what you're feeling. Trust me, your barber can handle feedback. And more often than not, it'll ensure you walk out with a style you truly love.

3. Remember, It's Just Hair

We need to talk. Even with the best barber and the clearest communication, things can still go sideways. Trust me, I've seen it happen in my chair.

Here's the deal:

A bad haircut isn't the end of the world. Hair grows back. I've had clients who were down in the dumps over a cut that didn't meet their expectations. But guess what? They survived and even found ways to make it work until their next appointment.

My advice?

Own it. Confidence can transform a mediocre cut into something people will compliment. Been there, and seen that.

So keep your chin up. Even if you're not thrilled with the new look, remember, you can always make it work until the next cut. Because in the end, it's not just about the haircut; it's about how you wear it.

4. Tipping

Let's cut to the chase:

Tipping your barber matters.

I've been on both sides of the chair, and a tip is more than just extra cash. It's a nod of approval, a "Hey, you did good."

True story:

I had a client, Tom, who always tipped well. Because of that, I always remembered his preferences down to the type of music he liked. Come his next visit, everything was ready: his favorite chair, the right playlist, you name it.

Here's the deal:

Tipping fosters a relationship. It says, "I value your skill and time." It's a cycle, really. You tip well, your barber remembers you. The next time you walk in, you're not just another head of hair; you're a valued client.

So, the next time you're pleased with your cut, tip. Not just to say thanks, but to invest in even better service for your future visits. Trust me, it goes a long way.

The Bottom Line

From decades behind the chair, I've seen it all—thrilled smiles and disappointed sighs. Remember, you and I, we're a team. The clearer you are, the closer I get to nailing that vision in your head.

Quick tips from yours truly:

  • Be vocal. If you feel the snip is too short, say it.
  • Name it right. Learn the lingo.
  • Bring photos. Sometimes, a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

Next time you drop by, lean into these tips, and trust me, you'll leave with more swagger in your step. And hey, always eager to hear your thoughts on this guide. Got feedback or stories about haircut misadventures? Drop 'em below. Stay sharp!

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David Swati David Swati

It's good I have learnt somethings I didn't know in barbering.......keep on educating young barbers to equip their skills for professionalism

Mike Medders Mike Medders

Thank you David!

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