Haircut numbers aren’t about picking a haircut off a menu. The numbers refer to how long, or short, clipper guards cut hair.
Some guys like to ask for their cuts by that number to get exactly what they want. That isn’t required though. Describing the cut in terms of length works. As we always say, a picture communicates the haircut you want without any chance of confusion.
Keep reading for more about haircut numbers and how they relate to men’s haircuts.
Haircut Numbers = Clipper Guards
Haircut numbers are clipper guards, but what are clipper guards? Also called attachment combs or guide combs, the guards are plastic combs that fit over clipper blades to control how much hair is cut. They are helpful for cutting hair to one uniform length and making sure you don’t take off more than you want to.
Clipper guards aren’t just for preventing mistakes during at-home haircuts. Barbers use them to get those blurry fades, keep buzzcuts one length, and cut hair quickly. Guards help for beard fades and beard trims too.
Clipper Guard Numbers
What are these haircut numbers? The most common clipper guards are numbers one through eight, although shorter and longer guards are available.
All you need to know is the lower the number, the shorter the hair. Number 1 is 1/8″ with each number going up by 1/8″, making guard number 8 1″ long.
Most guards follow this formula:
In general, these guard lengths are accurate but there can be differences between clipper brands and sometimes models so double-check with the maker of your clippers.
Some clippers also have a taper lever that moves the blade in between guard numbers, changing the length that cuts. This gives more control for those blurry fades but at-home haircutters should be aware that it changes the length of the combs.
Most clipper attachment sets come with guard numbers one through eight. Some models and brands will come with more, some with less. This can be a consideration when purchasing clippers for home use. If you’re going to be cutting hair super short, you probably want 0, 0.5, and 1.5 guards. For longer hair and/or beard trims, look for longer guards. Some brands even go up to number 10 at 1.25″ or 32mm and 12 at 1.5″ or 38mm.
If that seems complicated, some clippers use measurements instead of numbers.
Haircut Numbers Diagram
All these numbers and guards do have a point. Think of a haircut as different lengths at different places around the scalp. Haircuts follow lines around the head that correspond to bones of the scalp.
You see a seamless haircut but a barber sees this.:
Open and closed refer to the taper lever that adjusts blade height but not all clippers have this and the same fade can be done with the guards.
A zero fade sounds like it could be a bald fade or skin fade but it is just a little bit longer. This makes it a shadow fade, that goes from short to shorter but not all the way down to the skin.
The 0 clipper guard is 1/16″ or 1.5mm” high. That can be made even shorter with an adjustable blade. The result is a hint of stubble that leaves a slight shadow instead of a clean shaved look. This short length leaves some space between strands of hair.
Haircut By Numbers
If cutting hair was as simple as running clipper guards over it at different lengths, we wouldn’t need barbers and hair stylists. However, the curved shape of the scalp means that to look one length, hair really needs to be different lengths. And you want to look good.
Asking for a hair length by the clipper guard number works best for short haircuts. At some point, even as short as number 4, or 1/2″ of length, your barber is going to get out the scissors.
Clipper guards work for a buzz cut but when hair gets enough length to be styled, it requires layers and texture to create a flattering shape and make the most of the hair type.
Here’s what some of the clipper guard numbers look like:
Number 1 Haircut
The number one guard is just about as short as you can go at 1/8″. Lighter or finer hair may have some skin showing through at this length. If this is too long, there is still a 1/2 and 0 guard for the slightest hit of hair.
Number 1.5 Haircut
For short hair, 1/16″ makes a difference. That little bit more length allows texture to come through and is also enough to start making waves.
Number 2 Haircut
With double the length of the buzz cut, this 1/4″ of length is thick and completely covers the scalp. Instead of the popular fade, this look contrasts hair and scalp to create a bold shape.
Number 3 Haircut
A little bit longer hair creates more of a defined shape. This short look has a defined line along the forehead, full coverage on top, and a high fade.
Number 4 Haircut
Working up to the number 4 clipper guard, this short haircut is about 1/2″ long. It is not exclusively cut by clippers and uses scissors to ad some texture.
Number 5 Haircut
This trendy crop balances being very short with adding some texture. It is a touch longer than 1/2″ with a blunt line of fringe.
Number 6 Haircut
At number 6 and 3/4″ long, hair starts to lie flat instead of standing up. This is a neat and clean short haircut with blunt line of bangs and quick taper fade.
Number 7 Haircut
Number 8 Haircut
And here’s what about a number 8 guard, or an inch of hair. It’s enough length to style in various ways but this cool spiky look with some texture is a winner.