Never had a short haircut and want to get one. Have no idea what to do. Help!
November 25, 2008 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Never had a short haircut and want to get one. Have no idea what to do. Help!

This is a question that appears embarrassingly simple ... and yet here we are. I'm a guy in my 20s and have never had a short haircut (my hair has always been around 4-5 inches long). My hair is straight but unruly; I'm tired of having to screw around with it and want to get it cut very short.

My current plan is to just go to a barber and tell him to give me a short haircut. Beyond that, I don't really know what else I might need to know - are they going to need anything else from me, like a particular style? What's a good length to go for if I've never had a short haircut and have no idea if it might turn out to be a terrible look for me? Anything else I should keep in mind?
posted by Pontius Pilate to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (34 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Whenever I'm making a big change, I pony up for an expensive haircut. Especially in your case, you'll need some professional advice regarding what cut will work for you, and what products you'll need (and how to use them).
posted by crickets at 1:30 PM on November 25, 2008

Ignore those people telling you to pay $$$ for a simple haircut and product. People managed to get a haircut and live without $200 bottles of conditioner, you know.

Go to a barber, in a real barbershop. Feel free to bring a picture along if you want to, otherwise just ask for a standard haircut, very short on sides and back and a little longer on top.

$11 (or whatever) later and you've got a nice, normal haircut.
posted by unixrat at 1:39 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

For $45 a man can get a haircut at my trendy salon on a trendy street in Boston, and be served a nice latte or a glass of wine upon his arrival. That's not the ridiculous $400 John Edwards haircut with $200 product (as unixrat is suggesting), but it will give you a "style" more than "short." I've dragged two guys with me to that place -- one with shorter hair (that he spikes up a bit in the front) and one with long curly hair -- and both have gone back of their own volition because of how pleased they were compared to the usual $11 barbershop haircuts.

Just my perspective, as one of the female persuasion. I think slightly more expensive haircuts are worth it.
posted by olinerd at 1:42 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

(I am not a guy, but...) "Short" will mean different things to different barbers. Try to find some pictures of styles you might like. Short styles for men vary a lot, and if you don't want to end up with a brush cut, you need to be specific about what you do want. Can you think of actors, etc who have hair similar to what you want? Image searches of them might be helpful. This is what I did when I tried to get a short style and it worked out much better than the times I went in and put myself at the mercy of the stylist.
posted by wowbobwow at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

very short on sides and back and a little longer on top.

posted by stubby phillips at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2008

I'm tired of having to screw around with it and want to get it cut very short.

Very short? You mean like a buzz cut? If so, there's not really a way to screw it up. There's not much hair to style if you have less than an inch of it.

Beyond that, I don't really know what else I might need to know - are they going to need anything else from me, like a particular style?

You can always go with the age-old practice of finding a picture of someone with hair that you want in a magazine or some other source, and bring it to a hair stylist.

What's a good length to go for if I've never had a short haircut and have no idea if it might turn out to be a terrible look for me?

There's not really any good length, just pick whatever length you think you would like. A lot of times you can ask them to take off a smallish amount of length, and if you want it shorter, ask them to take off more. A good hair stylist should be able to make adjustments on the fly if something doesn't look right to you, so make sure to speak up if they are halfway through and you don't like it.

Anything else I should keep in mind?

Your friends will say "Hey, you cut your hair!" and if you get it really short they will probably jokingly ask you if you joined the army. Other than that, just enjoy your new hairstyle.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:43 PM on November 25, 2008

I'm with crickets. I think you need a good hairdresser at first. A barber is just going to give you a short-back-and-sides or buzz cut, regardless of what would look best on you. I think of a barber as a good place for a guy who knows exactly what he wants, and knows how to tell that to another man.

Here's a good word to utter when you hit the stylist: Texture.

I know... just tell them you want texture, which means they'll cut into your hair in various places with their scissors to give it some shape and style. Just trust me on that one.
posted by lottie at 1:45 PM on November 25, 2008

If you say "short" and they say "what number?", that is VERY short, like a buzzcut with clippers. Your response should be something like "no, scissors cut".
posted by smackfu at 1:46 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Bring a photo. Browse the internet til you find a photo of a haircut you like, print it, hand it to hairdresser.
posted by fire&wings at 1:52 PM on November 25, 2008

nthing "go to a barber, ask for a short haircut". Ask for scissors and it won't be too short.
short back and sides, number five clippers. every time.
posted by katrielalex at 1:56 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Do something interesting with your cut. A lot of people go into barbershops and come out exactly the same. You're young, hair grows, so experiment - try something unusual, or daring, or perhaps just a style you always thought was fun. None of that get-in-get-out business ;)

Hope you enjoy the result, in any case!
posted by Bakuun at 1:59 PM on November 25, 2008

Depends on how you want to look afterwards. Figure that out.
posted by amtho at 2:01 PM on November 25, 2008

Buzz it yourself. For the price of a haircut, get yourself some clippers and be forever freed from the tonsorial shackles.
posted by uncleozzy at 2:08 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you are ready for a short cut, then find someone that knows how to use a electric razor. Many salons don't and once you find a barber/stylist that truly does you are set.

The attachments they put onto the razor are generally numbered. From my experience across the US, they seem about the same where ever I go. Depending on my mood, I usually go with a 2.5 or a 2. A 2.5 will leave you with longer hair than a 2; my point in saying this, is you may wish to have the person cut you with a 3, and then work your way down until you find it short enough to your liking.

Above is mentioned the top is a bit longer than the sides; something you need to figure out before you go. They could take the sides down to the number you wish and then figure out the top - again find someone you like and discuss it with them.

I go for the same number all over. I had the longer top, and needed to visit more often to have it trimmed. At this point, I am getting a two all over and have it done about every six to eight weeks.

I can say this - do NOT get your haircut in a retirement area. I did this once while visiting my father and they gave me sidewalls. Ugh. The razor is taken around the ears, creating more white space - truly a wrong look. So bring this up with them; trimming around the ear good, shaving to create more white space, bad.
posted by fluffycreature at 2:11 PM on November 25, 2008

Don't get your hope up too high...I can count the number of good short haircuts I've had on one hand. I like Bakuun's advice.
posted by bonobothegreat at 2:20 PM on November 25, 2008

Find someone whose short haircut looks like what you want, and ask them where they get their cut and what they ask for. The latter part may be portable. I have decent luck going into a generic chain and asking for a number 7 (which may be longer than what you want, but the idea is the same).
posted by dws at 2:22 PM on November 25, 2008

Oh, you're all big wusses. My husband, son and brothers don't bother with hairdressers. Either I (or they, themselves) cut their hair with some clippers. I cut hair on Monday in fact, to 1/2 inch (though 1/4 is even better seriously, and I've gone there - it feels fantastic on the skull). So here's the trick, clipper all over smoothly, then take the comb off and straighted up the hair in front of the ears, and clean up the back so you have a neat line (probably help if someone else did that for you). Shampoo costs minimal, no need for conditioner, mouse, wax, mud, fudge etc. No need for comb or brush. You don't even have to dry your hair, run your hand over your head like a squeegee, and ta da! nearly dry.

Of course, this post is only useful to you if you don't care how you look, if comfort and convenience is more important than image.
posted by b33j at 2:22 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I first started dating my fiance, I took him to my good hairdresser at a real salon. He'll never go anywhere else now, and even has his brother going there. So if you're looking for something with style, or if your hair is just difficult (his is baby fine and no barber could ever make it look good) then definitely go to a good stylist. Look for something in the $40 range.

But that said, if you're just looking for short, buzz-like cut with, go to a barber or have a friend do it. If you're not sure, then go to the stylist, otherwise you're more likely to end up not liking it since it's such a major change.
posted by thejanna at 2:27 PM on November 25, 2008

Get it all buzzed off. Everyone should have the experience that freedom once in their lives.
posted by roger ackroyd at 2:36 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been a short-hair guy my whole life and I'd advise you to avoid the razor if you care about your appearance. A scissors cut will grow out better and allow for texturing, which will eliminate most of the boot-camp look; it will cost you a little more though (more labor/skill involved). I pay $20 for a scissors cut which usually lasts 6 weeks, and I get a free neck/ears touch-up at the halfway point if I want.

For your first cut I'd avoid your dad's barber, and instead find a semi-trendy salon that isn't overpriced; you have a better chance of getting someone who will put some effort into making you look good instead of just giving you cut #23 from the Wahl catalog. It will probably take you a couple haircuts to figure out how you like it, and then you'll be better equipped to explain your needs to any barber. I strongly suggest finding someone you like and sticking with them, I've been going to the same stylist for 3 years now and it's real nice not having to worry about getting the cut I want.
posted by bizwank at 2:40 PM on November 25, 2008

If you're looking simple buzz, come clippers do the trick and pay for themselves in 3 haircuts. But if you want to ease into, go to a barber. And for a short cut I think you'd be pretty foolish to go to an expensive salon. For years I only got my hair cut at a place with a "guy's name" like Sam's, Al's, or Lou's. But those pretty much disappeared around me, so now I just go to those $11 cut chains and they seem to be fine. Of course, nobody's ever complimented me on my hair other than my wife, so I can't bee 100% sure.

If you want a buzz cut with a little variety, go with a clipper cut "3" on the sides and "6" on top. Before I went the clipper route I used get what my barber called a "service cut", which was tapered clipper on the sides and back and a scissor cut on top. You can also ask for something "just long enough to run a comb through it". If you don't like it, it will grow back.

And a word of advice, when you take your first shower after getting a short cut, you're not going to need as much shampoo as you think.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:41 PM on November 25, 2008

posted by mandal at 2:48 PM on November 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Any barber will be able to do what you want for under $20. A short haircut is very easy to do with clippers or scissors.

I've cut my hair short with a pair of clippers, and it's very easy. On my first attempt I had a haircut that people complimented me on.

If you clip it yourself, get yourself a decent pair of clippers (a Wahl clipper at your local department store) with attachments (combs of different lengths). And ask a friend to help you out with the top back of your head, which is a lot easier to do if you can actually see what you're clipping.

From memory, the basic technique described in the manual that came with the clippers is this: choose a length for the top and put on that clipper attachment (i.e., 3/4 inch). This will be the longest length in the cut. Use the next shorter size (say, 5/8 inch) for the sides and back of your head, and the next size down (1/2 inch) just above the ears and at the base in the back.

There's also an easy technique to make the transitions between lengths a bit smoother, but it's hard for me to describe in words. The clipper manual will probably describe it in words and pictures.
posted by zippy at 3:00 PM on November 25, 2008

(not to derail..cus it doesnt directly answer your question...but:)
Go to Target and get a $15.00 hair-clipper set (conair makes them, for example).

A set of attachments come with it for 1/4 inch, 1/2 inch, etc..

Pick one and cut your own hair.
I've done this for about 15 years now and could not be happier.
(takes about 30 minutes of continuous cutting to get it all uniform length..but you cant make a mistake..its all the same length.)
I've saved a ~lot~ of money and time, plus i always look the same.
posted by The_Auditor at 3:37 PM on November 25, 2008

It depends on what you want. Do you want shorter hair and shorter hair only? Then go pay $11 at a barber. Problem solved.

If you want shorter hair with a style, start looking at some photos (I personally turn to rock stars, but use whoever you want as your inspiration). It helps to know who you sort of look like/who has a similar face shape to you. Then you ask your friends/whoever who they'd recommend as a stylist. In this case, since it's going to be a big change, it's worth paying a bit of money for (and by that, I'm talking like $40, depending on where you live in the country. Maybe less). Then you take your reference photos to the stylist of your choice and leave with a new hair cut.

And remember, if you hair cut is disastrous, it will grow back. It's not nearly as big of a deal as you may think it is going into it.

(I'm a woman, but I recently cut my waist-length hair, which I had for 10 years. It was a great experience and one I had no idea why I didn't do sooner. My hair cut -- which is still awesome -- was only about $50, after tip, at a salon in D.C.)
posted by darksong at 4:33 PM on November 25, 2008

nthing a good salon if you're nervous, but as a female who's lived with short and long hair and many not so great hair cuts, it will grow back, usually faster than you'd think.
posted by cestmoi15 at 5:03 PM on November 25, 2008

My husband usually goes to the $11 strip mall places, but before our wedding he got a $60 haircut. There's a BIG difference - seven weeks later he still looks great, whereas with a cheap cut he would look shaggy and unkempt by now. This is about what his haircut looks like (and yes he's just as handsome).

Most salons (I don't know about barbers) will have books and magazines with various hairstyles. Flip through them, find one you like, and ask the stylist if it will work with your hair (for example, some styles won't look right if you have very thin hair).
posted by desjardins at 5:12 PM on November 25, 2008

I vote stylist, not barber. Just from my experience having used both. Look through the books at the salon with the stylist and pick something you like that the stylist thinks will work with your hair type and facial structure. A good stylist will try and find a cut that doesn't need a lot of fussing.

It doesn't have to cost a lot. Obviously, some cities cost more than others, but I pay $17 (rounded up to $20 for the tip.) I should go once a month, but I usually stretch it to 6 weeks. Even then, it doesn't look bad at the end, it just takes a little longer to take care of.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 5:37 PM on November 25, 2008

nthing a good salon if you're nervous, but as a female who's lived with short and long hair and many not so great hair cuts, it will grow back, usually faster than you'd think.

As a female who's lived with short and long hair and a few not so great hair cuts, don't waste money on paying someone to cut your hair short--buy some clippers and do it yourself, or go to an affordable barber. I've had awful haircuts from expensive salons and awful haircuts I've given myself. And you know what? It was much easier to come to terms with when I did it myself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:39 PM on November 25, 2008

Wow, I guess the fact that this question generated 29 answers, I guess it wasn't as simplistic as I thought. :) Thanks, all - some great stuff here!
posted by Pontius Pilate at 6:20 PM on November 25, 2008

Bring a picture to the stylist, or even to the barber if you go the cheap route. I've found that more often than not, the salon/barber will have magazines or books specifically for that purpose laying around; they have multiple pictures of a various different styles.

And if you want it really short, don't bother with paying for it--get a pair of clippers and do it yourself. I did this in a "oh-what-the-hell" moment, and kind of regretted it 30 minutes later, but hey, hair grows back. You always get a second chance at a better cut.
posted by zardoz at 10:14 PM on November 25, 2008

Two words: "Boy's regular." It's simple, with short sides, a rounded nape-of-the-neck, and just enough on top. And in the mornings you towel it dry, run your wet fingers through it a couple of times, and go. (This drives my wife and daughter crazy.)

I tell my barber, "Short on the sides, just long enough to lay down on the top." And that's what I get. Every three or four weeks I go back, but it's only ten bucks each time, so that's no great expense (and it's always a pleasure to visit). He has a big chart on the wall with photos of dozens of men's heads, so you can point at the haircut you want. He's pretty old school, though, so I think he gives us all the same cut anyway.
posted by wenestvedt at 7:09 AM on November 26, 2008

have no idea if it might turn out to be a terrible look for me

The shortest haircut I ever had was when a barber fucked up in a major way. I got a Bad Haircut. I got the kind of haircut that elicited the immediate response from a friend: "WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED TO YOUR HEAD"

So I grabbed my friend's clippers and chopped it all off, same length everywhere, and it looked peachy. Worst-case scenario, you can always do that. The George Clooney ER look. The Roman Senator look. Ain't no thang.

Can we get a picture of your face, so that we can all gossip about what kind of haircut would look best on you?
posted by Greg Nog at 11:01 AM on November 26, 2008

Get it all buzzed off. Everyone should have the experience that freedom once in their lives.

I agree, even women. I went from waist length to bald for St Baldrick's Foundation 2.5 years ago. and again earlier this year. The feeling is amazing and hair really does grow back faster than you think.

Now my husband clipper cuts my hair and it really is simple to do.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:09 AM on November 26, 2008

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