Grooming Editor

The definitive guide to the short back and sides

Often known simply as a ‘regular cut’, the short back and sides needs no introduction. But for those among you who have recently horse-and-carted it out of your old life in an Amish community, it’s the classic male haircut and has been for over a century. When a barber asks what you want, if the most descriptive answer you can muster is ‘a haircut please’, in 99.9% of cases they will give you a variation on the theme of short back and sides.

To risk stating the obvious, getting a short back and sides cut involves cutting hair short at the back and sides of the head, while leaving it longer on top. This can be done with scissors, clippers, or, as in most cases, a combination of both. Simple enough so far.

Such a diverse and popular haircut, however, naturally includes a range of lengths, styling methods, and cutting techniques under its umbrella. So, to cover the full breadth of the cut, we’ve put together this comprehensive guide.

  1. The crew cut
  2. The ivy league
  3. The scissor cut
  4. The contemporary short back and sides

1.Crew cut

This haircut is one step up from the buzz cut, with the lowest degree of contrast between the top and sides. The look will typically be achieved with clippers used at different grades. Coming with all the same advantages as a buzz cut, it highlights lean, angular features, but offers more versatility than its standoffish cousin. The look will suit a greater variety of face shapes, as well as being marginally more acceptable at formal occasions and in the workplace. With longer crew cuts, it will also be possible to style the hair on top, although this will be limited.

Down time.

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As with the buzz cut, a crew cut can work fantastically with a beard. It helps to be conscious of the beard-to-hair ratio as well, however. Fading your beard somewhere around the level of your ear is advisable, as is ensuring there is a noticeable contrast between the lengths of your beard and head hair in order to avoid resembling a tennis ball.

One of the major plusses to the crew cut is it’s easily maintained from home. Make sure you invest in a good set of clippers if you’re intending to do this.

2.Ivy League

Typically achieved with a combination of scissors and clippers, the crucial difference between the Ivy League and the Crew Cut is that the top of the hair is long enough to brush back, part to the side, or style into a short quiff. It’s a neat, no-frills haircut, and while it won’t be turning heads, it’ll do the job on most occasions

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This haircut can be a great cut for those with a wider forehead, and is the perfect short hair solution for those with a longer heart shape face. On the sides, a closer shave brought high will draw attention to angular cheekbones, while a greater degree of tapering can square off your face shape if your forehead is narrow – useful for those with a diamond or triangular face shape.

The lack of length means lower hold products are preferable, as products with a greater level of hold are stickier and risk clumping in short hair. Try a paste or wax that adds texture, or a product which is re-mouldable.

Getting the most out of the Ivy League cut requires an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses. It’s a simple, classic look, but it’s unlikely to draw the gaze on its own. With this in mind, it’s wise to ensure either that another element of your ensemble stands out, or that each detail of your overall look is impeccable.

3.The scissor cut

In this variety of the Short Back and Sides, no clippers are necessary, and scissors alone are used, leaving a greater amount of length at the back and sides of the head. This haircut is a tricky one – it treads a fine line between classic and stylish when properly executed, and sloppy when poorly thought out. The length of a scissor cut means hair styling is straightforward: quiffs and even full pompadours are easily achievable, as are slicked back and neatly parted styles.

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Evenly proportioned faces of the diamond, oval, rectangular or triangular shape suit it best. Be wary that if your face is shorter than it is wide, the additional length at the temples will add width. For this reason, you probably want to avoid a scissor cut if your face is round in shape.

Those with a heart shaped face can not only get away with it, but look great – with a few caveats. It can only really be pulled off with a shorter, squarer heart shaped with a broad jaw. It also helps to either keep a substantial amount of growth on top, or control width by slicking back the sides (see James Dean and Leonardo DiCaprio). On someone with a narrow, pointy jaw and broad forehead, the look is a definite no.

Pomades and hair creams are an ideal combination with this cut if you’re looking for a slicker, more classic look with a higher shine.

If you’re looking for something more natural and textured, on the other hand, combine a sea salt spray with a re-mouldable wax or clay. Alternatively, use a product with a natural finish such as Aveda Thickening paste to create shape without appearing obviously styled.

4.The contemporary short back and sides

The most popular contemporary variation of the short back and sides combines the best elements of all of the above. Length on top allows for a variety of styles to be achieved, but the sides are kept short, and tapered down towards the ears. While not for everyone, if you can pull it off, it’s perhaps the most versatile haircut there is when it comes to styling. Textured pompadours and quiffs, smart side partings, and slicked-back hairstyles are all possible to achieve – while freshly shaved sides make the look clean and modern.


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This is a great haircut for those with square, rectangular and oval faces, while it can look great on those with an evenly proportioned diamond face as well. People with shorter, rounder faces can use this hairstyle to add additional height to their face, creating a more balanced look with a voluminous hairstyle like a pompadour or quiff, or textured spikes.

The contemporary short back and sides is versatile enough that it pays to have a number of products at your disposal so you can switch up your style as you please. Higher hold products are a perfect matchup with the contemporary short back and sides if you’re looking to create big, high-impact looks, and you can make sure your style lasts through the day by using a volumising pre-styler and fixing your style in place with a hair spray.

That said, there’s a place for looks that require a lower hold too, so make sure you have creams, pomades, and a natural-finish clay or wax at your disposal to make sure you get the most out of your haircut.

Like this content? Check out our tips on how to make a good first impression, our emergency grooming tips and tricks, and keep up to speed with the Mankind blog.



Writer and expert

Creative storyteller. Believer in the power of natural ingredients and cruelty-free formulas. Always puts skincare first for a no-makeup look.