Every man’s year can be categorized into two parts: Before the Summer Haircut (BSH) and After the Summer Haircut (ASH). That switch happens, for me, after my first really sweaty ride on the New York City subway, when I look in the mirror and think “this mess has got to go.” The ritual haircut signals the beginning of summer just as much as the calendar and whether you’re ready or not, it’s that time.
What makes a good summer haircut? There are two factors, according to barber Kevin Baker of Sposito NYC. “Something that’s short on the sides is best since you want airflow when it’s super hot,” he says. “You also want something that’s low maintenance. Humidity wreaks havoc on everyone’s hair, so you don’t want something that takes a lot of styling.” Plus, less product means less time spent in a steamy bathroom when it feels just as steamy outside.
When you ask your barber for one of these summer upgrades, Baker suggests taking a few reference pictures and asking them up-front about how to style it, before you get the cut. Trust us, if you ask for any of these, you’re in for the best (and coolest) summer ever.
It’s perhaps the most iconic summer haircut of all time and if I had a nickel for every time I threatened to shave all my hair off post-Memorial Day, I’d have a lot of nickels. It’s the most summer-appropriate on this list since it’s next to impossible to overheat when your hair isn’t weighing you down and there is literally no maintenance save for possibly increasing your barber shop visits. But the DIY aspect is misleading. “Don’t do it yourself,” says Baker. “Your barber will be able to shape it so it improves the shape of your head, instead of exposing it.” He also warns that it’s not the best cut for guys with round faces.
The crew cut, however, is for guys with round faces. You get the same summer look as with a buzz cut, but the top is kept slightly longer and squared off on the corners. This helps to elongate the face and make it look slimmer. Make sure to tell your barber you want it squared off at the crown to keep the military-style subtle. Depending on your hair type, you may want to use a little pomade to maintain the shape.
Tight Fade with Cropped Top (aka High-and-Tight)
Widely known as the most versatile men’s haircut out there, the High-and-Tight is also tailor-made for summer. Even if you already have one, you can optimize it for hot weather by going a little shorter on the sides than you would in the winter. Baker advises going down to the smallest clipper setting at the base, but not so close so you can see skin (that’s getting into skin fade category, which is cool if you want it, but most of us don’t). “Make sure the top is about two inches and your barber adds texture with scissors,” he says, so you can change the look at will. Clay will give it a messy look, pomade can shape it into whatever you want, and gel can make a slick, classic part. “Add your product to towel-dried hair and you’re done,” says Baker.
Consider the French Crop the trendier cousin of the High-and-Tight. The faded sides are similar, but the top is kept a little shorter. It’s meant to be styled forward and the bangs should be cut in a straight line across the forehead. Ask your barber to keep the top textured to add dimension and use a matte clay or lightweight pomade to keep it in place (but nothing that’s going to make it look like a shiny helmet).
I have never once been on a surfboard, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to look like I’ve been on a surfboard. Ever since The Endless Summer came out in 1966, men have looked to surf culture as the gold standard of summer grooming. To look like you’ve spent all day on the beach, the key is in the styling, not necessarily the cut (you need at least medium length hair). When your hair is damp, use a salt spray to add volume and texture and then let it air-dry. The salt will make your hair piecey and the liquid will bring out the natural texture as it air-drys. “You can make your own salt spray by adding fine sea salt to water and putting it in a spray bottle,” says Baker. “Experiment with the ratio until you find the right mix that won’t make your hair feel dry.”
We can thank the 90’s revival for the return of the flat top, but truthfully, it’s always been a great summer haircut because of the short sides. The key to summerize it is to not go too high, which requires more work and more product. Go down to the skin on the sides and then have your barber fade up to the point where your head starts to curve in. Then keep it only a few inches above your crown. Keeping it short means less picking to maintain the height and ensures that it doesn’t frizz out at the ends.
Okay, this haircut doesn’t meet any of the criteria we listed above: it’s longer on the sides and it does require maintenance. But it looks damn cool, which is how it earned a place on this list. A shaggy, retro mop of hair depends on one thing: length. So Baker recommends not cutting your hair at all for at least a month to let it grow out. “You need to have length before you start shaping, so resist the urge to go to the barber,” he says. The grow-out phase can be painful, but you can get through it with patience and grooming cream. A cream with a little bit of hold will help keep it from frizzing in the summer humidity.
High Fade with Curly Top
The basics of this hairstyle are similar to the High-and-Tight, but specifically tailored for guys with curly hair. It’s all about the juxtaposition of the short, faded sides and the longer, curlier hair on top. “Make sure you keep enough length to have defined curls,” says Baker, “but not so much that your hair gets puffy in the humidity.” Use a curl cream and a light hold gel to keep your curls intact even in the middle of summer.
Pompadours, the iconic Rockabilly cut made popular by the likes of Elvis and Morrissey, take a lot of work (all that pomade.) But you can still get that vibe in the summer without the risk of your hair deflating. It’s the short pomp, a truncated version of the classic, and is basically the High-and-Tight, but with the front left long. You need that length in front to be able to comb it back over the rest and get what I call the front bump. Use a medium weight pomade to keep the hold all day (bonus points if you also use a round brush and blow dryer to really get lift.) Then finish with some hairspray and you’re good to go.
Say you’ve been wearing your hair longer all winter and aren’t quite ready to get rid of it all just because the beaches have opened. Baker recommends what he calls the Summer Undercut. “Cut the sides really short, keep the length on top, but don’t fade it up,” he says. What you’re looking for is the dramatic difference between the top and the sides. The short sides will keep you cool in the heat, and the length on top offers a variety of styling choices, from messy to slicked back. “Don’t touch the sides all summer and by September, you’ll be almost back to the length you were before,” says Baker. It’s like a summer vacation for your head.
Check Out the Styling Products You’ll Need to Achieve These Hairstyles:
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