It’s hard to find time to get a haircut when you work seven days a week.
I learned this the hard way; hustling between two separate jobs that eat up the vast majority of my waking hours during the summer, I tend to start looking grizzly — think “Jay-Z in album mode.” I simply don’t always have the time to keep my hair looking sharp — there are only so many hours in the day after all. To be honest, the best option is for me to just do it myself. Unfortunately, this involves a certain level of risk for a novice.
However, looking unkempt isn’t much of an alternative, so I decided it was time I learned to cut my own hair. They say “the steadiest hands are our own,” and I figured it was worth a shot. Besides, not only can cutting your own hair be a huge time-saver, but if you nail it you get to feel a sense of accomplishment on top of leveling-up your look.
To find out the best way to keep my fade tight, I straight up left work to talk to an expert — a friend of mine who always seems to be able to tell a tight fade from a whack one and has cut his own hair for the last decade and a half, Jesus Vega, or Jesse, as he’s known to friends and family.
Incidentally, he was more than happy to help me out with some hard-earned tips and guidance on cutting my own hair.
First things first, you have to start with the right tools. Wahl, the Illinois-based hair clipper manufacturer, hooked me up with their new Comfort Grip Pro — which came with a full range of guards. It’s smaller than standard clippers (25 percent smaller, according to Wahl), but that turned out to be an advantage for a first-timer like me, as it was easier to maneuver. Its motor still seemed to have more than enough power to measure up so I didn’t notice a difference.
One thing to note about the guards: Hair texture has a lot to do with how each guard length will make your fade blend, so a little experimentation is necessary to get exactly the look you want. Don’t be afraid to be conservative — it’s easier to cut more away with a shorter guard after the fact than to go too low off the bat and have to wait for the hair to regrow.
I start with the 1/2-inch guard (making sure the Wahl’s blades are properly oiled first) at the nape of my neck. Jesse recommends cutting no higher with each guard than two fingers width up from the starting point, and cutting in a horseshoe-shaped pattern, dipping down in the back.
The sides are no problem, but the back is a little trickier, as I’m using a handheld mirror to check the reflection in a bigger mirror, so the angles take a little getting used to. I am, justifiably, apprehensive. However, my first pass with the 1/2 guard goes okay, so we jump up to the 2 guard for the next portion. Jesse tells me that this is the best way to ensure a clean blend. Although I mess up the horseshoe shape a bit and go slightly higher than I aimed to, I manage to avoid giving myself a military-style “jarhead” cut with the 2 guard, then return to a 1½ guard to clean up the dark lines. The trick here is to not go too low or too high.
Next is the 3 guard, with which I manage to cut all the way to the top. Next, Jesse recommends returning to the 1 guard and very carefully managing the next blend section. By the time I’m done, I’ve got what looks suspiciously similar to a high-quality cut. To my critical eye, I can see each place where I stumbled a bit or went too low or too high, but I get props on producing a serviceable look my first time out from Jesse and a few other people that I check with.
I left that day feeling confident that given the need, I could trust myself to create a presentable look. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be and I learned that with a little practice, I could do a reasonable rendition of a shape up.
Walking back into the sunshine, I felt good. Truth be told, there’s nothing like the feeling of stepping out with an expert cut, fresh and ready for the world. Especially when you gave that fade to yourself.