Undercuts have a long and colourful history, to say the least. Although an undercut itself is quite short, it’s usually part of a medium-length hairstyle.
In this guide, you will learn all about the undercut and how to style one for your face shape:
- What Is An Undercut Haircut?
- Undercuts Today
- How To Style An Undercut
- DIY Undercuts At Home
- Will An Undercut Suit Me & My Face Shape?
Simply use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all.
The Undercut is a recent phenomenon in men’s hairstyles. It can be distinguished by the sharp contrast between shaved sides and slicked back longer hair on top. Ironically, the Undercut origins have deep cultural roots ingrained with poverty and delinquency dating back to Edwardian Britain.
At the turn of the 20th Century, working-class men were unable to afford a capable barber. So their sides they would often have their sides buzzed short instead of having a tapered Fade.
The Undercut quickly became associated with the ever-rising street crime in Britain’s industrial cities. The iconic haircut would soon be seen sported by gangs including the Salford Scuttlers, Glasgow Neds and Birmingham’s Peaky Blinders.
The Undercut saw but a brief revival during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was often styled with either a Fringe or curtains but soon fell out of fashion due to its unfortunate association with the egregious bowl-cut.
It wasn’t until the early 2010s that we’d be seeing the disconnected side ridges on the odd hipster that imitated 1920s – 1930s hair trends seen in increasingly popular period TV series and film.
In 2009, Undercuts were notably sported by Johnny Depp as John Dillinger in Public Enemies as well as Michael Pitt on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire in 2010.
Ironically, this unexpected comeback really was before it was cool. In fact, its emergence experienced considerable backlash due to its unfortunate association with Nazi Germany. Photographs of Wehrmacht soldiers with Undercuts (to cushion their heavy combat helmets) as well as Hitler himself started circulating online.
The hairstyle was controversially referred to as “Hitler Hair”, the “Jugend” and recently the “Fashy Haircut” (Fashy for fascist and not fashion). Fuel would soon be added to the proverbial fire when Kim Jong-un emerged sporting a similar haircut when he came to power in late 2011.
The hit BBC series, Peaky Blinders, shocked audiences in 2013 with their protagonists sporting aggressive haircuts. Many many initially believed were a reference to early 1990s subculture styles when they were actually a representation of the post-World War I Undercut.
This paired with trendsetting ambassadors such as David Beckham adorning and therefore endorsing the hairstyle, the Undercut only surged in popularity.
Unlike the toothbrush moustache, the haircut soon overcame the controversy perhaps by sheer popularity or a genuine disassociation with Nazism. By 2014, the haircut became almost entirely normalised.
Its popularity has endured and even picked up momentum thanks to being represented by more celebrated TV shows such as the History Channel’s Vikings. Justin Timberlake, Brad Pitt, Miley Cyrus, and Rihanna are just a few of the many celebrities that have since been seen with Undercut hairstyles.
How To Style An Undercut Haircut
Like a Fade, the Undercut is actually only a component of an entire hairstyle. Although often associated with a long slicked back top, the Undercut is a versatile foundation to a man’s haircut. Unlike a Fade, however, the hair’s transition between the top and the temples is not seamless.
On the contrary, the separation is deliberately disconnected for a strong, angular leap between top and sides.
An Undercut can be paired with almost anything on top thanks to the strong contrast it provides. The result leaves the hairstyle with a deliberate, calculated and fashionable finish. A clear distinction between top and sides can be created with a hard or shaved Side Part.
Furthermore, a low Fade can also perfect the nape of an Undercut. Occasionally, this can feature a v-shaped finish, which is also applied on the top’s crown.
The style on top can be paired with a Pompadour or Faux Hawk for height, a Fringe or even a Comb Over. Longer hair can be left to fall naturally make a dishevelled hairstyle or even tied up into a Top-Knot.
The Undercut has surely endured all this time because it is simple to acquire and low-maintenance. Wearers will only ever have to concern themselves with grooming the top whilst the back and sides require little attention. Furthermore, it’s an ideal summer haircut. The wearer can retain some length but not have to endure the discomfort of longer hair in the heat.
How To Give Yourself An Undercut
Several readers have asked us whether it’s possible to give yourself an undercut. Indeed, it’s not impossible but we wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. After all, you may struggle to trim hard-to-reach areas and the result may be uneven.
Nevertheless, if you’re adamant about a DIY undercut, you can always give it a try. However, you may want to pencil in an appointment with your barber for afterwards! If a loved one can help you, then it may be a lot easier. We would also recommend a proper hair trimmer as it’ll be easier to use. Yet, it is certainly possible with a quality beard trimmer too.
You’ll want to start by tying all the hair on top that doesn’t want removing. This can be achieved with pins, clasps, and bands. Once you’re happy with the hair that has been kept aside, simply start trimming in an upwards motion. A fade will be quite challenging but most beard trimmers allow you to change the length, which can be done in increments.
When satisfied with the back and sides, let the hair fall naturally. Try to style it and see if it works. It may need touching up with scissors but this can be exceedingly hard on your own.
Will An Undercut Suit My Face Shape?
With endless combinations possible, there are a variety of Undercuts for most men and their different face shapes. We’ve identified 7 individual face shapes, which help ascertain which may styles work and which don’t. If you aren’t yet 100% what your face shape is, follow our identifying guide to double-check.
The following face shapes won’t have any issues in styling an undercut but can benefit from a few styling tips.
Oval Face Shapes
Oval face shapes are well suited to Undercuts. Being a high cut with a boxed, angular finish, there’s no risk of rounding the face and it will highlight your features just so.
Round Face Shape
Round face shapes benefit the most from Undercuts. The tight sides emphasise volume on top and elongate the face. An Undercut also provides an angular finish that can be accentuated with a hard Side Part.
Square Face Shapes
Square face shapes do well with Undercuts as their strong features complement the angular style. Try not to use cuts that are too sharp to find the right balance with your features.
The following face shapes can wear an undercut but need to be aware of certain styling pitfalls beforehand.
Diamond Face Shape
Undercuts aren’t recommended for Diamond face shapes as these over-sharpen their features and expose their pronounced cheekbones. However, it’s not impossible given that it was Cillian Murphy’s initial style in Peaky Blinders! Make sure that the overall cut is sharp and not too textured.
Oblong Face Shapes
With aggressively tight sides, Oblong faces may encounter a serious risk of severely elongating the face. Nevertheless, Undercuts are possible if the height on top is minimal.
Triangle Face Shapes
Triangle faces can enjoy experimenting with Undercuts. Take care that the disconnect remains relatively low to offset the jawline.
Incompatible Face Shapes
The following face shape may struggle to style an undercut hairstyle.
Heart Face Shapes
Heart shaped faces run a risk of the tight sides accentuating their wide forehead. This may also expose their small chins. Consider opting for something featuring a Fringe instead as this tends to complement both face shapes well.
I just got my first undercut thanks to this guide. Thanks for the help!
Glad to be of help!
All the best,
I’m a barber and this is an amazing guide to the undercut !! I will be using this to better help clients understand what an undercut is! So many clients ask for an undercut and during the consultation it becomes clear that they don’t really know what it is, this guide is perfect to help explain it and clear up any confusion. Thank you! I’ll also be showing this to some barbering students that I am mentoring.
Thanks for the high praise! It’s reassuring and certainly appreciated when coming from a professional like yourself!
All the best,
There’s absolutely NO reason to suggest that certain people cannot have the beautiful undercut!
Any talented barber/stylist can fashion this style to anyone!
Thanks for your feedback! We offer some suggestions on which face shapes tend to work best with the undercut, but it really does come down to the individual. Also, as you mention, if you find the right barber they will be able to alter the cut to your features, ensuring that it looks sharp.
Very useful guide for tips and ideas, but would really love to have some tips on the best hair style for someone who is cautious of their hairline. I think medium length so far has covered it best for me and I have a oval shaped face. Kindly advise?
What sort of hairline thinning issues are you conscious of? Check our bald guide for the different types and I’ll try to help.
All the best,