When you go to the barber, you may have trouble communicating exactly how long you want your hair. That’s why knowing your preferred clipper guard sizes, and the haircut number system, is important.

Hair clippers and trimmers follow a standard numbering system spanning from numbers 1 to 8. Clipper guards attach to the hair clipper, ensuring the blade cuts your hair to a certain length and not any shorter. Higher number guards will leave your hair longer, while lower number guards will leave you with shorter hair. 

In this post, we go over the haircut number system and hair clipper sizes, so you can get the exact length and style you want at your next haircut. 

Haircut Numbers and Clipper Guard Sizes

Your barber or stylist knows that the clipper guard numbers correspond with different lengths of hair. Depending on the hairstyle you ask for, your barber may use multiple clipper guards during your haircut.

Clippers are typically used for shorter haircuts. If you have medium-length hair or long hair, your barber might use scissors instead. 

The table below goes over the haircut number system, including the haircut length achieved by each clipper guard and some example hairstyles. 

Clipper Guard NumberInchesMillimeters Haircut Options
0 or ½ 1/161.5Bald, fade
⅛  3.2Buzz cut, fade, fade pompadour
1 ½ 3/16 4.8Buzz cut, fade, textured crop
2¼ 6.4Buzz cut, fade, Caesar 
3⅜ 9.5Buzz cut, fade, crew cut
4½ 12.7Buzz cut
722.2Bushy crew cut
8125.4Long buzz cut

Understanding the Taper Lever

A barber’s clippers can have a taper lever on them. The lever moves the cutting blade closer or farther away from the fixed blade, leaving your hair shorter or longer. 

A closed taper is the default for the clipper guard lengths listed above. An open taper option keeps the fixed blade farther away from the cutting blade to leave your hair longer. The barber can also move the lever in between closed and open while cutting your hair to taper it for a more gradual blend.

When the barber moves the lever open or closed, it’s a 1/16-inch difference in length. Closed will be a shorter cut, and open will be a longer cut. 

For example, a closed clipper guard 1 will leave you with ⅛ inches of hair on your head. An open clipper guard 1 leaves you with 3/16 inches of hair on your head (⅛ or 2/16 + 1/16 = 3/16). While this might not seem like a huge difference, it does impact the hair blending and tapering process. 

Number 0 or ½ 

If you don’t use a clipper guard, and the lever on the clipper blade is closed, you will get the closest cut to your skin as possible. This is known as a zero-gap haircut because there’s no space between the cutting blade and the fixed blade — they’re both at the same level.

Without a clipper guard, but keeping the lever open, your hair ends up at a length of about 1/16 inches, leaving you with stubble, like a bald fade.

man getting hair cut with clipper guard 0 or ½

Haircut style inspiration

0, 1, 2, and 3 clipper guards are typically used for a fade, with 3 used to create the longest part of the fade. In this case, the number 0 clipper guard would likely be used in a skin fade. You could also get a 0 all over if you want a closer cut. These guards may also be used if you want an undercut, depending on the length of your hair on top.

Number 1 

The next clipper size up, number 1, cuts to a length of ⅛ inches with the clipper guard closed. With a 1 clipper guard open, 3/16 inches of hair is left on your head. This is a buzz-cut length, so the scalp is completely exposed. The barber typically goes between open and closed to help make the blending process seamless.

man getting hair cut with clipper guard 1

Haircut style inspiration

In addition to the buzz cut, another number 1 haircut is the fade pompadour, which leaves the sides of your head nearly shaved but keeps longer hair on top. 

You might also use it for a mid fade, a type of fade haircut that starts in the middle of the sides of your head, making it low maintenance.

Number 1 ½ 

This clipper size cuts to a length of 3/16 inches with a 1 ½ clipper guard closed. An open 1 ½ clipper guard is equivalent to a closed 2 clipper guard, leaving ¼ inch of hair. It’s primarily cutting to buzz-cut length, still exposing the scalp. It’s also used with a 1 and 2 for blending a fade.

man with clipper guard 1 ½ hair cut

Haircut style inspiration

In addition to helping perfect a fade haircut, this number could also be used to create a textured crop hairstyle. It cuts the sides extremely short while keeping longer, texture hair and fringe at the top.

Number 2

This clipper size cuts to a length of ¼ inches — 5/16 inches if it’s open. A number 2 haircut may show less of the scalp, but if you have thin hair, you might want to go to a number 3 first. You can always have less hair taken off, but you can’t put more hair on. 

man with clipper guard 2 hair cut

Haircut style inspiration

An example number 2 haircut is the Caesar haircut, which leaves you with short fringe or horizontal bangs. This might be a good option for thinning hair, or if you like the style of horizontal bangs. It’s a classic haircut style that doesn’t require much maintenance.

Number 3

This clipper size cuts to a length of ⅜ inches to about 7/16 inches if it’s open. If you’re opting for a fade, it might be best to ask your barber to start with a 3 so then they can move down to a 2 and lower as they fade it out. It also helps you keep more of your length.

man with clipper guard 3 hair cut

Haircut style inspiration

An example number 3 haircut is a crew cut. You can have the sides cut short with a number 3 but leave the top longer. The sides and back in this hairstyle are usually faded, while the top is left with more length and styled how you’d like it.

You could also try the buzz-cut style at this length so it won’t show your scalp as much as a smaller clipper guard number, like a 1 or 2, might.

Number 4

This next clipper size cuts to a length of ½ inches when closed to 9/16 inches if it’s open.

woman with clipper guard 4 hair cut

Haircut style inspiration

An example number 4 haircut is the classic buzz cut. Your barber can use a number 3 on the sides and use a 4 on the top to leave your hair a little bit longer.

Number 5

A number 5 cuts to a length of ⅝ inches when closed to 11/16 inches if it’s open.

Haircut style inspiration

An example number 5 haircut is the taper haircut. A taper is a similar type of hairstyle to a fade, but it gives you a more gradual gradient, while a fade is usually more defined. 

woman with clipper guard 5 or 6 hair cut

Number 6

A number 6 cuts to a length of ¾ inches when closed to 13/16 inches if it’s open.

Haircut style inspiration

Similar to number 5, an example number 6 haircut is the taper haircut. Using the next clipper size up to create the hairstyle gives you more hair to work with, especially if you want more on the sides. You have a few options when it comes to taper haircuts, like high, low, tapered neckline or skin taper.

Number 7

This next clipper size cuts to a length of ⅞ inches when closed to 15/16 inches if it’s open.

woman with clipper guard 7 hair cut

Haircut style inspiration

An example number 7 haircut is the bushy crew cut. It works especially well if you have thick hair and want to keep your length.

Number 8

The highest number in the haircut number system, number 8, cuts to a length of 1 inch when closed to 1 1/16 inches if it’s open. This is typically the highest clipper guard number a barber can use before they switch to scissors or a different method to cut your hair the way you’d like.

woman smiling with clipper guard 8 hair cut

Haircut style inspiration

An example number 8 haircut could be a long buzz cut. Using a number 8 around your entire head keeps the style as simple and manageable as possible if that’s what you’re looking for.

Find a Nearby Barber for Your Next Cut 

Short hair can follow a wide range of styles when you have a Pro cutting and styling your hair. Whether you have a hairstyle in mind or it’s your first time visiting the barbershop, it’s important to know the haircut number system, or clipper guard numbers you might want and choose a hairstylist who understands the look you’re trying to achieve. With StyleSeat’s huge directory of hair and style Pros, you can always be sure your hair is in the right hands. 

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