What do Grace Jones, Duke Nukem, Simon Cowell and Paul Phoenix from Tekken have in common? Well, aside from the fact that they could probably all kick your ass (although we’d take our chances with Cowell), you’d be forgiven for thinking not a great deal.
However, cast your gaze hair-wards and you’ll notice a common theme emerging. All four are follically equipped to carry their pints from bar to table in handsfree mode thanks to their rather fetching angular haircuts.
Jokes aside, flat tops often get a bad wrap. The mere mention of their name tends to conjure up images of either stern-faced 1950s US military officers or, on the total opposite end of the spectrum, Will Smith wearing his high-school blazer inside out, circa 1992. There’s no in-between… or is there?
Well, yes. With the right approach, you can sport this throwback cut without your style credentials falling, er, flat. So get your spirit level at the ready and discover how to embrace one of barbering’s most interesting and challenging creations.
What Is A Flat Top Haircut?
It should be fairly self-explanatory but just in case you’re a bit slow on the uptake, a flat top, in the broadest sense, is any haircut where the hair has been cut or styled to look flat and level across the top of the head. This can include anything from traditional military crew cuts, right through to the high-top fades of the eighties hip-hop community.
Granted, this approach hasn’t quite worked for Kim Jong Un, but we can probably all agree that he’s a fairly extreme example.
History Of The Flat Top
Created for the military, the flat top crew cut quickly became one of the most popular armed forces trims in the United States. Its shorn back and sides offered all the practicality of a buzz cut while the patch of hair on top enabled it to sidestep the ‘white trash’ connotations that a fully shaved head carried with it at the time.
So, when and how did this practical, military cut make its way out of the forces and into the subcultures?
“I think we can safely say from the end of the Second World War,” says Joe Mills, owner of Joe & Co. and long-time lover of flat tops. “A lot of normal guys were conscripted into the forces and got used to seriously short hair. When they were demobbed many of them kept it short, especially stateside.
“[The style] doesn’t really pop up in the UK until the later 1950s, but if you look at a lot of photography from the States during that period it’s particularly prevalent.”
From here, the flat top was picked up by various subcultures, which wore it proudly as a symbol of rebellion. From rockabilly guys with their baseball jackets and creepers, to early hip-hoppers and their sky-grazing high-top fades, it was the youth tribes that were responsible for turning this sensible, military hairstyle into the bold fashion statement it is today.
Before you try and deep dive into the shallow end of the pool, make sure you’re fully equipped to get the job done. Click through to find our favorite products for completing any of the flat top styles included in our list with ease and style.
American Crew Boost Hair Powder
Baxter of California Thickening Style Gel for Men
Bed Head Hard Head Hair Spray
REVLON 1875W Lightweight + Compact Travel Hair Dryer
Best Flat Top Haircuts
1. Classic Flat Top Haircut
The classic flat top is truly the cut that started it all. It is without a doubt the flat top in its purest form. Simple, clean, and tight – it has all of the characteristics of a basic trim but with a more refined look.
2. Military Flat Top Haircut
The cut that (actually) started it all. This style is the flat top in its purest form. Simple, clean and tight – it may sport all the characteristics of a basic trim, but the military flat top is anything but.
“The typical characteristics of this style are the tight, skin faded sides, which give this style its military feel,” says Adam Harant, senior stylist at Pimps And Pinups. “In conjunction with this, it is completely square on top. There is some length left at the front, which elongates the face, but the severe structure of the haircut creates a more square and masculine face shape.”
Harant suggests asking your barber for a high and tight skin fade on the sides and a flat, square top. “The length can then be customized to your preferences. Just make sure you don’t have it too long in the fringe area, as too much weight can cause the style to droop.
“In terms of styling at home, I would advise clients to blow-dry, if possible, all the hair in the fringe area straight up and away from the face. Finish with a strong, matte styling wax or clay to ensure the style stays stable and fixed throughout the day.”
3. Modern Flat Top Haircut
If a traditional flat top is too outdated for you, try putting a modern spin on it by having a less distinct crown and blending the flat top into the rest of the hair. Having a very gradual fade from the top of the head down to the nape of the neck is less drastic.
4. Short Flat Top Haircut
Though nearly all flat tops are on the shorter side, go for a skin shave on the back and sides of the head if you want something extra short. While it will definitely require regular visits to the barber, short haircuts place an emphasis on the flat top itself since there is little to no distraction from the rest of your hair.
5. Flat Top with Beard
A beard enhances the masculine aspects of a flat-top haircut and helps to even out the shape of one face. While the boxy shape of a flat top might highlight some asymmetry in the face, a beard does great at hiding that asymmetry without much effort. Just be sure to keep your chosen beard style strimmed and shaped so that it doesn’t clash with the defined shape of the flat top.
6. Fade Flat Top Haircut
This striking flat top variation was brought into popularity by funk/early hip-hop band Cameo, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as a ‘Cameo cut’ or ‘Cameo afro’. In order to keep this look sharp it’s going to take quite a bit of work, so don’t take it on unless you’re willing to commit. Styling at home can be achieved with a bit of pomade (for a healthy shine), a wide-tooth comb, and a nice clean tapper – but you still might find yourself in need of weekly trips to the barber.
7. Curly Flat Top Haircut
Traditionally, flat tops are seen on short, straight hair. However, a curly flat top possesses a more modern flair that is less refined and more touseled. In addition to pairing your curly crown with a temple or short fade, you can also use a salt spray to give your curly crown some texture.
8. Flat Top Mullet Haircut
Let’s be clear – mullets definitely aren’t for everyone but they are coming back into mainstream fashion. That being said, if you’re interested in giving it a try, flat top mullets are less dramatic than standard mullets, and they can be made more modern by bleaching your hair or using gel to add some spikey texture.
9. Flat Top for Receding Hairline
A receding hairline is simply something that many men are forced to deal with at one point or another. While it might be tempting to grow your hair as long as possible to hide it, a flat top can actually tone down the obviousness of receding hairline by giving the hair some shape. If you find a flat top still doesn’t help your hairline, take more length off the top or simply go for a buzz cut.
10. Flat Top Boogie Haircut
A look favored by American teens in the late sixties and later by rockabilly revivalists, everywhere from Hoxton to Harajuku, the flat top boogie is a cut with serious attitude.
“It features a flat top from the crown, graduating to longer length at the front, with enough length on the sides to be brushed or blow-dried back into a DA [duck’s arse], and tapered short into the nape of the neck,” says Joth Davies, owner of Savills Barbers and Savills Academy. “Ask your barber for a ‘flat top with fenders’ or, to those in the know, a ‘flat top boogie’.”
This cut takes stringent maintenance and careful styling to keep it looking sharp. Davies suggests working a small amount of paste into damp hair and blow drying back with a vented Denman brush for the smoothest possible finish.
“Certain hair types may require straighteners to style,” adds Davies. “Haircuts are also required at least every few weeks, with some flat top wearers sitting in the chair as often as once a week.”
11. High Flat Top Haircut
A high flat top haircut encourages extra length on the crown of the head and is a bit boxier than a standard flat top. This hairstyle became quite popular among young black men in the 90s, and if you want to have crazy length, coarse and compact garners the best results.
12. Long Flat Top Haircut
With a long flat top haircut, the hair on the crown blends into the rest of the hair on the back and sides of the head. This take on the flat top has a more uniform length than most styles. In order to achieve a sleek and cohesive look, rub some pomade or hair gel between your hands and slick back your hair.
13. Flat Top with Design
Since many flat tops are accompanied by some sort of fade, shaving a fun design onto the side of the head adds some character and flair for men hoping to catch some extra attention. While this might not appeal to a more formal or professional crowd, your hair should grow out quickly, making the design very temporary and cool for special occasions.
14. Flat Top with Hard Part
If you want to add some dimension and depth to your flat top haircut, ask your barber for a hard part. Though this is most commonly accomplished with a side part that leans toward the center, go for something more funky and drastic if you’re feeling bold.
15. Flat Top Haircut with Fenders
Similar to a burst fade, a flat top haircut with fenders takes you back in time to the 50s and 60s. While it’s not a very common cut in modern times, it still has a special charm. A flat-top haircut with fenders is best characterized as having the hair at the nape of the neck blended up to meet the flat top on the crown of the head.
16. Rockabilly Flat Top Haircut
The flat top is one of the defining elements of the rockabilly subculture’s signature look. So much so in fact that the movement has put its own stamp on the style. Here’s how you can get it for yourself.
“When that top is flat and cleanly cut it is one of the most striking shapes in the entire hair world,” says Tom Chapman, founder of the Lions Barber Collective and ambassador to The Bluebeards Revenge grooming products. “There are a lot of variations, and it doesn’t have to be skin short on the sides. However, it does have to be flat on top.”
This style may look great but it’s very niche and so conveying to a barber exactly what you want using mere words can be a bit of a challenge. Luckily, Chapman has a solution: “I would say take a photo with you. It’s so easy to do these days.
“This cut isn’t for everyone,” warns Chapman. “A strong hairline and growth pattern will make life much easier. To style, use a good pre-styling product for added control and volume, then blow dry and brush up at the same time.” Finish with a strong-hold hairspray to keep your hair in place all day long.
17. Semi-Flat Top Haircut
A semi-flat top haircut doesn’t have as much height as a full flat top haircut. If you like the shape of a flat top but want something more subtle, this is a great option. A semi-flat top haircut is very nostalgic for a shorter style that was popular during the 50s.
18. Flat Top Haircut with Pompadour
If you want to channel your inner Elvis, go for a flat top haircut with a pompadour. This unique hairstyle requires a decent amount of effort to maintain, however, the results are well worth it. The pompadour adds an elegant touch to a more casual haircut, just make sure that you have some hardcore hair gel and hairspray on hand so that it can be styled with the proper shape and volume.
19. Flat Top Dreads
Despite being an odd pairing, this look is actually super innovative and cool. Dreading the longer locks on the crown of the head requires that you sculpt your dreads up rather than down, and you’ll want to shape them into a cohesive cube as well as you can. In order to maintain a sense of elegance and grooming, pair your dreaded flat top with a clean temple fade.
20. Dyed Flat Top Haircut
Bleaching your flat top is a great way to add a modern twist to this retro haircut. While you can also go for some fun or eye-catching colors, bleaching makes a statement without going overboard. Though it is unique, a bleach flat top haircut can still fit in in a more professional or formal setting.
Flat Top FAQ:
How To Cut A Flat Top
To the casual observer, it may seem as though all you might need to create the perfect flat top would be a pair of garden shears, but in reality, it requires laser precision, an eye for detail, and a skilled, steady hand.
“The difference with a flat top, as opposed to almost any other style, is it doesn’t follow any of the traditional rules for cutting hair,” says Mills. “It’s totally visual.”
There are several techniques commonly used to get the style right, but Mills explains that this varies a lot from barber to barber.
“Generally, It’s all about standing the hair up with a dryer, then spraying and shaping it with hair clippers,” he says. “There’s no easy way to do it and that’s why it’s not an easy cut to deliver. I don’t think a lot of barbers have ever been shown or would know how to approach it… but personally, I think it’s a great look and when I cut in the shop the whole team wants to watch and get involved.”
Is a Flat Top For Me?
If you’re a busy man on a tight budget, then a flat top may not be your trim. Its precise styling means that it grows out very quickly and will require a touch-up every week or two in order to stay looking fresh. Obviously, this isn’t going to be easy on the wallet, not to mention it will be extremely time-consuming.
Another thing to bear in mind is your face shape. We mentioned that a flat top – height dependent – can add length to the face, meaning you might want to give it a miss if you’re keen to avoid any “why the long face?” jibes from your hilarious mates.
People with square faces should also err on the side of caution when thinking about getting a flat top, as its angular appearance will only exaggerate the boxiness of the head.
How to style a flat top haircut
Though your barber will shape your flat top, you’ll definitely need some heavy-duty hair gel or wax to use on the daily if you want to rock a defined flat top haircut. The more coarse your hair the less gel or wax that you’ll need.