The best part of being in the natural hair community is the freedom you see in the styling. Curls can be long, short, tight, or loose. They can be ultra-defined or sport a little carefree frizz. Regardless of your personal preference, there’s a style out there for you.
Whether it’s a dramatic undercut or a mohawk-inspired style, natural hair looks amazing in a variety of tapered cuts. "Women with natural hair have many options," says hairstylist Alicia Bailey. This includes the cropped looks you’ll find on Instagram that prove blunt and uniform haircuts simply won’t do for textures that don’t want to be tamed. We spoke with Bailey and stylist Andrea Dent for more on tapered styles.
Meet the Expert
Here are a few of our favorite tapered cuts for natural hair.
Don’t want to part with your length, but still want to make a bold statement? Ask your hairdresser for a conservative fro-hawk that tapers your sides oh-so-slightly. "I love to see women wearing a fro-hawk," says Bailey. "The fro-hawk is a bold style that can be worn in many ways. Since the hair is usually faded, tapered, or close on the sides, all of the drama is usually in the top or along the middle of the head."
This smooth transition creates a shape that directs a viewer’s eye up to your longer, textured, locks and beautiful face. Opting for an icy blonde color is another way to make this hairstyle pop.
A deep side part is a great way to highlight your faded sides. You can leave the rest of your hair any length you want, but to see that side part you worked so hard for, you should keep your cut at an inch or two.
"Tapered cuts are blank canvases that allow clients to be creative and express their style in an almost art-like way," says Dent. "They can choose a cut design that reflects their personality or mood with clean lines, swirls. and even art shaved in. They also have the option of styling it with curls, twists, faux locs, and coils, too." Or, in this case, with dye. From the faded dark sides and intricate shaved-in design to the defined fire orange curls—anyone that chooses this unique style will be a walking piece of art.
More Up Top
Low-key naturals that are at stage two in their hair journey can join the tapered haircut team by keeping hair shorter at the back of the head. This creates a choppy, medium-sized afro that still maintains definition. To really make the cut stand out, make sure to fluff up the front of your hair and pull a few strands to create wispy curls.
An asymmetrical cut will never go out of style, and you can make the look your own with your natural texture. Keep the sides trimmed while gradually leaving out tufts of hair, so your curls won’t get lost.
Naturalistas who want to enjoy the benefits of short hair without having to chop it all off can elevate their look with a teeny weeny afro. The secret to this look? Keep hair short enough to be out of the way, but also long enough to show off your texture. A handy boar bristle brush can be used to lay down baby hairs or create soft waves, while a monthly (or weekly) auburn rinse adds a touch of color. The Mason Pearson Handy Mixture Bristle Hair Brush ($175) is the gold standard.
If daring is your middle name, you’ll love the idea of a colorful frohawk. Ask your stylist to buzz off the sides, create a shape—like a shaved lightning bolt—and hit the bleach bottle for added oomph. Of course, you can go for any color you want, but this vibrant shade packs plenty of personality and complements neutral wardrobes. The real draw here is the shape, which is fun and doesn't take itself too seriously.
If you need a tapered cut that’s easy to manage and can go from a night out at a concert to morning meetings at a corporate office, this style is a fit for you. All you really need is a slight trim to your sides and a hydrated wash-and-go routine. Keeping your temples short while the rest of your hair grows will create a chic high-top that stands out from the crowd.
Replace the spikes you see in standard mohawks for stretched out kinks and coils. Just shave down the sides and pick an optional design. If your hair needs assistance in the texture department, you can opt for a braid-out to give you that tousled look. Last but not least, tie in a ginger hue for an alternative vibe.
Delight onlookers with a hidden undercut design. Opting for a symmetrical pattern, like a lotus flower or an evil eye, is a visually stunning way to spruce up your style. Simply pull your hair up to reveal your tapered tresses.
Ask your stylist to add detail to your undercut via a shock of color, or a design made in braids or twists (think Senegalese twists dyed in a range of purple hues). These unexpected details can freshen up casually styled hair.
If you wish to say goodbye to long natural hair and hello to a vibrant fashion color, this clean fade is right for you. Request a close shave so the deep side can steal the show, then add in the icy, gunmetal blue and you’re ready to go.
You’ve probably seen your fill of fro-hawks, but this dip-dyed tapered haircut is anything but repetitive. Simply shave your sides and create a large "Z" pattern for a fun view. When you’re ready to go out, toss your hair up front and pin or tie it in place to show off your lightened curly ends.
"When wearing a wash-and-go with the fro-hawk, activate your curls with your favorite styling product and allow the hair to dry," advises Bailey. "When the hair is completely dry, use a pick to lift the roots ensuring the curls are not disturbed. Add a little holding spray to the root area while diffusing the hair and lifting at the same time to create volume."
When wearing an afro or fro-hawk, don’t forget to fluff for extra volume. For even more oomph, use an alcohol-free mousse, which will lift and volumize roots (and works especially well for fine hair).
Not looking to get too close to your hairdresser’s clippers? No problem. This long, layered pixie tapered haircut may be right up your alley. It’s a conventional, timeless style that looks great with curly textures and highlights the face beautifully. Moreover, this cut is an excellent choice for naturals who have fine hair and desire more volume.
A modern take on the pompadour, this look is all about volume. With this style, you can either mimic a tapered cut (by pinning hair to the side) or actually keep hair trimmed down or buzzed everywhere except for the top.
Go about your daily life with a low-maintenance temple fade adorned with defined coils. Add a dash of spice by dying your front section, mid-scalp, and crown a warm cinnamon shade.
Opting for a tapered haircut doesn’t mean you can’t dress up your natural hair. In fact, you can play around with colors and accessories more often than you’d expect. A wide-brimmed hat is one stylish way you can complement your tapered style.
Remember when Cassie sported her iconic asymmetrical buzzcut? You can mimic that punky style by shaving off one side of your hair. Enhance the look further by implementing box braids as a protective style.
A high-low fade lets you get the flat-top look without the height maintenance—all it takes is a little buzz to the sides of your head. The contrast between the different lengths of hair creates a dashing gender-neutral style.
There’s beauty in simplicity, and this fact holds true in the natural hair world. Elaborate designs, dye jobs, and length aren’t necessary if you don’t want them to be. You can rock a chic silver Caesar and show off your unique features.
Make your way through the grapevine with a midnight purple frohawk. Keep your long curls at the forefront while your tapered sides are highlighted with clean, surgical lines.
How can I maintain a natural tapered cut?
One of the most important things to know about tapered cuts is that they grow out quickly. You should try to schedule a barber appointment every 2 to 3 weeks to keep your cut looking fresh.
How can I fake a tapered cut?
If you love the tapered sides look but are a bit afraid to commit, you can create a faux hawk look by parting your hair in 2 or 3 vertical sections. Slick up the sides to create a ponytail and fluff each ponytail out to look uniform.