Military Haircuts: Hairstyle Guide for Men

The best hairstyle guide that you will find covering all military haircuts

I am posting here at my guide on military haircuts. As a barber, I have read so much wrong stuff on each military haircut for men, and I truly believe that a military haircuts guide is in due order. Thus, I have spent some good amount of time writing this guide that you find below, which I hope is of use to you either for now or in the future. I also encourage you to share this military cuts guide with your friends, on Facebook, Twitter or simply link to it from your blog; that way we can get the good word out on what all the military-style haircuts are!

Regulation Cut

A regulation cut (aka “regulation”) is a long haircut by my definition. It allows for virtually full coverage with almost no skin showing. It’s a “maximum of 3″ on top” and “tapered to zero at the hairline”. In my personal opinion, I consider it a perfect civilian businessman’s cut. The picture is of the Commandant of the Marine Corps, the man in charge. This most definitely can be considered a perfect example of regulation. Regulation is the maximum length Marines are permitted to wear. It does not mean that this is the haircut most Marines wear.

As a broad, very broad, general rule, officers and enlisted men having regular contact with the civilian population are more likely to adopt the regulation.

Next, there are informally understood variants on the regulation. These are not actually contained in the regulations, they are terms used by men who cut their hair “according to the book”. The terms used are “low”, “medium” and “high” regulation. But, before we go there, we need to understand another term, “whitewalls”.   Any of these variant versions of the regulation cut depend on the height of the whitewalls.  Which can be as little as an inch, or as much as 4 or 5 inches.

Three types of military haircuts stemming from the Regulation Cut

Again, definitions vary. They most definitely have changed over time. The man on the far right in this collage exhibits what once was the definition of whitewalls. It was actually a 30s or early 40s look. The “whitewalls” were literally shaved with a straight razor with little effort to blend them with the full head of hair above. The man in question, by the way, is a Marine from about ’62. But, over time, the definition has changed. Either of the two remaining men can be said to have more contemporary whitewalls, even though the whitewalls have been created with clippers and not a straight razor. The issue is that there is a strip — 1″ to 4″ — above the ears and below the top hair — that looks “white” in comparison to the rest. This is a military look for practical reasons. When you don a cover (a cap) you can show an image that suggests you’re more closely cropped than you in fact are.

The “low”, “medium” and “high” variants on the regulation cut depend on how high the whitewalls go. The man on the far left, who is in fact a Marine officer, definitely exhibits a low regulation. Long top hair, with a bit of skin, maybe less than a clipper’s width, over the ears.

A high fade taper haircut for military men

The man in the picture above could be said to have a “high regulation” based on the two clipper’s width height of his whitewalls (but, to confuse things, I’m willing to bet that some guys would call this a less than blended high and tight. As I said, there is no one definition acceptable to everyone!).

A medium regulation taper haircut for military men

I’d like to now offer this image of the man above as an example of “medium” regulation. Not only are the whitewalls half the height of those on the guy saying goodbye to his wife, they’re more blended. Blending — again, I stress generally, not by rule or regulation — is more an “officer thing” than an enlisted man’s thing.

Burr cut

Before we move on to discuss the high and tight and its variations, which I believe evolved from the induction cut, we need to sort out a few civilian terms that have no direct military roots other than the induction cut.

All military men receive an “induction cut” in boot camp. The induction cut is a burr aka burr cut, our next military haircut. That simply means that all of the hair is cut the same length with a single clipper blade. It is not shaving. The Marine Corps has a reputation for the most extreme induction cuts. Usually, a 000 blade is used. This leaves hair about 1/50th of an inch long. But, these days, even the Corps appears to have relaxed the standards. Other services give less severe induction cuts. At least within recent memory the USAF gave a #1 or even a #2 buzz, 1/8″ or even 1/4″ long.

Which, conveniently, takes us to the civilian equivalents of the induction cut. Those are the burr and the butch.

Both the burr and the butch are cuts where all of the hair is cut the same length all over with no variation. Both are the result of taking a clipper, choosing a lever setting on lever clippers, or a blade on blade clippers, and using that one setting to cut hair all over the head from hairline to top. These clips have in various places both been referred to as pineapples, whiffles, and the like.

A short burr haircut for males

A good-looking fireman with a short military hairstyle

The above football player has what I’d call a burr, and so does the British firefighter above too. A burr, in my old-school barber definition can be anything from as short as clippers can possibly go (I reserve the word “shaved” for either electric or lather shaving) to a #1, 1/8″ in length. Depending on hair texture, the idea of a burr is that there’s no “give” to the hair at all. It feels like a “burr”, like sandpaper.

Butch Cut

The butch cut is a slightly-longer haircut than the burr cut. See the two hairstyle pictures below.

A butch cut haircut in a male


A cool buzz cut

The young Marine above on the exercise cycle has a butch. The line between the burr and the butch is thin. A butch would be cut with a #2 (1/4″) blade or less — though, again depending on hair texture a 3 1/2″ (3/8″) blade might still be considered butch. The hair is still evenly clipped all over without shape or form, but there would be some minimal “give” to the hair. A bit less of the sandpaper feel. The man on the picture below the young Marine does also have a butch, but a long one. Many people today would refer to the cut on the right as a crew cut, though I’d disagree.

Crew Cut

Then we have the “crew cut”. The terms Harvard Clip and Princeton are both variations on the crew cut. Most folk don’t have the foggiest that there’s any difference at all. The reason that both Harvard and Princeton appear as modifying names for the cut is that the crew cut “originated” in the late 50s and very early 60s as the cut of the crews — the rowing teams — of the Ivy League schools. A crew cut is a butch, but removed from being a butch by two factors. Enough hair is left immediately in front along the hairline to at least be brushed, if not combed, over, and some limited clipper tapering is done in back and on the sides so that there’s some shape to the cut. A crew cut can be viewed as a very, very, very short taper.

A man with a type of buzz cut known as a butch cut

An army soldier with a crew cut haircut

The darker-haired man in the picture above has a butch. Note that it is all one length. The lighter-haired guy above has a “crew cut”. There’s extra length in front, and the sides are slightly shorter than the top, and even a bit tapered. In the Harvard Clip and Princeton versions of the crew cut the top is allowed sufficient length to be brushed or even combed over.

In my mind, burr, butch and crew are not necessarily military haircuts, although most people, particularly civilians would see them that way. Just to confuse you further, here’s a picture of a Marine with a crew cut.

High and Tight

OK. Are you still with me?

We come now to one of the most contentious barbershop-haircut and military haircut definitions. What’s a High and Tight? I would say that the high and tight haircut is like an undercut hairstyle but with shorter clipper guards used that yields a very short cut, which is perfect for engaging in battle.

The high and tight recon haircut

Remember, the United States Corps do not define it. I’m willing to take flak here, from someone, no matter how I define it. Here on the Net, in the haircut groups, you will find many people who categorically define a high and tight as a #2 (1/4″) on top and 000 sides and back. I don’t happen to share that view. But, I acknowledge, many do. The cigar chomping Sergeant has this variety of the high and tight, which looks similar to a flat top haircut that is also a common haircut of the Marines and Corps.

For me, the key to a high and tight, the factor that distinguishes it from a regulation cut, is that the back and sides are cut evenly to zero from hair line to crown. The top contrasts with back and sides, the hair on top sits there a bit like a lid — hence the term “jarhead”. Some minimal blending is done to break up the line between the skin cut sides and back and top. The picture in the middle is another classic variation with a longer top and more contrast. The Marine on the right is still, in my opinion HT even though the top long enough to brush flat. But the lack of blending in this variation leads us to the next topic — the “recon”.

A young army man with a high and tight recon haircut A US marine with a high and tight hairstyle

The back and sides of a high and tight haircut can be taken down closer to the skin with 0000 and 00000 blades. They can also be shaved, either with an electric razor or lather and blade (though, you will find purists who interpret the regulations to prohibit shaving in this context). The closer the sides and the longer the top, the more distinct is the demarcation line between the shaved portion and the crown hair. If the top is long enough to brush or comb and the back and sides remain shaved, a true blend cannot be achieved. This is a more radical look. Some people would refer to the cut on the man at the right as being a recon-style high and tight for that reason. There would be a very thin line between a recon style high and tight and an extreme high regulation cut. I’d say that the distinction between the two is that in a high regulation the white walls do not come quite up to the crown.

Recon High and Tight

A recon-styled high and tight haircut is not a recon, however. A recon is a high and tight haircut purposely taken to the extreme for purposes of attitude and effect. I can’t remind you enough times; there is no Corps definition of a recon. What follows is my own.

A short military haircut on a young Marine male

The recon haircut done on a muscle man

The recon is a “warrior” cut. It draws upon the Native American cuts of the Eastern Algonquin tribes and the Western Pawnee. To a civilian, it would have some resemblance as a variant on the “Mohawk” hair cut. The back and sides are shaved as completely as possible. No effort is made at blending. In fact, the demarcation line is purposefully made as distinct as possible.

An army soldier with a high and tight recon haircut

What distinguishes a recon from a recon-style HT is the height of the skin cut back and sides. In back, the shave comes up over the crown to some degree. As much as the entire rear one-third of the crown is sometimes shaved. The “patch” that is left sits forward on the head. The “patch” is also narrower than a high and tight. This is achieved by shaving the sides up and over the crown line by an inch or two. Hence, the resemblance to the “Mohawk”. This can be more radical or less radical. As recons go, I’d say it is the most extreme military haircut allowed in the army.

Conclusion to the military haircuts

I hope that you have enjoyed my guide on the military haircuts for men. The goal is to allow you to expand your repertoire of mens haircuts and be able to put a name to the haircuts so that you can simply go to the barbershop and ask for the particular military cut that you like, or instead give yourself that particular military haircut!

As said at the beginning of this haircut guide, please do share this guide with your friends and/or on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or link to it from your blog for your readers to read and learn. Hopefully we can now spread the good word and help men know about the right military haircuts!

6 comments for “Military Haircuts: Hairstyle Guide for Men

  1. Zelp
    February 22, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Great job! Thorough explanation.

  2. Rick Middleton
    May 28, 2018 at 9:05 am

    I am a retired Marine – I think you nailed it – not sure on how much the corps is relaxed the initial haircut, but i will take your word for it.

  3. Rich Caprarella
    June 7, 2018 at 3:52 pm

    Many bodybuilders like myself, wear these types of cuts because they are associated with military toughness and fitness and are the personification of youthful health. The gym I go to is chock full of High and Tights, Crew, Butch and Burr cuts.

  4. Mat Irving
    June 11, 2018 at 1:19 am

    I have been sporting the haircut you describe as a “recon” for years but I only started wearing that haircut after I discharged from the Australian Army. It’s against standing orders to have a “recon style high and tight” in the Australian Army. I’ve never heard it called a “Recon” I’ve always thought the haircut was called a “Warhawke”?

  5. John
    June 16, 2018 at 3:15 pm

    Once I shave my long hair completely bald I’m going to try ever single one of these. But so far my favorite is the high and tight horse shoe flattop I love how extreme and badass it looks it’s very respectable and proper haircut. I can’t wait to shave my long hair head bald for locks of love and try all these afterwards. Start of the new year it’s coming off Bye! Bye! sissy hippie hair and hello badass Flattop!

  6. Jim Grandy
    December 25, 2018 at 10:49 am

    Thank you , well done, I’ve been getting a low regulation cut for years without knowing the name.

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