Grace Jones, Duke Nukem, Simon Cowell, and Paul Phoenix from Tekken might not seem to have much in common at first glance. Yet, a peculiar similarity emerges when you direct your attention to their hairstyles. These iconic figures are all known for their distinctive angular haircuts, allowing them hands-free ease as they go about their business.
Despite the humorous jab, flat tops often receive an unjust reputation. Mentioning them tends to evoke images of stern 1950s US military personnel or, at the other extreme, conjures memories of Will Smith sporting his high-school blazer inside out back in 1992. There seems to be no middle ground… or is there?
Indeed, there is a middle ground to be found. With the right approach, sporting this retro cut doesn’t have to compromise your style credentials. So, grab your metaphorical spirit level and explore how you can embrace one of the most intriguing and demanding styles in the world of barbering.
What is a Flat-top Haircut?
In simple terms, a flat-top haircut involves styling or cutting the hair to appear level and flat across the top of the head. This style encompasses various cuts, ranging from traditional military crew cuts to the high-top fades popular in eighties hip-hop culture.
Typically, flat tops involve shortening the hair on the sides and back, creating a narrowed and elongated facial appearance. This haircut can be especially flattering for individuals with a more petite head shape, as it helps create a balanced look.
While this style might not suit everyone, as seen in the case of Kim Jong Un, who portrays a more extreme version, it remains a versatile and classic choice for many.
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 short 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 venturing into hairstyling, ensure you’re equipped with the right tools for the job. Check out our recommended products to effortlessly and stylishly achieve any of the flat top styles featured in our list.
Best Flat Top Haircuts
1. CLASSIC FLAT-TOP HAIRCUT
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The original and timeless flat-top haircut stands as the cornerstone of this style. It embodies the pure essence of the flat top. With its simplicity, cleanliness, and precision, it carries all the elements of a fundamental trim but elevates the look with a more polished appearance.
2. MILITARY FLAT-TOP HAIRCUT
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The quintessential originator of the flat-top style is none other than the military flat-top haircut. This style represents the purest essence of the flat top. Despite its simplicity and tidiness, this cut is far from basic.
Adam Harant, senior stylist at Pimps And Pinups, outlines the defining features of this style. “The hallmark characteristics include the closely shaved sides, creating a military-inspired feel,” says Harant. “The top is entirely squared off. Leaving some length at the front elongates the face, but the haircut’s strong structure results in a more squared and masculine face shape.”
To achieve this look, Harant recommends requesting a high and tight skin fade on the sides, paired with a flat, square top. “The length can be adjusted to your liking, but avoid excessive length in the fringe area, as it can weigh the style down.”
For at-home styling, Harant advises blow-drying the hair in the fringe area upward and away from the face if possible. Finish by using a robust, matte styling wax or clay to ensure the style remains steady and secure throughout the day.
3. MODERN FLAT-TOP HAIRCUT
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For those who find the traditional flat top haircut a bit too old-fashioned, consider giving it a contemporary update by opting for a more modern approach. This involves creating a smoother transition and blending the flat top into the overall hairstyle with a less defined crown. Choosing a very gradual fade that extends from the top of the head down to the nape of the neck offers a subtler and less dramatic effect, providing a modern twist to the classic flat-top haircut.
4. SHORT FLAT-TOP HAIRCUT
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While most flat top hairstyles tend to be on the shorter side, opting for an ultra-short look involves going for a skin shave on the back and sides of the head. This choice requires frequent visits to the barber, as shorter haircuts, particularly with a skin shave, accentuate the flat top itself. The minimal distraction from the rest of your hair draws attention to the distinctive flat top haircut, making it the focal point of the overall style.
5. FLAT TOP WITH BEARD
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A well-groomed beard complements the masculine features of a flat-top haircut, contributing to a more balanced appearance for the face. While the angular structure of a flat top might accentuate any asymmetry in the face, a beard can effectively conceal such asymmetry with minimal effort. However, it’s essential to ensure that your chosen beard style is maintained and shaped appropriately to harmonize with the defined structure of the flat top, preventing any clash between the two styles. This combination of a flat top with a beard can create a striking and balanced overall look.
6. FADE FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
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The Cameo cut, a striking variation of the flat top, gained popularity through the funk and early hip-hop band Cameo, hence its occasional reference as the ‘Cameo cut’ or ‘Cameo afro’. Achieving and maintaining this look demands a significant commitment in terms of effort and upkeep. To preserve this style, at-home styling may involve using pomade for a healthy shine, a wide-tooth comb, and a clean tapper. However, sustaining this look may still necessitate regular visits to the barber for maintenance. The fade flat top haircut, or the ‘Cameo cut’, offers a unique and bold style but requires dedication and regular care to keep it looking sharp.
7. CURLY FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
@jorge.santana_ / Instagram
Conventionally, flat tops are commonly associated with short, straight hair. Yet, the emergence of a curly flat top introduces a modern twist, displaying a less polished and more tousled aesthetic. To complement your curly crown, consider incorporating a temple or short fade, enhancing the overall style. For added texture to your curly top, utilizing a salt spray can further accentuate the look, providing a more distinctive and contemporary appearance for the curly flat top haircut.
8. FLAT TOP MULLET HAIRCUT
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Undoubtedly, mullets aren’t a haircut choice for everyone, but they are experiencing a resurgence in mainstream fashion. For those curious about trying it out, the flat top mullet presents a less extreme variation compared to the traditional mullet style. To infuse a contemporary touch into the flat top mullet, consider bleaching your hair for a modernized appearance or using styling gel to create spikey texture. These approaches can add a modern twist to the flat top mullet haircut, catering to those intrigued by this revived trend in hair fashion.
9. FLAT TOP FOR RECEDING HAIRLINE
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For many men, dealing with a receding hairline is an inevitable aspect of life. While the inclination might be to grow hair longer to mask it, a flat top haircut can actually mitigate the prominence of a receding hairline by giving the hair a structured shape. If you find that a flat top haircut doesn’t effectively address the issue, consider adjusting by either reducing the length on the top or opting for a buzz cut. These alternatives can provide different ways to manage and potentially lessen the visibility of a receding hairline.
10. FLAT TOP BOOGIE HAIRCUT
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The flat top boogie, a favored style among American teens in the late sixties and later embraced by rockabilly revivalists from Hoxton to Harajuku, is a haircut exuding a bold and rebellious attitude.
Joth Davies, owner of Savills Barbers and Savills Academy, describes its characteristics: “It boasts a flat top starting from the crown, transitioning to longer lengths at the front, allowing enough side length to be brushed or blow-dried back into a ‘DA’ or duck’s arse, while tapering short at the nape of the neck. To achieve this look, ask your barber for a ‘flat top with fenders’ or, in the know, a ‘flat top boogie’.”
Maintaining this style requires diligent care and precise styling. Davies recommends applying a small amount of paste to damp hair and blow-drying back using a vented Denman brush for a sleek finish.
“Depending on the hair type, some may need straighteners for styling,” Davies adds. “Regular haircuts are necessary, with some wearers of the flat top opting for appointments as frequent as once a week to keep the look sharp and well-maintained.
11. HIGH FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
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The high flat top haircut is characterized by extra length on the crown, resulting in a style that’s somewhat boxier compared to the standard flat top. This particular hairstyle gained significant popularity among young black men in the 1990s. For achieving considerable length, hair that is coarse and compact tends to yield the best results for this high flat top haircut.
12. LONG FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
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The long flat top haircut maintains a consistent length, ensuring that the hair on the crown smoothly integrates with the back and sides of the head. This particular variation of the flat top style boasts a more uniform length throughout. For a polished and unified appearance, applying pomade or hair gel and slicking back your hair can help achieve a sleek and cohesive look with the long flat top haircut.
13. FLAT TOP WITH DESIGN
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As flat top hairstyles often incorporate some variation of a fade, adding a creative design shaved onto the side of the head can infuse a touch of individuality and flair for men seeking a more attention-grabbing look. While this may not suit formal or professional settings, the advantage lies in the temporary nature of the design. As hair grows quickly, the design is short-lived, making it a fun and temporary option ideal for special occasions where an extra cool factor is desired with the flat top haircut featuring a design.
14. FLAT TOP WITH HARD PART
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To inject added dimension and character into your flat top haircut, consider requesting a hard part from your barber. While typically achieved with a side part that tilts toward the center, opting for a more adventurous and striking variation can bring an extra touch of uniqueness if you’re feeling daring with your flat top featuring a hard part.
15. FLAT TOP HAIRCUT WITH FENDERS
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Revisiting the 50s and 60s, a flat top haircut with fenders shares similarities with a burst fade. While not a widely common cut in contemporary times, it retains a distinct charm. A flat-top haircut with fenders is characterized by the blending of hair at the nape of the neck, meeting the flat top at the crown of the head, offering a unique and nostalgic appeal.
16. ROCKABILLY FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
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The flat top hairstyle stands as a pivotal element of the iconic rockabilly subculture’s look, leaving an indelible mark on this particular style. To achieve this distinctive look for yourself, Tom Chapman, founder of the Lions Barber Collective and ambassador to The Bluebeards Revenge grooming products, emphasizes the importance of a flat and precisely cut top. Chapman highlights the striking impact of a well-executed flat top, noting the various stylistic variations possible.
However, communicating this style preference solely through verbal descriptions can be challenging due to its niche nature. Chapman recommends bringing a photo along to show your barber, simplifying the process in the digital age.
Chapman advises that this style may not suit everyone, as it best complements strong hairlines and growth patterns. To achieve and maintain this look, he recommends using a good pre-styling product for added control and volume, followed by blow-drying and brushing simultaneously. To secure the look all day long, finish with a strong-hold hairspray. The rockabilly flat top haircut demands precision and specific hair attributes for an impactful and long-lasting style.
17. SEMI-FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
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A semi-flat top haircut, in contrast to the full flat top, exhibits less height but still maintains the distinctive shape associated with the flat top style. It’s an excellent choice for those who appreciate the flat top shape but prefer a more subtle look. This haircut carries a strong nostalgic essence, reminiscent of the shorter styles that were popular during the 1950s, offering a nod to the past while embracing a more subdued version of the classic flat top.
18. FLAT TOP HAIRCUT WITH POMPADOUR
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For those seeking to emulate the iconic Elvis look, a flat top haircut with a pompadour is the way to go. This distinctive hairstyle demands a considerable amount of upkeep, yet the outcome justifies the effort. The addition of a pompadour imparts a touch of sophistication to this more casual haircut. It’s crucial to have strong-hold hair gel and hairspray readily available to style the pompadour with the requisite shape and volume, ensuring it stays in place and captures the classic essence of the flat top haircut with a pompadour.
19. FLAT TOP DREADS
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Although an unconventional combination, the fusion of a flat top with dreads creates a highly innovative and stylish look. Styling longer locks into dreads on the crown of the head involves sculpting them upward, maintaining a cohesive cube-like shape as much as possible. To balance the unconventional element with a sense of refinement and grooming, consider pairing your dreaded flat top with a clean temple fade. This juxtaposition combines the unique flair of dreads with the structured elegance of a flat top, creating a distinctive and fashion-forward hairstyle.
20. DYED FLAT TOP HAIRCUT
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Opting to bleach your flat top offers a fantastic method to infuse a contemporary touch into this classic retro hairstyle. While other vibrant and playful colors can also be appealing, bleaching the hair makes a bold statement without being overly extravagant. The unique charm of a bleached flat top haircut allows it to harmonize well even in more professional or formal settings, providing a versatile yet distinctive look.
FLAT TOP FAQ:
How to Cut a Flat Top?
Creating the perfect flat top might appear deceptively simple to an onlooker, who might think a pair of garden shears would suffice. However, achieving this style demands exceptional precision, a keen eye for detail, and the expertise of a skilled and steady-handed professional.
According to Mills, a barber familiar with the intricacies of the flat top, this style deviates significantly from the traditional rules of haircutting and relies heavily on visual precision.
Various techniques are employed to master the flat top, but these methods can vary among barbers. Generally, the process involves using a dryer to stand the hair upright, followed by shaping and styling with hair clippers. Mills emphasizes the complexity of this cut, highlighting that there’s no straightforward approach, making it a challenging style to execute. Nevertheless, he expresses a strong appreciation for the look, noting that when he works on a flat top in the shop, the entire team is eager to observe and be part of the process.