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Fade In, Fade Out and Fade Away: Why I Hate the Most Popular Haircut in the World

While first glimpse of the photo above might suggest a well-executed haircut by a seasoned professional barber (me!), it is actually neither of those.

This photo was taken back in May 2018 and was the first paying customer I ever served.

It was a Sunday afternoon and I was nearing the end of my six-month apprenticeship with Master Barber Sam Aydani, at his emblematic, though now-closed, flagship Benoah Barbers on the swank Noordeinde Street in The Hague's even swankier Royal Shopping District.

I had just come back after lunch to find the shop filled with eagerly waiting customers and before I could even walk in the door, Sam took me outside and told me that today was the day and I'd be taking paying customers for the first time.

I politely reminded Sam that while I may have been ready for straight razor shaves and beard trims, I was of the opinion we were both certain I had a few more weeks to go before going solo with haircuts.

Sam shook it off saying if I wasn't ready now, I'd never be ready.

He also assured me he'd have his eyes on me the whole time and would be sending me the hand signals we had been using to guide me through haircuts without the customer knowing I was being coached from the sidelines.

The young man sat down in my chair and once I took a good look at his hair I was confident that this would be a great—if not fairly straightforward—first paid haircut.

Until the young man told me what he had in mind.

He told me and my heart sunk into my stomach...he wanted a mid bald fade, the dreaded mid bald fade.

Without as much as a flinch, I got to work on the cut, first clearing the bulk with a number four guard and then setting in my bald lines as a guide.

And then I froze.

Sam looked at me and saw the fear and panic that had replaced my normally cheery and confident expression and he gestured for me to calm down. Then he flashed three fingers, then two, then one, telling me the order of guards to use. Then he gestured for me to be calm. Again.

I worked on the fade and was doing a pretty well. Until I got to the bald line. Then I froze. Again.

Looking at the photo above, you might think that I pulled it together and gathered my wits and finished the haircut. But truth be told is that Sam walked over and did one of the most kind and noble things he had done since I had met him some six months earlier.

He first praised my haircut aloud and then turned to the customer saying that his haircut was my first paid haircut following my six-month apprenticeship and as was the case, Sam wanted to do a final check to ensure all my lines were faded correctly and that the integrity of the haircut was top of the game.

So, Sam made a few clipper and scissor passes and improved on blending my lines out, handing me my clippers and telling me again what a good job I'd done while reiterating that fact to the customer, who appeared quite pleased with the end result.

I cleaned and powdered the customer—took his payment—and he was on his way, satisfied with his haircut.

But I wasn't.

After we closed the shop that evening, Sam and I sat down in the Chesterfield chairs and talked about how things went that afternoon. My shaves and beard trims were very good—as they had been for some time. And while my haircuts were decent—7.5 out of 10, according to Sam—it was apparent that my fades needed work. A lot of work.

The thing is, I'm colorblind, which makes it very difficult for me to adequately see the blend from one gradient to the other.

Colorblindness is an inherited color vision deficiency that can impair tasks that are the most basic for non-colorblind people; tasks such as picking out clothes, choosing ripe fruit, observing changes in skin color (bruises, rashes, blushing, etc.) and, as in the case for barbers, doing fades and coloring.

While I'd be mostly disqualified from being an airline pilot, train engineer, firefighter, surgeon, chef and floral arranger, I would have never thought that a mutation of 19 different chromosomes and 56 different genes would have prevented me from executing the perfect, fresh, blurry fade. But my X Chromosome has something different to say about that!

But there's another interesting phenomenon that my inability—while no fault of my own—to fade hair has brought about...which is my complete and utter disdain of the fade.

To put it simply without mincing my words...I hate them.

Now, I admit that part of my dislike of the fade stems from the fact that I cannot adequately do the more complicated ones, it's also because I simply don't like the aesthetic and that fact that so many men sport them. It's a haircut that has come to symbolize the ultimate achievement in barbering while representing the highest form of contemporary men's hairstyling.

But here's what else I don't like about fades:

Firstly, they're terribly common. Just observe teenage boys and young men in any urban center and you'll see a high percentage of them sporting fades of one sort or another. They've become as commonplace as saggy jeans, Air Jordans and shoulder bags.

Second, it takes a real pro to pull off the perfect fade, meaning many of those fades you'll see out on Main Street will basically suck.

Third, while the name fade suggests the fading gradient of the haircut from heavy hair concentration to light from top to bottom, fades fade. And usually pretty quick. That's to say that the fresh fade you walked out of the barbershop with on Saturday won't look nearly as blurry and fresh come the following weekend; something akin to what happens to a man's morning shave around five o'clock that same day. It's nowhere as clean and fresh as it was at seven a.m.

On the other hand, the fade was never meant to last and is a cash cow for barbershops whose fade customers loyally come back every week to ten days to freshen up their fade and bald out their sides. Which is how low-cost barbershops stay in business charging a fraction of what more mainstream traditional barbershops charge.

For example, I charge 40 euros for a standard gentleman's haircut, a haircut I pride myself in for being long-lasting and looking good for four to six weeks after the initial cut. The fifteen euro barber is getting his fade customer back—one he can cut in half the time as I take in giving my customers a different sort of experience—three or four times in that same period earning about 20 euros more per customer than I do, if you do the math.

So, it's easy to see why the fade is so popular with both barbers and their customers, but I'm still partial to creating a unique haircut for my customers that looks more like my customer than looking like every other guy on the street.

While many hairstorians credit the fade to the United States military-style haircuts of the 1940s that young boys wanted to emulate, the fade made new grounds in African-American barbershops in the 80s and 90s when Black men were looking for modern haircuts, leaving behind their afros and Jheri curls.

But to see the true origins of the fade, one needs only to look back to the First World War, where soldiers' hair was kept shaved on the sides to prevent the infestation and spread of head lice, which was a rampant occurrence on the battlefield. So, the hairstyles we see in period films and televisions series such as Peaky Blinders, weren't hairstyles per se, but a necessity of the times when those haircuts were worn.

After more than four and half years of cutting hair, I'm still working on my fades and occasionally—forgive the baseball metaphor—hit one over the left field wall. I'm also lucky in that many, if not most, of my customers are satisfied with the way I cut their hair using Sam's original 4, 3, 2, 1 guard method. I can still see his fingers discretely counting down the gradients out of view of the customer in my chair and then giving me the best gesture of all, a firm and smile-accompanied thumbs up. There's still a little of Sam in every haircut I give, and I'll always be grateful for the confidence he instilled in me during the six months I trained under his watchful and caring eye.

PHOTO: May 2022.

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