By Stephen J. Praetorius for GQ.
When it comes to haircuts, most guys go in for a single style they want snipped, clipped, and shaved into their mane. And so, when asked to describe what they’re looking for to a trained professional, the general style is all that they mention—forcing the man or woman wielding the scissors to figure out the specifics. Now, if you’ve got someone you trust making those ground-level decisions, then it shouldn’t be an issue. That said, getting yourself involved in the minutia might not be such a bad idea, as it’s these seemingly insignificant details that have the ability to make or break an otherwise well-executed ’do. Case in point: sideburn length.
Bookending the cheeks like a pair of hairy parentheses, sideburns are bound to steal at least a bit of the spotlight due to their prime face-adjacent location. Therefore, leaving sideburn length up to someone else, no matter how well that person knows your dome, is risky, to say the least. Too long and you’ll look like an Oasis fan circa 1999. Too short and it’ll simply appear as if you lost control of your razor. So, to help you make a fully informed choice, we took a look at how to choose the ideal end points for those southernmost borders of your hairline.
As it turns out, the safe bet is to simply cut those suckers off about halfway down the ear and call it a day. But if you’re anything like us, then you’re not looking for safe—you’re looking for sideburn perfection. For that, what you’ve got to do is take a look at the shape of your face. You see, the general geometry of your visage plays a large part in deciding how far down the face the hair in front of your ears can descend—just as it does when you’re figuring out which facial-hair style is right for you. Here, a rundown of common face shapes and how they might affect the length of your ’burns.
Let’s start with an easy one, shall we? Not so round that width is something to worry about, yet not too long either, oval-shaped faces are ideally proportioned, meaning that you don’t need to use your sideburns to visually even anything out. Accordingly, in this case the safe bet is indeed the best one. Mid-ear it is, friend.
Unlike the perfect proportions of an oval face, a mug that’s more circular can benefit from a little added length to the sideburns, which will help to break up symmetry and lengthen the face. But where exactly should they land? Somewhere between the tragus—that flap of cartilage covering the earhole—and the lobe. And don’t let them get too bushy, as that’ll add unwanted width and negate the lengthening effect you’re looking for.
Similar to the above, those with square faces also suffer from the problem of too much width. It’s for that reason that longer sideburns, potentially even reaching the bottom of the ear, can be a boon to those with squared-off jawlines. Our suggestion: Have your barber cut it first on the longer side, then slowly trim it up till it looks right. Better that than going too short and having to wait six weeks to fix it.
The Rectangle (or Oblong)
On the other end of the spectrum, some faces suffer not from a lack of length, but from an excess of it. Which is exactly where shorter sideburns come in, drawing attention away from the vertical by showing off a little skin at the sides.
Got a mug that’s narrow at the brow but wide and angular at the jawline? Then use your sideburns to your advantage by either narrowing the bottom half of your face or adding width at the top. For the former, opt for longer, more tapered burns. For the latter, go ahead and try something shorter than average. This one’s a toss-up, really, so why not give both a shot and see which one works for you?
Take everything we said about the triangle and reverse it. Then ask your barber his or her opinion. In this case, that may very well be your best course of action.
More from GQ: