Drop Fade Haircut: What It Is & The Best Styles For 2023
A drop fade will help separate your haircut from the cookie cutter fades men get, bringing unique shaping and detail to any hairstyle.
While the majority of fades follow the same basic template – a clean perimeter of hair around the head that graduates from a grade 0/1 up to a 3/4 – a drop fade breaks the mould by cutting less out of the back and allowing more hair to flow further down towards the base of the neck. The result is less skin on show and a softer, curved outline to the haircut.
It means that a drop fade looks much less severe and more natural in its shaping compared to other types of fades. Yet that doesn’t mean the effect is any less clean and striking. So, if you’re looking for a subtle way to modernise your current cut, read on.
What is a drop fade haircut?
“A drop fade is like a normal fade, but as soon as you get to the ear, you extend the fade down towards the nape and leave a little bit more length towards this area,” explains Billy Coles, Senior Barber at Murdock London.
You can work a drop fade into a hairstyle at a low, mid or high starting point, but the shaping should always set it apart. “A drop fade should start at the temple, drop down past the ears and end below the occipital bone at the back of the head,” summarises Luca Ionut-Mihaita, Senior Barber at Dan’s Barbershop in Waterloo.
When executed correctly, a drop fade gives an extra sense of depth at the back of the haircut, unlike blunter fades that follow the same straight line around the perimeter of the head. “This haircut also allows you to create much sharper lines around the front part of the hairline,” says Billy. “A concept which is pretty difficult to execute with a normal fade.”
From the side-on especially, a drop fade can really stand out due to the natural contrast in tone between the faded section (generally cut down to skin) and the more prominent section of hair it blends into. By cutting the faded area around the ear and following the natural curve down to the neck, instead of squaring off the back, you establish that desired ‘drop’ finish that instantly differentiates it from the cookie-cutter fades most men tend to get these days.
What you need to know before getting a drop fade haircut
While more subtle than other fades in its nature, the definition and impact of a drop fade can’t really be achieved without a section that’s cut down to skin. “For an effective drop fade you want to maximise the contrast of the longer length on top faded down into very short sides, preferably down to skin,” advises Luca. You’ll likely need to visit your barber more often, too.
“You can’t really have anything longer than skin on the sides as it just wouldn’t look right,” says Billy. It will also grow out relatively quickly around that front part, so there isn’t as much longevity in this cut – even compared to a normal skin fade.
The section just above and around the ear is vital – you want to introduce a strong faded area to create the cleanest possible contrast with any styling above the top of the fade line. From a barbering perspective, everything revolves around the shaping when it comes to defining that ‘drop’ and setting this style apart from others.
“Your barber should make sure the fade line starts with the correct shape and take their time moving through the grades to keep the fade dipping below the occipital bone with a nice smooth contrast from start to finish,” advises Luca. “Like with all good haircuts, it’s a symbiotic relationship,” he continues. “If you’re thinking of going for a drop fade, do your research to understand what the desired end result will be.”
While this article should go a long way to help on this front, before committing to a distinct hairstyle like this you should take the time to discuss the plan with your barber. Consultation time is there to be used and can be vital – especially before making a drastic change to your existing look. Your barber should advise if a style you have in mind will actually suit your face shape and hair type, suggesting alternatives if not.
Who does a drop fade haircut suit?
Distinct shaping and less skin exposure are the key selling points for wanting a drop fade, especially if you haven’t had any kind of faded hairstyle before. It can feel like a less extreme approach to take while still serving up plenty of sharpness at the foundation of your hairstyle.
“For some, the look of a skin fade might seem too extreme, even if the feel of one is what they desire,” says Billy. “A drop fade haircut is perfect for this person, as it truly delivers the best of both worlds.”
Drop fades are also highly adaptable across different hair types, textures and styles. “This type of fade is universal,” says Billy. “From experience I find it works particularly well for gents with blonde or lighter toned hair, as the shaping helps really build up the weight towards the front area of the sides. Saying that, it still looks aesthetically pleasing on darker hair.”
That said, head shape and face exposure should still come into consideration. “A drop fade really suits men with very grainy hair, low crowns or uneven head shapes, as you might find with a very prominent occipital bone,” says Luca.
You should also be willing to leave a little length on top to really emphasise the contrast and curved shaping created. “In my opinion, drop fades work best with longer lengths on top when the hair is worn up or back off the face, not a front-facing crop or with a fringe,” says Luca. “This is because the drop fade helps mirror the shape of the hair being swept off the face.”
20 of the best men’s drop fade haircuts
Ready to take the plunge? Take a look at some of our favourite drop fade haircuts for 2023 below.
Curly hair with high drop fade
Making a dramatic impact on dark curly hair, this drop fade cleanly separates the beard and shapes a desirable curve around the back, allowing that healthy texture to flow down from the lifted style above.
The result is a well-balanced, rounded overall silhouette.
Pompadour with drop fade
Cut in subtly, this drop fade disconnects the slick pompadour above from the epic beard below, bringing a more contemporary feel to what is usually a traditional hairstyle.
Note how the steady curve of the fade is cut in quite high around the back to line up with the tip of the sideburn. The finer details like this are what really make or break a cut.
Faux hawk with drop fade
This bold hairstyle is less about working a gentle blend up the sides and more about achieving a clear contrast. The drop fade helps establish this, doing a lot of work to shape the distinct curve that edges the bulkier texture above.
A solid balance of creative cutting and more natural finishing.
Wavy mop with drop fade
The sharp drop fade curving up and around the ear helps to tighten up the silhouette of this wavy style, which otherwise sits quite heavy and rounded over the top due to the texture and natural flow of the hair.
With the fade outlining a more prominent section of hair flowing down the back, you create a nice flow from top to bottom. This wouldn’t be achievable if you simply wiped out the back section, like you would on a traditional fade.
Spiky fringe with drop fade
Cutting a neat, angled high fade like this on thicker, more static hair can prove extremely effective.
Here the drop fade follows the styling on top – hitting its peak near the front where the hair is longer and the fringe lifted, before dropping down the back as the crown is cut shorter. It gives the overall look and silhouette a sense of consistency.
Quiff with drop fade
On a head of thick, dark hair like this, cutting in any skin fade will have a major impact.
Here the drop fade not only cleanly disconnects the sideburn from the hair above and bushy beard below, but also shapes just the right amount of curve around the back.
Short waves with line up and drop fade
With short and tight waves running right across the top of this style, the sharp and blended sides offer a nice contrast to the texture above, while also disconnecting the thriving beard below.
Utilising a drop fade creates a clean, handsome break around the ear and enables the texture to flow nicely down from the crown, rounding things off nicely at the nape.
Bleached hair with drop fade
On a choppy mid-length hairstyle like this you want the texture and shaping to be the standout element, with the fade taking a more supporting role.
That’s exactly what’s achieved here, as the drop fade edges neatly around the ear – not cutting too far up the sides, nor taking too much out of the back – keeping the focus fully on the volumised style above.
Crew cut with drop fade
To some guys, a crew cut may sound a little boring, but introducing a drop fade transforms this classic short back and sides into something much more modern and individual.
Here the faded section is quite small but it works really effectively to disconnect the beard without taking away from the excellent shaping above.
Short choppy hair with drop fade
This is an example of a modified drop fade, using the shaping you’d traditionally find on a temple fade.
By cutting an edge quite high at the temple you create the impression of a ‘drop’, as the flow of longer hair above the fade line cleanly graduates down, following a V-shape before reaching the centre of the neck. It’s neat, precision clipper work that contrasts wonderfully against the messier, natural texture above.
Modern mohawk with drop fade
The volumised, full-flowing hair on top dominates this look, and quite rightly. The fade is simply there to give it a base from which to thrive.
The sharp, straight lines edging the hairline contrasts superbly against the wild hair on top, while the drop fade allows the back section to become a continuation of the style from the top, creating a modernised take on a mohawk.
Short afro hair with drop fade
This drop fade cuts out a clean curve from the lower side section, helping tighten up the frame of the afro-textured curls.
By lifting such dense, natural texture up from the scalp, you can maximise volume while still maintaining a balanced, rounded silhouette that flows evenly around the head, just like this.
Short neat waves with drop fade
This crisp and tight hairstyle showcases the natural curl of the afro-textured hair, which looks all the more impactful for the line introduced by the drop fade.
Cutting a perfect 45-degree angle over the ear, this clean break adds a more creative edge, while leaving enough space for the strong beard to flourish below.
Caesar cut with drop fade
This contemporary Caesar haircut sees the drop fade cut in high and taken down to skin over the ear, creating a similar effect to a burst fade.
On top, the choppy, natural texture is cut to a length that allows some good movement growing away from the crown. This is all well contained by some really blunt edging towards the front, angled up the temple and along the fringe, while the drop fade shapes a clean curve at the back.
Long curls with drop fade
The addition of a drop fade helps create a mohawk out of this big volume, afro-textured style, with the epic curls following the curved outline from front to back.
The faded section enhances and exaggerates the shaping to great effect while additionally blending down the other way into the well-manicured facial hair.
A creative triumph with the clippers.
Lifted fringe with drop fade and detailing
Everywhere you look across this intricate cut there’s a crisp pointed edge achieved by some real precision clippering and scissor cutting. This sharpness runs through the texture at the top, as well as the faded area around the sides.
By dropping the fade around the back you achieve a gentle contrast that plays a key part in the overall finish, squaring off the profile of the head from the back with that clean line.
Natural mop with drop fade
This is a natural, flowing hairstyle that relies less on product and more on good cutting to establish those soft, wavy layers that sweep so cleanly across the top.
With the addition of a drop fade on fine, lighter hair, you can gain a real edge and clean up just enough of the sides to not unbalance such great shaping.
Blow out with drop fade
With light, fluffy textured hair, styling options can sometimes prove quite static and restrictive. This modern blow out proves differently. The hair flows naturally up from the fringe and over to the back, creating a soft, curved silhouette that particularly suits an angled face shape such as this.
This is the type of haircut where a drop fade really shines. By removing the bulk just above the ears it keeps the hair under control and manageable, while also emphasising those really clean curves working towards the back and down into the pristine facial hair.
Modern pompadour with drop fade
While the focus of this style is clearly on the lift and sweep through the top, the drop fade proves invaluable in preventing the overall style from looking too boxy by taking the sides tighter and keeping the back a more manageable length.
While the majority of this hairstyle can be scissor cut, the impact of those clippers is so important when it comes to refinement and tightening the whole shape up.
Messy hair with drop fade
This wildly texturised look takes layering through the top to a whole new level. The built-up fringe contains the medley of waves, creating a hard stop just above the eyebrows, while a consistent height is reached lifting forwards from the crown – both considered elements that bring balance and help contain all this free-flowing hair.
The drop fade is used to stop things getting too out of hand. It is cut up to meet and maintain the line coming around from the fringe, before curving down the back – providing such a drastic, loud, top-heavy hairstyle with an understated foundation.