From army recruits to Brad Pitt, the buzz cut has been a go-to style for men since the invention of clippers. And whether you’re trimming down for summer or just switching up your look, you can’t go wrong with this minimal-effort cut, which is both dignified and badass—no styling required. In fact, it’s so easy you can achieve it solo. We chatted with Ruben Aronov, the Manhattan-based master barber at F.S.C. Barber, to bring you this foolproof guide to prepping, cutting, and maintaining your buzz…minus a trip to the barbershop.
Before You Buzz
While some cuts work better on certain face shapes, just about any guy—and his mug—can pull off a buzz. But before you flip the “on” switch, consider these three factors so you get your length just right:
If you’ve always rocked a full coif, you may uncover a few bumps (literally) in your quest to go shorter. Nobody has a perfectly smooth head, but “you might still have lumps on your head from when you were a kid [that you don’t know about],” says Aronov. He suggests running your hands thoroughly around your scalp before you grab the shears.
2. Big ears
Pairing a full buzz with Dumbo-esque ears may add to the problem. Aronov recommends an altered approach: “Just be careful not to go too short on the sides.”
Any cut shorter than using a #3 clipper guard will show skin. Think twice about revealing any wounds that may have left a mark—or go for it. (Chicks dig scars, right?)
If you’re feeling wary, visit your barbershop first to watch the pros in action, or spring for the first buzz and ask your barber for tips on how to maintain it. (A buzz is the least expensive cut on the menu, running just $20 at F.S.C. Barber.) But if you’re feeling ambitious and bumps, scars, or big ears aren’t holding you back? Head to the bathroom to get started.
GUIDE: How To Give Yourself a Buzz Cut
1. Get the goods
To minimize the mess, have on hand a plastic bag (to place underneath you), lint roller, and vacuum. You’ll also need a hand-held mirror to help with your blind spots. A pair of clippers run anywhere from $20 – $120 online. Aronov relies on the Wahl Sterling Reflections Clipper for its reliability and precision. Make sure to keep the head well oiled prior to each use. ($71; amazon.com)
2. Choose a Length
Better to test-run a longer length than rock a straight-up military cut your first time. A #3 or #4 attachment gives a longer, office-friendly look without showing any skin. Start with one of these guards first, and then if you want to go shorter, try a #2 for a shorter buzz.
3. Start on Top
On completely dry hair, take the large buzzer to the top of your head and move against the grain (front to back) in a straight, repetitive motion. “Make sure you go over it until there are no little bumps,” says Aronov
4. Work the Side
A buzz cut rule to live by this rule—always go shorter on the sides by one guard length. “It’s not that the hair necessarily grows faster on the side, but it looks poofier as it grows in,” says Aronov. If you used a #3 on top, pop on a #2 for the sides (or if you use a #4 on top, use a #3 on the sides). In a similar motion, start at the bottom-front near your temple, move upward, and work your way back behind the ears.
5. Look Back
Using the hand-held mirror to guide you, work the buzzer from bottom to top in a straight motion. If you’re working alone, leave the neckline natural. Since this part is tricky, ask a buddy to help with a bit of touchup in the back. “The way back doesn’t have to be super manicured,” says Aronov. “Leave it be if you can’t find an extra set of hands.”
6. Keep It Up
How fast your hair grows, and what type of hair you have, will determine how often you re-buzz it. Curly hair maintains a round shape as it grows, but thinner, straighter hair can start sticking out after just a week. Repeat your buzz every 1-2 weeks to keep your fresh-cut look, or let your grow and re-cut it every 3 weeks for lower maintenance hair. The best part? With a buzz cut, all you have to do in the morning is shower, towel dry, and go—no hair products necessary.