Reviewed & updated: March 28, 2023 by Jamie Wilson BA
Sideburns are a bit of a marmite-esque style in the world of facial hair with just as many critics as champions.
However, there are ways to help you grow and trim your sideburns to flatter your face, whether you want to go with full Wolverine-style mutton chops or something on the safer side while you grow your beard. References to the sideburn style date back as far as 100 BC in mosaic designs so they sure are a tried and tested facial hair style. If you want to give it a go then we’ve got a comprehensive guide to help you out.
The History Of Sideburns
Known as ‘Side Whiskers’ for a long time (and as Picadilly Whiskers in Britain), they owe their current name to Ambrose Burnside, who was a union army general during the American civil war. He sported a thick, voluminous beard that came down the cheeks and connected with his moustache, leaving the chin cleanly shaven. Despite his poor leadership skills and combat record, the press made famous his facial hair, referring to the style as ‘Burnside Whiskers’ for a period before finally being corrupted into ‘Sideburns’. The international popularity of the style grew rapidly and Ambrose Burnside was cemented in history for the appearance of his facial hair, which is better known today as ‘Friendly Mutton Chops’.
Sideburns, and facial hair in general declined during the first half of the twentieth century, largely owing to the first and second World Wars when soldiers had to be clean shaven. This was partly for practical reasons in order to enable the proper wearing of gas masks, but was also reinforced by elements of military regulation and toughening up.
During this time the moustache was the champion of hair on a man’s face but the 1950s and 60s led to big changes in the associations of the sideburn. Elvis Presley and other musicians ensured that sideburns can back with a bang and secured close ties to numerous subcultures such as bikers, rockers, greasers and hippies. Sideburn styles of hair gradually changed from a hallmark of hard-wearing masculinity into a sign of youthful rebellion with deep roots in musical club scenes. Oasis carried this music relationship well into the 1990s, and sideburns have held onto their rock-and-roll connection to this day.
Shaping, Styling And Maintenance
As with all new territory when it comes to beard hair, looking after your sideburns will probably feel a bit awkward at first. With just a little time and a bit of practice, your confidence will grow and you’ll find trimming sideburns a walk in the park. We’re sure many of you already have beard trimmers at home, which you can also use to keep your sideburns in check which is the first thing you should do.
In addition to a trimmer, you’ll also need a razor, shavette or some trimmers have special shaping attachments which can also come in handy for shaping and contouring. After you’ve trimmed you need to shape your sideburns, making sure to leave them larger than you want at first and working from there one by one. You can’t add the hair back on, but you can always take more away so do this part gradually with care. Reduce the length and width in small increments until you’re happy with them and use your nose or mouth as a central reference to help you get each side the same. Most people have asymmetric faces and ears so avoid
Once you’re done with shaping the length and width, feel free to trim them again if you think the hair is still too long, but always trim downwards so as to avoid any patchiness. If you’re going for sideburns with long hair, then keep it out of the way while you work your magic. Don’t be disheartened if you make a hash of trying to get them perfect and end up shaving them all off, you haven’t lost anything and should try again next time you’ve got a reasonable length.
We can break sideburn length into three choices: short, medium and long. A long style will reach down to or past your earlobes, a medium length will hit in line with your tragus and a short style is anything above that point. If you want big sideburns or faded sideburns, it all depends on the rest of your hair style, facial hair and head shape. There are plenty of things to consider and no one-size-fits-all rule, so try a few options out and find the one that works for you.
How To Style Sideburns To Your Face Shape
Like any kind of head hair, the style you want will depend heavily upon your head shape. Your hair style can help to frame your face, while exaggerating good features and compensating for others. Elongating, shortening, widening and balancing can all be achieved when dealing with sideburns, so we’ve put together a short list of the different shapes and where to cut sideburns for each. Even hair growth will help in any case so be sure to keep everything well trimmed to the same length as a blanket rule.
Oblong face – keeping your sideburns short and wide can help to reduce the length that your face looks. A sideburn taper into your hair can also make the face look squarer and softer.
Round face – to offset a round shape, we recommend long, straight and short sideburns that create a strong frame to elongate and straighten the face, making it stronger and squarer.
Square face – sideburns should reach down as far as the bottom of your earlobes, helping to frame your face nicely. Thick sideburns can help to soften the face but be sure to avoid creating too much roundness.
Diamond-shaped face – with a diamond-shaped face we suggest having long sideburns with volume to add some width and soften any rigidity.
Triangular face – short and wide sideburns can complement the wide jaw, but keep them trimmed short to avoid widening the face shape.
Heart-shaped face – a slightly more difficult shape to deal with, but keeping a short and modest sideburn length will allow you to embrace sideburns styles nonetheless.
Oval-shaped face – for oval-shaped faces, we recommend keeping your sideburns trimmed short and about to the height of your tragus in order to enhance your jawline and cheekbones.
Sideburn Style – Recap
- 1 – With an interesting history, sideburns remain a great alternative style of facial hair
- 2 – Keep on top of styling and maintenance to stay looking sharp
- 3 – Suit your sideburns style to your head shape to avoid any strange looks