I have the perfect hair for styles prior to 1910 – long, thick, curly, and with enough bobby pins it can hold a ten-pound Edwardian picture hat (I haven’t tried it but I think it could be done). But when it comes to the 20th century – just forget it. Long hair and ’20s-’30s vintage hairstyles don’t mix. Short curly hair was in since the 1920s flapper girl revolution. Long hair wasn’t embraced again until the 1970s with a few exceptions in between.
So what is a long-haired girl to do when she has a 1930s Old Hollywood party to attend? Let’s take a look at some 30s hairstyles for long hair to get inspiration, and then I will share with you some tips on how I create ’30s hairstyle with my long curly hair.
1930s Long Hair
Not every woman wanted to cut their hair short, but having an off the neck hairstyle was the style of the decade, and long-tressed ladies had to make do.
The American Hairdresser magazine in 1939 said, “we do not endorse longhair but in response to the numerous requests for something to answer the needs of long-haired patrons these styles have been presented.”
Most ’30s hairstyles began with a chin-length cut. As the decade moved, on women needed longer shoulder length cuts to accommodate newer styles that involved a lot of tight rolls and curls.
Women who had longer hair could style these same “short” looks with the help of a professional hairstylist. It involved creating sweeps of hair, tight rolls, and a lot of bobby pins to keep the curls/rolls off the neck.
Other styles embraced straight long hair or curly long hair into simple down looks. These were worn by Hollywood movie stars more than the public.
1930s Long Turned Short Hairstyles
Just like in the ’20s, women used the chignon bun to gather up long hair off the neck. The chignon was smooth and flat and pinned tightly to the head. If hair was thick or layered, the top or outer strands could be waved and tightly curled before they were hung over the chignon.
There were also numerous tricks to wave or roll long hair and sweep it up and around in sections all over the head, giving the overall appearance of short waved hair. It was an optical illusion, and best left to professional stylists to create.
Marcel waving (book) was the preferred styling method in the early ’30s. It shortened hair quite a bit but left the ends flat, so a stylist would tightly curl the tips. Gradually, tight curls replaced waving and rolling the hair into long tubes, giving a similar look without the possible burns from a hot iron.
Rolling and curling brought up hair off the neck and into a lovely styled coiffure. Again, it was an optical illusion. Only husbands and children knew if a wife/mother had long or short hair!
It is difficult to find examples of these because long hair was so well hidden. Here are a few options I could find:
1930s Pageboy Hairstyle
One trendy medium length hairstyle was the Pageboy. Greta Garbo favored the style for her mostly straight hair. The pageboy featured a side part, smooth flat top, and was straight or waved all around, with ends either curled under at shoulder length for a polished look or frizzy curled for a carefree ease. Usually, hair along the face was cut a little shorter at the chin and below to create some soft framing.
1930s Long Bob
Similar to the pageboy, the long bob was popular in the mid to late 1930s. Women’s hair was parted from the side or in the center with a smooth flat top and tons of big fluffy curls from the eyes on down to the shoulders. This was an easy style for long haired ladies. Simply pin curling long hair and then combing out the curls into fluff brought length up above the shoulders and gave it a “short” hair look. In the front, ladies could have short bangs or layered curls up the sides. A waved bang over one eye created the iconic ’30s peek-a-boo look.
1930s Long Curls
The longest of ’30s long hairstyles was little more than an extra long curly bob. It was the signature look of Hollywood starlet Ginger Rogers. She had lovely, long, thick hair that curled into volumes of curly goodness from her ears down. The top was always styled smooth and flat with a deep side part or waved back into a partial up/down style.
Marlene Dietrich also had a long hairstyle with bouncy curls, although her hair was naturally straight and thin. Other stars followed the trend and it became the signature look of the early ’40s. Thanks to the long hairstyle of the ’30s, the 1940s saw more women growing out their locks and curling their hair into a voluminous delight.
The Coronet braid became trendy in the mid 1930s. Along braided rope was placed like a crown or heaband across the top of the hair. Smaller curls framed the face and neckline.
Buns and braided buns at the low neck or side neck were elegant ways to pull back long hair. It was a common style for older women but became updated with young movie stars too.
Tips for Long ’30s Hairstyles
I have been to a few ’30s events where I had to do something to my long hair without a lot of time. Most ’30s hairstyles need to be wet set in curls the night before or prepped an hour or two with hot curlers prior to dressing. The pageboy is the easiest medium-long style to create with straight/wavy hair quickly. Simply give yourself a side part, curl the ends under, fluff them a bit and voila!
For natural curls (or straight hair set in small hot rollers), start again with a deep side part or a smoothed back top and let the curls fall from the eyes or earlobes down. This is easy, but rarely turns out well for my hair, which is usually layered 🙁
Creating a faux bob is one of my favorite ’20s-’30s styles. I take the bottom half of my long hair and create pin curls with them and pin them flat at my neck nape. I then use the upper half of my hair to marcel wave or curl with a 1/2 inch iron and place them over the pin curls. Instant short hair! (Sorry, no pictures…yet.)
For the updo/evening style faux short hair look I created above, I simply took my hair and divided it into 6 or 7 equal sections. Each section I then twisted and twisted and twisted until it was very tight (twisting is an easier way to create a rolled look). Next, I folded the twisted hair in half, which made the twist twist onto itself. I then pinned the ends up under my folded front wave. Once all the hair sections were twisted and pinned, I had a big mess of hairpins sticking every which way. Rather than figuring out how to make them look neater, I took a feather clip and covered up the mess. Presto! I had beautiful 1930s hair ready for the silver screen.
Finally, my all-time favorite ’30s long hair technique: wear a hat. Seriously, I’d rather focus on my clothes than my hair, so I collect big ’30s hats like deep sided cloches, slouch hats, berets, and sun hats to cover up most of my hair. The rest is gathered back into a chignon and the front bangs are marcel waved or curled.
- Art Deco Hair – a nice book of pictures of ’20s and ’30s hairstyles with some information on short, medium and long hairstyles
- Vintage Hairstyling – The best books about styling 30s-60s hair. Not much for long hair, but the techniques apply. She had a tutorial on her blog for a 30s-40s long hairstyle
- Repro Hairstyling Books – I grab vintage hairstyle books and reproduction books like these to learn techniques and see new styles.
- Marcel wave clips can help wave thin hair. For thick hair, I prefer big Alligator clips instead.
1930s Hair Accessories and Hair Styling Books
Debbie Sessions has been teaching fashion history and helping people dress for vintage themed events since 2009. She has turned a hobby into VintageDancer.com with hundreds of well researched articles and hand picked links to vintage inspired clothing online. She aims to make dressing accurately (or not) an affordable option for all. Oh, and she dances too.