When wearing vintage styles, we often consider the importance of the right accessories to complete an outfit. However, the ultimate accessory may actually be our crowning glory – our hair. An accurate vintage hairstyle can immediately add authenticity to a vintage style, and can help beautifully finish an overall look.
Vintage hairstyles from the beginning to middle of the twentieth century were rather complicated affairs, often taking days of preparation and planning in order to achieve the period-perfect style. To recreate authentic vintage styles, it may be necessary to try out some authentic methods and techniques.
Here I have compiled a collection of various hair tutorials, all either aimed at beginners or featuring excellent in-depth explanations and techniques. From victory rolls to pin curls, these tutorials should help you to create vintage inspired hairstyles.
But first, take a look at the history of vintage hairstyles:
- 1920s Hairstyles
- 1930s Hairstyles
- 1940s Hairstyles
- 1950s Hairstyles
- 1960s Hairstyles
- 1970s Hairstyles
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Pin Curl Sets
With the exception of a few vintage hairstyles, most styles started with waved or curled hair. One of the best methods of creating a wave or curl in the hair is with a pin curl set. As my own hair is very straight and fine, over the years I have found the best method for me is a wet pin curl set. A wet pin curl set gives a strong curl, which can then be brushed and manipulated into the shape or style desired. Below are links to various pin curl setting tutorials.
Pin Curl Set Tutorials
- Easy Pin Curl Set for Retro Waves – Many on YouTube
- Lisa Freemont Street’s Guide to Pin Curls Part One – Video
- Lisa Freemont Street’s Guide to Pin Curls Part Two – This details the importance of the brushing out process
With a pin curl set, half of the work is in the actual set itself, while the other half is in the brushing out of the set. Lisa Freemont Street gives an excellent guide to the brush out process in her Part Two video listed above.
Of course, there are many techniques for getting a good curl into the hair. In addition to a wet pin curl set, foam rollers or rag rollers may also be used. Heat and hot curling tongs can also give a curl – but I personally would not recommend heated curls for fine hair, as the curl may not last.
There are many products to help prolong the life of the curl, I use a solution of 2 parts water to 1 part setting lotion, spritzed over the hair when I am doing a wet pin curl set.
Classic Vintage Waves
During the 1940s and 1950s, hairstyles featured large sweeping waves rather than tight curls. These waves can be achieved in a number of ways. Here are some links to tutorials:
Classic Wave Hairstyle Tutorials
- Betty Draper Inspired Hairstyle – Lauren Rennells
- 1950s Marilyn Monroe Hair Curls – Cherry Dollface (Video)
- A Marilyn Pin Curl Set – Va Voom Vintage
Rolls and Tucks
For days when you want to wear your hair up, a classic back roll is perfect for a 1940s style. There are a few different techniques and methods to achieve this style. A hair ‘rat’ or padded roll could be used, as may a scarf or a simple hair band. When I had longer hair I tried each of these tutorials, all with pleasing results.
Tutorials for Rolls, Tucks and Faux Bangs
- Vintage Up Do Roll – Jessica Kellgren-Fozard
- How to do a Vintage Back Roll Using a Scarf – By Gum, By Golly
- Bumper Bangs – Rachel Maksy
Perhaps the most iconic hairstyle of the 1940s, Victory Rolls are as popular today on the vintage scene as they were back in their heyday.
I have found that these work best on day old hair, so that the hair has more texture. The main point to keep in mind is to gently backcomb the hair first, then smooth and form the roll. To keep the hair that will form the roll together, try tying a thin hair elastic around this section, then pull the band almost to the ends.
1940s Victory Rolls Tutorials
- Victory Roll Hair Tutorial – Cherry Dollface
- Lauren Rennell’s excellent book Vintage Hairstyling also has some great victory roll tutorials, along with many other key vintage hairstyles.
The Poodle – A Classic 1940s/1950s Style
The poodle was popular during the 1940s and 1950s. Movie stars such as Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, and Lucille Ball all frequently wore their hair in this style. It might look complicated, it but actually only relies on a few key components.
Begin by pulling all the hair into a ponytail, worn very high – almost at the front of the head. To adapt this for a poodle, firstly section off the front of the hair, then pull the rest of the hair into a ponytail. Arrange the ponytail hair into pin curls around the head, ensuring the back of the ponytail is concealed. Then add pin curls to the front and sides with the hair you left out of the ponytail. This method ensures that the back of the hair is super secure, and is so much quicker than pinning up all the sections of hair instead.
Tutorials for a Poodle Hairstyle
- Easy 1940’s Poodle Hair! || Pinup Style
- The Poodle! Lucille Ball Vintage Hairstyle – Cherry Dollface (Video)
- Betty Grable Pin Up Poodle – Miss Rockabilly Ruby (Video)
Vintage Pin Curls & Styles for Short Hair
As most of the styles mentioned thus far are for mid-long length hair, I thought it only fair that I include some styles here for shorter hair. Contrary to generalized opinion, women most definitely did wear their hair short during the first half of the twentieth century.
Of course during the 1920s, we know that the bob and Eton crop both became very popular. However, during the 1930s, it became the fashion for women to wear slightly longer hair – in a kind of backlash against the bob (and for women to prove that they were aware of and followed the very latest fashions). By the 1940s, the ‘middy’ cut was popular, with hair generally reaching the shoulders. But by the 1950s, women started to favor much shorter hairstyles, close to what we may refer to as a pixie crop in today’s terms.
A pixie crop in itself may of course be entirely appropriate for a vintage inspired style. I actually had my hair cut into a pixie crop earlier this year, and can testify to the versatility of the cut. If you would like to make the style look more era appropriate, try pin curls – both as a setting method or as a decorative feature. A pin curl set on cropped hair adds body and volume, and can be brushed to create vintage waves.
Tutorials and Styles for Short Hair
- 1950s Short Hairstyle Using Pin Curls – Lisa Freemont Street (Video)
- Quick and Easy Gatsby Inspired Hair Tutorial – Retro Chick (Video)
- Vintage Styles for Short Hair – Retro Chick
Finger Waves and Marcel Waves
Finger waves and Marcel waves are not what I would consider an easy style.
However, finger waves were a key style in the 1920s and 1930s, so I thought I would include some tutorials for them here. I have tried both these tutorials, and they each definitely helped me to understand the techniques required. I have found that hair gel works brilliantly with ‘setting’ the waves, and if you are able, do use original metal vintage wave clips rather than plastic ones.
Finger Waves and Marcel Wave Tutorials
- Fabulous Finger Waves – Jirina Alanko & Riikka Pennanen (Video)
- 1920s Finger Waves – LBCC Historical (Video)
How to Style a Turban or Scarf
Wearing a scarf or turban is an easy way of achieving a vintage inspired style with minimal effort. To ensure the scarf or turban stays in place throughout the day, add some hair grips (Bobby pins) to the side of the head. To cover the hair grips (if desired), add flower clips to the scarf over the grips, creating a feminine a vintage inspired style.
Use these tutorials for ideas on how to tie a scarf in a vintage inspired style:
- Cute Bandana Tying Ideas – Lauren Rennells
- So Apparently I like Turbans, A Tutorial – Lauren Rennells
- How to Tie a Turban – British Pathe (1942 Video)
- Vintage Head Scarf Tutorial – Chatterblossom
Hopefully some of these tutorials will enable you to create a vintage inspired hairstyle or two. Practice with different styles, find out what works for you (and what doesn’t), and most importantly – have fun with it!
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.