Here I will link my favorite YouTube tutorials from my vintage hair idols - LisaFreemontStreet and PinupDollAshleyMarie, share lists of products and tools, offer hints/tips that I've found extra-helpful or important as I've learned, and probably a few more things.
Buckle up, kids - it's gonna be a long post.
Everything I know I learned from YouTube.
With the exception of having a few things click for me because I saw some vintage hair setting diagrams (which I will link later on), seriously everything I know I learned from two amazing YouTubers - LisaFreemontStreet and PinupDollAshleyMarie.
They both have EXCELLENT tutorials that break things down very clearly and thoroughly. I would personally suggest browsing the tutorials, skimming through them, getting an idea of what looks you want and what kind of set is suggested to achieve them, and then watching their tutorials for said set.
I am an obnoxious stickler for things being as authentic as possible, which is why most of the time I set my hair in wetset pincurls, held with setting lotion, and using a setting pattern. You'll notice quite quickly that that is not necessary to have vintage-inspired (if not painstakingly authentic) hair. I encourage my level of blind determination to be authentic, but I know it's not for everyone - Lisa and AshleyMarie will offer you more options than I tend to use and you should try all of the ones that strike your fancy and find what works best for you!
I seem to have found that Lisa's videos tend much more toward recreating vintage looks as accurately as possible (wet sets and controlled frizz and volume from the curls), while among Ashley Marie's videos I find more of what I think of as "vintage-inspired" looks that can have a bit more of a modern twist or look to them, or are achieved by more modern means (heat sets that tend to be more sleek and get their volume from intentional teasing moreso than the way the curl was formed). Both ways have been excellent for me to know and I would advise familiarising yourself with any technique you think might work and get your hair the way you want it.
I'll start by linking the tutorials I most often refer to for general 1940s and 1950s looks, and then link the ones that list the techniques I most prefer to use. These videos will contain all the terms I have and will continue to reference in this post that might not make sense to you yet.
My favorite 1940s tutorial from Lisa:
My favorite more voluminous tutorial from Lisa which I sometimes use for 50s looks:
Lisa's ridiculously fantastic, incredible pincurling videos that will change your entire life forever:
My first stop for 1950s-early 60s hair! This works with wet set OR dry curls, and I believe this is the video in which she uses setting lotion in a curling iron set, which worked surprisingly well for me. My hair actually looks pretty much exactly like the inspiration for this when I follow this tutorial from Ashley Marie.
Ashley Marie's extremely thorough vintage wet setting video. It's AMAZING.
And finally - Ashley Marie's curling iron set video!
I have coarse, extremely thick, naturally very wavy (almost curly) hair; keeping that in mind, here's a list of the products/tools I have found work best:
- Lottabody Setting Lotion
- In a little spray bottle (Walmart travel section, less than $1), 1 part lotion to 3 parts water. My pincurl queen, LisaFreemontStreet really loves Motions Foaming Wrap Lotion - I cannot get the stuff to work in my hair. Lottabody is far and away the best product I've used on my kind of hair.
- Double-Prong Curl Clips
- Single prong is for the weak! Seriously though, if you don't have a lot of hair single is probably okay.
- All-Purpose Metal Clips
- These are the same length as the curl clips, but they can hold a lot more hair, which is awesome if you have thick/long hair. I especially like to use them in the back, when I tend to be worried a little less about sculpting the curls and am willing to put more hair in each clip.
- Duckbill clips
- Mmmm, dat Veronica Lake wave, doe.
- Denman styling brush
- I waited years and I have no idea why. It's a brush-out game changer.
- Boar Bristle Brush
- Mine is a narrow, natural bristle, Goody with a thin, tapered handle that comes to a point so you can use it to section, which I love. Even as much as I love the Denman, I still find that sometimes I like having this one around to work with. If you don't have a brush or comb with a pointy or pik end with which to section, you'll definitely want one.
- Brushable hairspray
- Please do yourself a favor and make sure you can brush through the spray. Don't get a gorgeous brush out, spray it, run a comb through it, and then watch it all just flatten, because it'll break your heart - trust me, I found out the hard way. I just use the brighter-pink-capped Suave hairspray from Walmart - I don't think it even costs $3 a bottle and it lasts a while.
- Bobby pins
- Bobby pins. Not hair pins. Some tutorials will tell you to use hair pins because bobby pins will give you dents. By all means, experiment! In my experience hair pins will fall out, assuming you can get them to stay in the first place. I don't own a single hair pin, and I've set my thick hair all the way round with bobbies and not had any weird dents.
- Frizz-Ease Secret Weapon Touch Up Creme
- I'm going to talk with my stylist about pomades next week, but this is what I've been using in place of them. Every tutorial I watch uses pomades. Everytime I go into Sally and ask for a weak hold, frizz-controlling pomade I walk out with what feels like a sticky ball of candle wax that dirties my hair so fast it's sad. That being said - even though this isn't what I see in tutorials, Secret Weapon tames my frizzies and flyaways wonderfully and it doesn't weigh down or dirty up my hair! I can use it four days in a row on the same set and it doesn't get greasy! (Note, however, that you should wait for it to dry before you brush over it again. It doesn't take long, but if you've put on a lot and then you brush it you can and likely will brush out a lot of your curl - a mistake I frequently make when in a hurry.)
- Hair Scarves
- Unless you're lucky enough to spend your days at home, you're probably going to set your hair at night and sleep on it and/or want to wear it out during the day to brush it out before hitting the town at night. Either way you'll want your hair protected from tossing and turning, or have the clips covered from view. Scarves are best for sleeping in because they're light and they're breathable and they still let your hair dry at the usual rate. Bandannas or opaque scarves are nice for wearing out and about (plus to this being everyone will think you're "That Rosie the Riveter, lady, right?!" when you're really just out with curlers in.)
On a regular basis this is all I use.
I also keep hair gel, a 1/2 - 3/4" curling iron and a narrow flat iron, as well as sponge rollers, hot rollers, and brush rollers (all ConAir from Walmart) on hand, although anymore I only use these as cheats on lazy days or as last-minute saviors when something goes wrong.
Tips in General:
- Just wetset pincurl it.
- Yes, it takes practice. A lot of practice. Yes, you'll probably turn yourself into something resembling a poodle a few times. It's WORTH IT. Nothing holds as well, waves as beautifully, and is as workable, authentic, and long-lasting as a real, pincurl wet set. I spent years trying to cheat around it and I wish I hadn't. It's amazing and it will be worth your effort if you really want authentic looks (and you know you do. ;) )
- Spend time getting good, clean sectioning.
- Truuuussstttt me. Trust me.
- BRUSH IT.
- Don't be shy. If you pincurled it - they're not going anywhere. Be brave, be ruthless and brush, brush, brush. (Against your hand/arm. Always. ALWAYS.) It can also help to backcomb a little while brushing out - it keeps the hair from separating back into individual curl shapes, which I have yet to find desirable for any reason.
- KEEP BRUSHING IT.
- No, really. If you had an alternating-row pincurl set to get that wave, IT'S THERE. I promise. Put it against your hand and keep brushing. (Sometimes I find that I also need to let the curls relax a while, depending on the look I'm trying to achieve. I can't just let my hair down and immediately have Rita's Gilda waves - that takes at least a few hours of my hair being out of the set and brushed, and often looks best on day two after sleeping on it! BUT my Rita waves are a work in progress and I'm still experimenting with different shaped sets.)
- Flat pincurls for 1940s looks, Stand-Up/Barrel pincurls for 1950s/early 1960s looks.
- Anything in between for personal, fusion looks when you just want vintage-esque glamour.
- Get a vintage cut.
- It helps SO MUCH. If you want authentic looks, this will change your life. It still styles well for modern looks (looks great straightened, naturally wavy, etc.), and it makes an incalculable difference with vintage styles. You will confuse the daylights out of some stylists if you walk in and ask for a rounded, vintage cut, and apparently some will even tell you they can't. If you live in or near central Ohio or are even planning on visiting, Kimberly Loomis has a salon called Urban Posh that operates out of the Salon Lofts on Polaris Parkway. The woman is phenomenal with cuts and color and brows, and she is the only stylist I have allowed to touch my hair for eight years. She's kind and she's knowledgeable about vintage styling. Click here to look at her Salon Lofts page - you can even book an appointment here online. (Link will open in a new window.) She worked with my vintage cutting diagrams and my own desire to keep my ridiculous length and the cut I have is just stunning. I can never say enough good things about this woman and what she can do. She's an angel.
Random Victory Roll Pointers:
- Wind 'em around ONE finger.
- Maybe this is just me, but I was always trying to use two because I thought it afforded me better control, but I only got a shape I loved and that would stay when I used one finger, as per the tutorial(s).
- BACKCOMB THEM
- Of course it's annoying. Yes, you should do it anyway. They shape up so much faster and stay so much better!
- There are so many GORGEOUS victory roll shapes that look phenomenal on other people and then utterly ridiculous on my head. We all have different hair and different face shapes and facial features. Play around with styles you like, tweaking them as you see fit. Play with the direction of a curl/roll, how deep you part your hair or if you'd like to part it in the middle, play with the number of rolls and how much hair you put in them, and - perhaps most importantly - play with where on your head you decide to secure them; develop your own, signature rolls!
- My hair inspiration board on pinterest - containing a LOT of vintage and vintage-inspired looks to get your imagination running wild!
- My vintage inspiration board - containing mostly clothing, but they're usually authentic pictures almost all of which have gorgeous hairstyles.
(I don't really re-write any of the captions on things I pin, so if they say something stupid or less than helpful - I [probably] didn't do it! Also, my pinterest account is an 18k+ pin black hole of 182 boards. Don't get sucked in. ;) )
Those hair setting diagrams I promised, plus some for cuts:
- I put those here for you! (NOTE: If you get a vintage cut, even the longest middy-cut-diagram you can find in following those links is not as long as mine. This is why I talked to my stylist, showed her pictures of Rita Hayworth and thankfully she knew what I suspected - that Rita's long waves came from a MUCH longer cut than some diagrams suggest. My hair comes down past the middle of my back, and you've probably seen how short it is when it's curled. Do not forget to take that into consideration if you go to get a cut. That probably sounds like common sense - it is, but it's so easy to forget!)
Things I Put into Q&A Format For No Good Reason:
Q: "I really don't want to learn wet sets. What's the best way to do this if I don't want to do wet sets?"
A: Wet setting it.
A: Dry, alternating, heat-set pincurls done with a 3/4" barrel curling iron, let set for at least 15 minutes.
Q: But pincurls are such hard work.
A: Are you asking another question or what is this?
Q: ...I don't wanna pincurl either.
A: Flat iron curls have always worked best for me if I need a really fast curl that I can style into something vintage-inspired. It won't be very authentic looking, but it will look better than typical curling-iron curls.
Q: Do you know anything about pageboys?
A: No, I'm sorry! It's on my list after the Rita waves, though, so stay tuned.
Q: Where can I purchase all of these styling tools/products?
A: Walmart and Sally is where I got all of mine! And they're always reasonably priced from my experience, which is awesome!
Q: I can't really afford all of that stuff at once - are there bare essentials I can buy first?
A: Of course. Double-prong curl clips, setting lotion and baby spray bottle, either the Denman or the Boar Bristle brush, and some hairspray should do ya'!
Q: How many curl clips do I need to buy?
A: Depends - how many does the store have in stock? Seriously, though - probably more than you think you do. I can't imagine 1 pack setting anyone's entire head. Get at least two or three, I would say.
Q: I just spent 3 hours pincurling my hair. Will it always take this long?!
A: Nope! Practice, practice, practice! I've got mine down to about an hour for an alternating-row directional set, which seems pretty good based on what my pinup friends online and tutorials say about the time commitment necessary for a wetset. Good news is - that one hour will give you up to four days of gorgeous vintage waves with no extra curling on the successive days! 15 minutes per day average is pretty great when you think about it. :)
Q: Can you teach me?!
A: I am by no means any sort of authority on this subject. Everything I know I learned from incredibly experienced pinups who have been kind enough to share their knowledge online for free. Every time someone comes to me for hair advice I am humbled and honored. That being said - I am more than happy to have my friends come over and get ready with me and show them what ropes I know about this whole vintage hair thing. I'm passionate about it and would enthusiastically share the love in whatever way will help you learn best!