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Thursday, January 19, 2017

Vintage Pin-Curls for Short Hair · Tutorial

It seemed like it was about time to finally post another update on my current endeavors with vintage hairstyling!  You can read through all my older posts about my various triumphs and failures under the "Hair" label.

To re-cap briefly, I have fine hair that holds a curl quite a bit better than it did 3 years ago, but still requires some extra care and attention to achieve "curly" status.  Humidity is my biggest hurdle, so I decided to get a perm this past summer.  It was a great decision and I'm definitely doing that again!  I have also found that cutting off length will increase my curliness dramatically!  So the combo of above-shoulder-length + perm kept me happy the majority of the summer.  The days of the most intense weather (either extreme humidity, rain, or strong wind) still overpowered my best attempts, so back-up headscarves were my best friends then. ;-)

I have alternated over the past year on haircut styles.  I've tried out straight-cut bobs, layered bobs, layers with shaping, etc.  I go back and forth on my favorite, but I typically use this setting pattern regardless of the cut.  I might vary it up slightly if I'm trying to achieve a different look at the front.

I start with freshly brushed hair, parted on the side.  On clean hair, I use setting lotion to moisten each strand individually.  On next-day hair I use plain water, again, applied individually. (I found that using setting lotion again didn't help enough to justify the expense and mainly just left extra residue on my brush the next morning)  If I want a looser curl on the next-day or third-day set, I will set without moistening.

On the smaller side, section off the hair in front of the ear.  Divide in half and moisten the top section.

Grasp the hair near the ends and wrap once or twice around finger, being careful not to twist the section while wrapping.  Curl this section away from the face.

Ensure that the ends stay nicely curled while continuing to curl up the section upon itself.

When you reach the base of the hair, secure with clips or bobby pins.

Curl the bottom section of hair in the same manner, this time with the curl aiming towards the face.

Now I curl the larger side of the front hair.  Section off a piece of the top hair and curl away from the part.

Curl in the same manner, starting at the bottom and curling up to the scalp.

Secure with clip or bobby pins.

My hair is thickest at the top center of my head, so I choose to do two large curls there.  I also choose to make them "standing" pin curls since the curl contains more hair than usual.  The standing pin curl means that they are only secured on the lower half of the pin curl.

On the other side, the top half gets curled away from my face while the bottom curls towards it. This alternating pattern helps guide the hair into a wave during the brush-out.

(If you don't know the basics of wet-setting/pin-curling, I *highly* recommend "Vintage Hairstyling" by Lauren Rennells.  She talks about setting patterns, different curler options and wet- vs dry-sets in a way that just makes so much sense and really gives you the knowledge you need to achieve any style you desire.)

Now for the back!  This is the part where you build up a little upper arm strength and muscle memory!

It helps me if I envision the remaining hair being divided into 3 rows of pin curls, so I section off portions of the top row and curl all of those in the same direction (in this example- towards the left).  I'm not super precise with sectioning and number of curls is entirely dependent upon my hair's thickness- I make each pin curl a size that is easily held by one bobby pin.

A note about using one bobby pin- I found that I didn't actually need the extra security of crossed bobby pins, so I decided to save a little time and only use those on the sides/front/nape of my neck.  I sleep with a scarf over the pin curls, which adds extra security.

Speaking of time- I was so intimidated by pin-curling for years because I thought it would be a major time commitment.  With practice and muscle memory, it takes me 7 minutes each night to set my hair.  And 5-7 to style it in the morning.  Not too shabby! 

The second row gets curled in the other direction- in this case, off to the left.

The third row is my nape hairs.  They just do whatever they can to get pinned into submission!  I generally attempt to have them curled in the opposite direction (left, in this case), but I don't sweat it.

Tada!  Ready for a good night's sleep!

When the curls are fully dry, remove all the clips/pins.  The level of dryness will affect the strength of the curl, so if you have extra time leave them in longer!

Finger comb through all the curls to break them up before brushing....

And then brush away!  I use a Denman brush and I've been really happy with it.  Firm, good-quality bristles with no extra tips on the end.

And then it's time to style!  I take the smaller side and gently smooth it back and pin right behind the ear.

And ironically, shortly after taking these photos, I started just securing the side with one bobby pin- so feel free to use whatever works best for you!

On the other side, I like to add a bit of back-combing for a little volume at the top.

Brush the rest of the hair until it is smooth...

And then softly arrange the top hair.

I follow my hair's lead on how to style each day- from experience, that yields the happiest experience. ;-)  You'll find that slight differences in the wet set will yield different results, so play around with it!

Secure with a bobby pin and you're done!

As a finishing touch, I like to form my hair into the natural wave that's formed by the setting pattern.  It's pretty much at this point after the brush-out, but a little extra definition never hurt anyone. ;-)

And voila!  Add a bit of hairspray and you're golden!

And here's a handy little image to put it concisely!

Don't hesitate to ask any questions! 

· Photos by Kathryn! ·


  1. So, so, so lovely!! This style definitely suits you well, and looks so perfect!! Sadly, my hair is too thick and persnickety to do much in the way of short, pin-curled styles, but I can enjoy yours as a consolation prize!! ;) Looks simply gorgeous. Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Esther, if I enjoy the benefits of pin-curling, make sure to enjoy the benefits of thick hair for me! I do wish mine was a bit more plentiful at times.... ;-)

  2. Oh my goodness, 7 minutes to pin curl and 5-7 minutes to style would be an absolute dream!!! I have very thick hair and absolutely tons of it and it takes me an hour and a half to pin curl and another hour to style it. I try desperately to follow the pattern of curling towards the face for one row, away from the face on the next and repeat but by the time I've done the less full side my arms are killing me and I just end up going freestyle. By this point I honestly don't care how it comes out!

    Btw, can I ask whether you took a photo into your hairdresser to show them how you wanted it permed and if so, which one? I've found someone who will perm my hair but I'm just unsure of what to tell them in terms of the style. Thanks! xx

    1. Oh wow! I have soooo much respect for every time I've seen your hair curled now! Quite commendable, indeed! :-) (and yes- it did take me a month or so to build up that upper arm strength, lol! :-P)

      As far as the perm.... I'm not sure I'll be much help! I didn't get a certain perm style, just medium-small curlers put in however she "normally" does. The perm itself doesn't affect the set at all, it's only purpose is to damage my hair *just* enough that it will hold a curl- my hair is naturally soooo silky and soft that otherwise curls just fall out, lol! :-)

  3. You look lovely, Lily. Like you stepped out of a magazine. I've thought about perms in the past as well - with a perm, you still have to set your hair, right? It just holds the curl better?

    Oh, and one more question - how long is your hair in these photos?

    ~Kristen - Verity Vintage Studio

    1. Thanks so much, Kristen! <3 That's exactly right about my perm. If I don't set my hair, it's just crimpy looking (and basically exactly opposite of any vintage style ;-)). As far as I can remember, my hair was layered and shaped during these photos (way back in August!) It doesn't lose tons of length when curled, so I'd say it was above shoulder height at the longest. Hope that helps a bit!

  4. How do you manage to brush it long enough to be smooth but not so long that the curls start to fall? I've mastered most every step of my setting routine, but that one still has me stymied.

    (Also, I love your dressing gown! Gorgeous.)

    1. Thanks, Skye! It sounds like you're not getting a strong enough curl on your sets. I have the same sort of issue on really humid days (ack! quit touching it! it's getting looser by the second!!), but when I have my normal-strength set, it's really not an issue. (on the other hand, I've noticed when I go to very dry climates that my normal routine results in curls that are almost *too* strong! Such a foreign concept for me typically!)

      In order to get a stronger curl, I'd recommend making double-sure that you're doing everything possible to help:
      -completely, totally dry hair to start!
      -good quality setting lotion (I use Lottabody, diluted the least possible recommended amount)
      -achieve a good balance of enough setting lotion/yet little enough that it will completely dry by morning (amount varies per person, obviously! :-))
      -long enough to completely dry your set! (plus extra, if your hair is curl-resistant) Can't stress this step enough- your hair must be totally dry when you remove the pins; any extra time does pay off, too! (bonus- this is also a great way to ensure that you really do get 8+ hrs of sleep per night!)
      -low humidity. I realize it's not something you can control much, but try doing all your experimenting on the driest days you have, just so you can take that variable out of the mix.

      If those don't help you, I'd really recommend a perm. ;-) It's helped my naturally silky hair so much!

      (and thanks! the dressing gown was a score from my first estate sale and I adore it! truth be told, this post was partially just an excuse to have it play a part on my blog.... ;-))

  5. Thank you for the tutorial. You look so lovely. That style is becoming on you.

  6. So beautiful!! I'm definitely saving this tutorial to help me prepare for upcoming WWII reenactments. =)

    1. Thanks Emily! I hope it proves helpful. :-)

  7. What a great and thorough tutorial! I used to pincurl my hair a few years ago when it was longer. My hair is too short now to curl (too layered) as I am growing it out, but once it gets back to a nice length I'll start again. And this is going to be a great reference, for sure!
    The Artyologist

  8. I wish I could do this, but my hair is quite long (hip-ish)... I have pincurled it before, but just to get it generally curly, and it's very hard to try to do it in any 'rational' manner. I suppose if I did it more often, but it takes a very long time, and an awful lot of bobby pins. My hair is infuriatingly straight, though I know people with wavy/curly hair wish theirs were thus. :)

  9. I look forward to trying this next weekend! I LOVE how your hair came out, just gorgeous. Thank you for posting this!



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