1970s home perms: How women got those retro permed hairstyles

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1970s home perms How women got those retro permed hairstyles

Note: This article may feature affiliate links to Amazon or other companies, and purchases made via these links may earn us a small commission at no additional cost to you. Find out more here.

Even though permanents had been available for years, in the 1970s, home perms became easier and more affordable than ever as new products and formulations gave people more hairstyle options.

Here’s a look at what you could do to get a new ‘do, right in the comfort of your own bathroom.

1970s home perms: Get the curl you want (1979)

By Maureen Lynch, Health and Beauty Editor – Ladies Home Journal (1979)

Casual bounce or billows-of-curls — whatever look you want, today’s gentle, easy and safe home permanents can make it happen.

1970s home perms - hairstyles

Gone forever are the perms that left you dissolved in tears — with more frizzle-frazzle than the promised “body.”

Really, these new permanents are different. You have ultimate control, and they look good right from the start. In fact, three of our staff members (doubters all) tried them out at home for extra volume, no curls — and came back smiling.

Yes, it’s possible to put in as little as just a curve to the ends or as much as whirly ringlets.

First off, start with a terrific cut. Then, analyze your hair type: Kits come geared for anything from baby-fine to tinted to gray. Perms can be expected to last up to 3-4 months and are not damaging.

Here we show six great ways to look — each with diagrams on how to set, plus a do-it-yourself tip. It’s so easy. Having curls that last will make your life freer — more beautiful.

Retro 1970s permed hairstyles for women


Classic pageboy — Only prettier, springier

Big-volume waves that curl under, and hold.

To get the flowing line, a loose set. From the center crown, four large rollers on each side, three in back, curling down about 21/2 inches from scalp. All remaining hair on smaller rods, heading down, tight to scalp.

TIP: How to choose a perm — First, see if your hair takes a curl easily: Wind one section of damp hair on a roller, let dry, then check.

Select according to needs: Hard or easy to curl; fine to coarse; color-treated. There are four major companies with kits containing lotion, neutralizer, papers. Optional: curlers, conditioners. From $2.50 up.

DON’T MISS: See how vintage hot rollers like these helped make retro hairstyles happen

Vintage 1970s permed hairstyles (5)


Straight bangs — Sassy back flip

An example of how fine hair can shape up and take a curl beautifully.

Bangs and crown were left free. Then for a full-bodied fling, sides were rolled back vertically all around, one inch from scalp in front, tight in back The nape, rolled up.

TIP: Read all package directions before starting. Begin with damp, squeaky-clean hair. After winding, slip a band of cotton across hairline to keep curlers from touching skin. When it says saturate — don’t skimp.

When all finished, give the perm time to really set. Go for a few days without shampooing. Not hard — permed hair gets less greasy.

Vintage 70s hairstyles - Perms with classic Pageboy and straight bangs (1979)


Vintage 1970s hairstyle: Curly locks — without any frizzles

Short, thick, wiry hair needed a lively line. Result: soft ringlets that are easy to shake and wear.

Tight perm, using more and smaller rods. Less hair on each, chase to scalp. Front divides with 8 one way, 5 the other, left. Back, all roll down, right. Coarse hair may take an extra few minutes.

TIP: If, by chance, the curl’s too tight, don’t panic. It can be relaxed easily by shampooing right away. Or really loosened with a hot oil treatment. Don’t be afraid of going over the time limit. If anything, too many women rinse before the required time.

If you’re not very dexterous, buddy up with a friend for a fun perm-evening.

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How to get Farrah Fawcett's famous long feathered hairstyle from the '70s

Vintage 1970s permed hairstyles (1)


Tousled tumble of soft curls

A happy-go-lucky solution for very fine, very limp hair.

Her shorter, slightly layered locks were conditioned first; rolled, not too tightly) on medium curlers about inch from scalp. Front section heads forward, left; back 3 sections head downward, right. Fine hair takes quickly — check often.

TIP: The larger the rod (and the more hair you wind up), the looser the curl. And vice-versa.

Rollers come in three sizes (all plastic). Fattest for a gentle body wave; narrowest, a curly curl. A mix of large for the sides, little for the nape of neck is common for a naturally curly look.

End papers serve a big purpose. They’re what keep the perm from frizzing.

ALSO SEE: How to create 5 different classic ’70s hairstyles (plus check out 8 more retro ‘dos)

Vintage 1970s permed hairstyles (2)


1970s home perms: More fullness all around

Smooth and polished, plumping more volume into delicate hair. 

A semi-soft body wave, rolled very basely. Notice how much space between each curler. Each one has more hair wound around it. In front, 4 get set in one direction, 3 in the other, left. Top back rolled up; the rest head down, right.

TIP: How to roll. Best, hold hair out straight at a 90-degree angle. Try to distribute evenly on roller — flat and smooth. Long hair might need two kits worth of rollers.

Very long hair should be rolled “piggy-back.” You place one curler half way up a strand of hair, roll to scalp. Take second curler and the dangling rest until rollers are back-to-back.

Vintage 1970s permed hairstyles (3)

DON’T MISS: Vintage hair dryers for the home: Dry it yourself the 1960s & 1970s way


Wonderful halo with body and bounce

Starting with hard-to-manage straggles — ending with a full and easy cloud.

Hair was rolled on medium rods, alternating between 1/2 to 1-1/2 inches from scalp, left. Back center was rolled down, sides rolled on a diagonal towards the nape, right. Dry ends trimmed after perm.

TIP: Small cautions. Perms are no longer messy or smell bad (in the 1800s, hair was wound on chicken bones!).

Do not perm if scalp is scratched or sore, hair has been double-processed lightened, or hair is in bad condition. Wait.

Henna coats the hair for 2-3 months. If that’s your case, test to see if curl will take. If hands are sensitive, wear rubber gloves.

Vintage 1970s permed hairstyles (4)


10 hints on how to perm: Haircare tips from the ’70s

From Good Housekeeping – February 1978

Perming, done correctly, is one of the best ways to lock-in those super-popular curls.

Vintage Goody Perm Rod Curlers 1978

1. Make sure hair is in top condition before perming. One deep penetrating treatment should be enough for healthy hair. Damaged hair may require several treatments, spaced a week apart.

2. Don’t perm and color hair on the same day. Wait one week, or preferably two.

3. Make sure your scalp has no cuts or scratches. Avoid vigorous hair brushing a few days before to lessen any chance of scalp abrasion.

4. Follow the manufacturer’s directions carefully to avoid frizzed, over-processed or limp, under-processed hair.

5. Use two end papers, with hair in between, to hold hair more securely. Extend papers beyond the tip of the hair section to protect delicate ends.

6. If hair is in good condition, you can re-perm every two to three months. Always condition first.

7. If you have a tight-curl perm, don’t follow immediately by blow-drying with a brush, which can stretch hair. Let hair dry naturally, or fluff it with your fingers as you blow dry.

8. Discard leftover perm solution or neutralizer.

9. Don’t re-wet and style hair immediately after the perm is completed. It may relax the curl a bit. Manufacturers suggest waiting several days to allow the perm to “set.”

10. Wash oily hair well before you perm, to allow solution to penetrate.

MORE: How to re-create 25 hot retro ’70s hairstyles from 1977


Vintage do-it-yourself Rave home permanents from 1978

Just discovered: The new soft perm called Rave. No ammonia. No odor. No fizz.

This is the perm that doesn’t look permed. Or feel penned. Or act penned. The home perm that’s gentler to your hair than all others.

No frizz? What makes Rave so different? A thing called gentleness. Rave Soft Perm is far gentler to your hair than home perms of the past. It has a newly-patented waving lotion that works without ammonia. Rave is the first home perm without odor.

It’s the one home perm that gives your hair body without brittleness, fullness without frizz. So your hair looks completely natural. But better. Much better.

Can I wear my hair either smooth or curly with Rave?

Naturally. Rave brings out qualities in your hair you never knew it had, so you can style in ways you never thought you could.

You can set your hair on rollers for soft, bouncy curls. Brush and blowdry for a full, smooth look. Or just shampoo and finger fluff.

Vintage do-it-yourself Rave home permanents from 1978 (2)

Vintage do-it-yourself Rave home permanents from 1978 (1)

THE NEXT DECADE: Hairspray from the ’80s: The key to that retro big hair look

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