How to create a classy retro hairstyle with pin curls like they did in the 1940s & 50s

Old fashioned pin curls for retro 1940s and 1950s hairstyles

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Back in the 1940s and 1950s, pin curls were very popular, and were used to make a variety of vintage hairstyles. Women all across the country used them — from glamorous Hollywood actresses to suburban moms and daughters.

Apart from their ability to create soft waves of hair, they were also easy to create — you literally just needed some metal hair clips or bobby pins and a little know-how.

If you want to create a real retro hairstyle, why not get authentic how-to tips from hairstylists and salon experts of the era?

We’re here to help! Along with the vintage photos below, you will also find real-life beauty advice from newspapers published in the forties and fifties, which offered readers tips on how to get perfect pin curls every time.

Formal curled retro hairstyle made with pin curls (1946)

Do you know how to make pin curls? Find out in this vintage tutorial

The Times (Munster, Indiana) November 14, 1941

Would you like to know how to make pin curls in an easy professional manner? Whether you are your own hairdresser or need your skill to keep your hair perfectly arranged between beauty parlor visits, it’s a beauty asset to know how to fix those becoming little pin curls.

Here’s a sure-fire recipe in five parts like a movie — plus a preview. The preview means arranging to have hair that is always in good condition, immaculately clean, lustrous, full of life. Such hair is obtained through brisk daily brushing, plus a weekly shampoo that keeps it sparklingly clean.

Let’s assume that you have brushed and shampooed regularly, and that your hair is ready for action.

1940s woman brushing her blonde hair (1947)

Now we’ll start making pin curls. Here’s your 5-part movie!

First, work with sections of the hair, beginning at the part. The sections should be the same size, triangular in shape.

Second, comb out the first section smoothly and place it on your finger, halfway up its length. Be sure it is wrapped firmly but not too tightly around your finger. You don’t want it to slip off your finger, of course.

Third, you pull the ringlet off with the thumb and finger of your other hand in such a way that it tightens between the fingers.

Create a retro hairstyle with pin curls - Authentic tips from the 1940s and 1950s

Fourth, the curl is rolled down to the scalp and secured with two pins. They fit on the edge of the curl, coming from both sides, crossing in the center. (Crinkled pins are best for this.)

Fifth and last, pin the side curls flat but let those on top of the head stand up. If you want your side hair to look very sleek, don’t wind the curls way down to the scalp: instead leave a little stem on each curl.

Follow these rules carefully, and you’ll have hair that is a credit to you all week long.

MORE: 1950s hairspray brands: See the most popular styling products they used back in the day

Spring beauty from the 40s (4)


How to set pin curls for an authentic 40s hairstyle

By Betty Clarke, Beauty Editor – The Burlington Free Press (Vermont) June 1, 1943

These days, patriotic women are learning to do a few things themselves. It’s nice to go to the hairdresser to have your hair set — if you have time. In case you haven’t, I am suggesting a simple but smart and distinctive hairstyle that you can arrange yourself.

Brush your hair vigorously in a rotating motion, massaging scalp, with your fingertips. A liquid soapless shampoo with hair conditioner added is excellent for home settings, as it leaves the hair soft and shining.

Rub your head with a Turkish towel, but set the hair while still damp. If you use lotion, dip the comb occasionally in the lotion or in water as you work.

MORE: Vintage 40s beauty salon services: Hairstyles, manicures & more in 1942

How to set your own pin curls for an authentic 40s hairstyle

Now, follow the illustrations: First, make a part across the front of the head, leaving enough hair in front to form bangs across the forehead. Otherwise, brush up into a curl pinned on top of the head to the back center, another across the back of the head connecting the two side partings.

Hold this section of hair in place with a ribbon or barrette while you arrange the pin curls for the front bangs. Pull each hair section taut as you make your pin curls, winding from the ends of the hair to the scalp. Make sure the ends are kept within the curl.

Slide hairpins into the curls sideways to make sure that no ridges will be left in the hair. Each side section should be set in three rows of large curls, as illustrated.

Curls on the left side of the head should be set from right to left, and on the right side from left to right. The back hair, set in curls going from left to right, can make a smooth roll or be combed into a little fluff of ringlets.

One of the charms of this coiffure is that it is simple and easy to arrange each day.

Hairstyle with waves and curls from the 1940s


Hairstyle Notes: Tips for 1950s-style pin curls

The St Louis Post-Dispatch (Missouri) December 23, 1954

The best hairdo for you is one you can manage. This requires, first, a cut intended for the style you prefer, based on the texture of your hair and the amount of natural wave or curl it possesses.

It requires, second, know-how with pin curls. For most attractive results, fine-textured hair should be allowed to fall softly and naturally, with a minimum of setting. Medium or coarse hair will hold a curl or wave longer. You can style it more elaborately, but it must still be carefully set.

Pin curls - Hairstyle from 1956

No pin curl is perfect without shimmering clean hair. Shampoo as often as necessary for a bright and lustrous look. Set the hair damp, after brushing out the tangles and aligning a straight part. Use the end teeth of your comb (or the blunt end of bobby pin) to plot your pin-curl pattern, allowing about one curl to the square inch.

Comb each strand smooth, holding the comb as parallel to the hair as you can, to encourage curl. Wind the end around your left index finger (if you are right-handed); then slide the curl off and roll it toward your head.

Pin the curl flat to your scalp in its own section, so it won’t interfere with the next one to be set. Or, if you want height when your hair is combed out, make the pin curl stand up.

Pretty 50s hairstyles made with pin curls

The looser and softer the curl you want, the more hair goes into each strand. For tighter curls, wind less hair under each pin or clip. Never pin your hair so tightly that it looks “set” for a day or two afterwards, or pull on a curl so hard that you cause it to “frizz.”

Place back the curl exactly where you want it to be in your finished hairdo. A quarter of an inch won’t make much difference, but more than that will leave a blank spot, or at least spoil the perfect picture you visualize.

Generally speaking, bobby pins give springy curls and deep waves; they are recommended for setting fine or sparse hair.

If you wish a pompadour effect, use wire-mesh coils to wind two far-front curls forward and the next two toward the back of the head, adding vertical rolls at the sides. Secure each curl by slipping a bobby pin or clip through the end of the roller. When your hair is dry, you can easily brush the pompadour into shape.

Pompadour updo hairstyles from the 1940s


Vintage 50s hair spray to keep pin curls on girls (1956)

Helene Curtis Spray Net for children! Sets longer-lasting pincurls…keeps hair gently In place! Absolutely safe for the finest of baby-fine hair.

Yet it sets such springy pincurls that even the stubbornest hair stays curled ever so much longer. Keeps wispy hair from wisping, too. Makes Junior’s cowlick behave.

And there’s no stiffness, no dryness, no artificial look. Children’s SPRAY NET has a fresh, sweet fragrance. It brushes out easily, washes out instantly, and is enriched with lanolin. Try it soon for your small-fry.

Vintage 50s hair spray to keep pin curls on girls (1956)


Revlon Satin Set Hairspray: a curl’s best friend! (1956)

Ends nightly pin-ups… even in muggy summer weather! Now… in just 5 extra seconds with SATIN SET you can set pincurls that last twice as long!

Keeping your curls set in summer takes more than an ordinary hair spray. You need the Pin-Curl Spray-Set — Satin-Set — and only Revlon has it! This is the spray that makes pin-curls last twice as long, even on sticky days… Be sure you get ‘Satin-Set’ this summer… and end nightly pin-ups.

Pin curls with Revlon Satin Set Hairspray (1956)

DON’T MISS: Take a look at 40+ fabulous 40s hairstyles for women

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