Basic 40s and 50s Curl Sets

I love sharing my little revelations with you guys, so since I finally got two basic curl sets figured out I thought I should write a tutorial. I’m going to show you a good basic 40s set, and a basic 50s set. The difference is that the 40s set has more volume on the bottom half and generally lies smooth over the crown, where the 50s set has more volume all over. Though they seem to be so similar you could easily interchange them and hardly anybody would know the difference. Depending on your hair, one could turn out looking like the other.
I’m going to show you the setting patterns for rollers since most of us are not quite skilled enough in the art of pin curls, but if you are they’re easily converted. You’ll have more and smaller curls but the directions will be the same. These are great beginner sets; they don’t involve a bunch of different layers going in opposite directions, and with practice they can easily be done in 10-15 minutes. For the sake of simplicity, I’ll be showing you my own hair after being set by the diagrams I’ve made (though I take no credit for designing them. Chances are a bazillion people before me have done the same ones). The celebrities hair have of course not been done using my diagrams, but it was probably set in a similar way and they do a better job of showing the difference between the decades, and an idealized look at how these should turn out. Now don’t forget your end papers and setting lotion! Ready?

Let’s start with the 40s set.

Front

Back

Veronica Lake, who’s hair is even longer than my own.

Gene Tierney, with a more traditional length.

This set is rolled only up to your ears, excepting the bang area which goes right up to the scalp, so the long curl will help frame your face. All curls will be going down, but you can tilt the ones in front towards your face if you like. You can do this in as many rows as you like, but for normal to fine hair and using rollers one can easily be enough. I prefer to have the curls done in an even row(s) all around the head, so that when you brush it out it creates nice uniform waves, but as every day 40s hair tends to be a little fluffier this isn’t so necessary. This is in fact an excellent set to try doing with pin curls.

You probably won’t need this.

When your hair is set, it might actually look pretty cute. If you come out with kinks in the top, you can use a flat iron or curling iron to smooth it out. Keep in mind that sponge rollers with their plastic clasps do tend to create kinks more than others, so I’m not partial to them. But you can use whatever you’re most comfortable with. I’m loyal to my pillow rollers, and when they’re not available I rag roll with whatever I can find. There’s a how-to video on this at the bottom of the article. Here’s the 40s set done with strips of paper towels. It needed to be brushed again, so don’t mind the ringlets and crazy flyaways.

And now here’s the 50s set.

Damn, I got that on the first try! I wish I could say the same for the second and third tries. We’re all learning together. You might find that this looks similar to the 40s set, however it’s rolled right up to the scalp which creates more volume all over. You can see the difference a lot better on shorter hair.

Elizabeth Taylor’s shorter hair demonstrates the volume starting right from the crown, as opposed to the more bottom-heavy look of the 40s.

Again, keep in mind that your hair cut affects the final look, so you might not have those face framing curls from the pictures. And if your hair is longer like mine, the weight might keep the crown looking smooth and 40s no matter what. That doesn’t mean it won’t look good, just go with what you have and make it yours.

My crappy drawing is a rough guide to how the curls should be positioned. Hopefully it’s not TOO crappy to understand.

As you can see, there are about 4 curls going down the center of the head; the front one going forward and the others going back. The second one can go towards what will be the thick side of your part, but I find it difficult for some reason and unnecessary. Then you’ll have two on each side going down.

The easiest way to go about this is to start with your hair parted deeply to whichever side you prefer, about over the arch of your eyebrow. Grab the section above your ear on the thin side and curl it down, or angled slightly forward if you like. Then grab a section of similar size behind it and curl it down as well, trying to get it to the same level. Then you can do the two curls on the top of your head, separated by another symmetrical parting over the other eyebrow. Curl the other side to match the first, and finally separate what’s left in the back into two curls going downward. Like before, if you have more hair or you’re using smaller rollers or pin curls, you’ll have more curls but they’ll still be going the same way. When you’re done you’ll look incredibly silly. Cover with a Rosie bandanna.

Make sure to brush this one out slowly and against your hand to keep it as smooth as possible, and shape the curls so they blend together. Hopefully you come out with a winner!

Like this!

I hope I explained these well enough. If you have any questions let me know. I’m going to finalize this by showing you a video that explains rag rolling quite well, since it’s incredibly useful if you don’t have any rollers handy and it’s something a lot of people have trouble with. It’s not half as hard as you might think. Good luck, guys!

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6 comments on “Basic 40s and 50s Curl Sets

  1. Lovely comparison. I do these using pin curls, as I’m more confident with bobby pins. Just got my hair chopped shorter so might go back from 40s to 50s style again 🙂
    You hair from the back in 40s is just gorgeous and thick! Hair dressers get frustrated when I won’t let them ‘thin out’ my hair. I don’t think the understand the effect I’m after.

    • Thank you! I know what you mean about hairdressers, they seem to have blinders on sometimes and only pay any attention to trendy styles. I find it’s helpful to bring not just one picture of what you’re going for, but multiple ones to make sure there’s no misunderstanding. Also try to use very specific words more than descriptive ones, like instead of “thick” you could say “no feathering/thinning/texturing,” because your ideas of what thick is could be very different. If they still won’t listen it could be time to switch stylists!
      My own hair is actually extremely fine. It just goes to show what a great difference curls can make for those of us that are always fighting the flatness.
      I would love to see pictures of your hair done with the pin curls 🙂

  2. […] And since writing this I’ve delved into it further. For more detailed instructions on this check out Basic 40s And 50s Curl Sets […]

  3. […] And since writing this I’ve delved into it further. For more detailed instructions on this check out Basic 40s And 50s Curl Sets […]

  4. Ann says:

    Your hair looks great, I’m just a little miffed that you labelled a photo of Gene Tierney as being Lauren Bacall.

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