Pin curls are incredibly difficult to master. We all know this. I’ve been struggling off and on for ages trying to figure it out, and I was determined that as soon as I could manage a successful set, I would write about it here to help all of you who know what I’ve been going through. Don’t give up, it’s so worth it. There’s nothing like a pin curl set to get the most authentic look, the most malleable and cooperative hair, and the most staying power out of your look.
The basics. A pin curl should be wound (or wrapped, more accurately) from tip to root, not the other way around. This way the end gets tucked in and doesn’t stick out all funny. It’s especially important not to twist it or you’ll get the fuzziest incurable afro instead of smooth vintage curls. The basic technique is to take about a one inch section of hair, wrap the end a few times around a finger or two, and then slip it off your finger and wrap up to the scalp and pin with a pin curl clip or a couple bobby pins in an X. I recommend 2 fingers because it’s easier to get the hair off, and you can put the very tip of your hair between the two fingers to pull it into the center where it belongs. This is all fairly straight forward, but it’s extremely challenging to keep that little circle neat and tight as you wrap it, and to keep the ends in, especially if your hair is naturally straight.
What helps – the first thing you can try, which is time consuming but makes a big difference, is pin curl your hair when it’s already curled. If you’re dedicated and have a lot of time, you can set it in hot rollers before setting it in pin curls. But this gets to be a bit much, definitely not something you want to do on a nightly basis. The other way is to do a regular roller set one day, and then set it in pin curls that night. It doesn’t help much for keeping the curls tidy as you wrap them, but it really does help to keep the ends in and get the curls started, since you’re working with a shape that’s already somewhat what you want. Another quick tip – I found that standing pincurls are a little easier to position on your head, easier to clip since there’s less hair to get around, especially if your hair is long like mine, and gives more volume. They’re too small to really crush while you sleep, and if they do at all then the hair at the top will cover it. I managed this with no issues at all. Only one curl got crushed, and once it was all brushed out you couldn’t tell if you tried.
The BIG thing that helped me, I feel the only reason I was able to accomplish this finally, was using a pin curler, or pin curl stick. These are generally uncommon. When I googled it, I found nothing. The only mention I found of them was on the fedora lounge, where girls routinely do pin curl sets and look at old magazines of the vintage era. My grandma had never even heard of one and she’s been doing pin curls for probably over 60 years. Where I first heard about them though was in a Lisa Freemont Street video about pin curling. She had the Sculpture Pincurler from Vintagehair.com, and because she’s never steered me wrong, I got it immediately. The packaging and the product itself are authentic 1950s, totally adorable. It has a different size on each end, honestly not much different, and the ends are comb-like. So you put the tip of your hair through the comb part, roll it up like a curler, turn it on end, and slip your hair off. Brilliant. This made everything VERY easy, and the top and sides of my hair at least turned out perfectly parted and even because you can only use a very specific amount of hair for each curl. It forces you to be uniform, and when everything was pinned up it looked downright professional. Amazing. But I also got to thinking, this is so simple there must be other things you can use. Such as chopsticks, or dolly pins. Or you could use little end papers and something like a marker or lip gloss tube. The possibilities are endless. Do whatever works, it’s totally not cheating.
I also just want to mention water really quick before I move on. You can spray it before, or after you set. Which one you do will depend on your hair type, how quickly it dries, and the final look you want, but unlike rollers which you only want damp enough to resemble a fine morning dew, you can sometimes get away with setting it wet. I found that spraying each piece damp/wet before I rolled it resulted in fluffy hair like in the mirror shot I took below with the flower. That next night I set it dry in all standing pin curls and sprayed it after it was all done. Quicker, and it used less water and setting lotion that way. I also found that it resulted in a much smoother curl, like this black and white picture just below here. I didn’t love it when I first brushed it, it looked a little helmet-y. But after a little time to relax and shake it out before brushing it again, it was smooth and loose and luxurious, just like Rita Hayworth. Perfection. I will be doing this from now on. From what I gather, this might be best for longer hair.
So you all must know as well everything I knew about brushing them out – on paper anyway. But there’s something really different about doing this which really makes you deeply appreciate how true it is that brushing your hair out is the most important part. To start, it’s really tough to get the brush through. The curls are just so tight. I mean my hair is 14 inches long (which is to the bra band) and the curls that came out of the pins were seriously about two inches. My hair looked very short. That’s how dense it gets, so brushing is difficult. Then you start to get a big frizzy fro.
It gets scary. And you know you have to keep brushing for ages, but it’s not THAT long. Maybe a good 5 minutes. Try not to freak out during that 5 minutes. I knew this would happen and yet I almost did. But as you go, you start to see your hair turn into a shape. The top of your hair WILL smooth out, you won’t get granny hair unless it’s really short, like the midi baby or something. Brush against your hand of course, and brush it in the direction you want it to curl. To get everything uniform, and turn it into pretty much one solid mass of hair, I pulled everything back into a ponytail and brushed around and under my thumb, then made sure the ends were tucked in and gently spread it around to the sides. When my hair started to break up and look a bit messy I just did it again. Just a few seconds to get everything back into place. Now just add a flower and you have yourself some real 40s glam going on.
So this takes a lot of time, many failed attempts at about an hour or so each time. But you’ll get there. It will get better, and faster. Just know that no effort is wasted. I found that even when my hair came out wonky straight, pin curling gave it enough structure to make the ensuing hot roller set last over 12 hours in high humidity. Hot rollers or hot sticks are blessings for a failed set, and everybody gets them. And then when nothing else will do, you simply have a new opportunity to try a cute retro updo. Keep at it!
Here’s that great video from Lisa Freemont Street.