So Your Set Failed – Now What?

You spent at least half an hour last night meticulously setting your hair. You made sure the curls were even and you used setting lotion. You let it dry all night. But then you woke up this morning and looked like this.

Holy mother of god.

No matter how much you brush, you still have hair like the crazy cat lady from The Simpsons. Or maybe half of it is curly and the other half is straight except for one wave that sticks straight out. What do you do? Well that depends on just how your set failed, but luckily there are many options and I’m here to save the day. Because I have experience.

1. Everything worked except one or two curls.

Dampen the failed pieces and put them back into pin curls (Even if you don’t normally do pin curls, just use a mascara wand to roll around if you find it difficult) and leave it to dry for an hour or two before taking them back out. Alternatively you can use a very small barrel curling iron or hot sticks.

2. You’re dealing with a weird half and half situation.

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Instead of pretending you’re some two-for-one creature out of Greek mythology, use hot rollers on all of your hair to even things out. They shouldn’t be hot enough that they pull apart the curls that worked, but they will curl up the looser side to match.

3. It curled just fine, but nothing is going in the right direction.

You wanted a page boy and ended up with a flip. Or something equally not to your taste. This is the time to use the curls to your advantage in creating a rolled updo. Start off with two or three victory rolls, then keep rolling the back into rosettes. Glamorous! See also: #6.

4. Nothing is curled, it just looks like a very interesting case of wavy bed head up in here.

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Take a flat iron and just concentrate on smoothing out the wonky bits, holding it at an angle to encourage a bit of curl instead of making it straight. I’ve woken up looking like a crazy person and in just a couple minutes of flat iron adjustments I ended up with something quite luxurious, if in a totally modern way. Until the wind got it. Fuck. See also: #5.

5. OMG it’s a bad afro.

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If you misjudged the size of your curls and ended up looking like an electrocuted chick from the 70s, smooth what you can with mouse and try out a variation of a Greek or Edwardian style. One of the easiest things you can do is a looser version of the gibson roll – take a narrow circular headband placed OVER your hair, and tuck the ends up, over, and into it at the base. This is a beautiful and sophisticated look that can even be done on the bus without a mirror, as I have had to do. I also like the Goody Modern Updo pin for the world’s easiest messy chignons. Basically what it all comes down to is to throw it up in a messy romantic sort of way, however you choose to do that.

6. You have curls, but they’re just a little blah

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Or they’re uneven. Or you feel like getting a pretend hair cut and going all out Great Gatsby style. This is almost the same as the style mentioned above, but slightly reversed. Put the headband (or scarf, if you’re fabulous), under your hair at the nape like you normally would, and again tuck the ends into it. Nobody will know you’re hiding below-shoulder length hair in that old-timey bob.

7. It’s hopeless. Hopeless I tell you!!

What the living hell is this!!

What the living hell is this!!

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Same camera. Also same me. I shit you not.

For when nothing else will do, or you’re just not in the mood for any of the suggestions above, or it’s windy, or rainy, or any number of situations. When you think “I’m screwed,” use a snood! It’s easy, it’s fool-proof, and you will look just like the awesome kind of vintage fashionista you were trying to look like when you set your hair in the first place. They come in a ton of different styles and colors to suit your mood too, so it’s a good idea to have a little collection of them. You can do victory rolls or a pomp in the front, add a flower, and presto!

Pp1lK

Option 2 – The beehive! Separate the front of your hair from ear to ear. With the back portion do either a french twist or a ponytail at the crown. Backcomb the shit out of it until the very sight of yourself makes you laugh your ass off. Smooth it out VERY gently, pinning down loose ends. Lightly backcomb the back of the front piece you left out and gently sweep back to cover the poof ball. If you don’t have enough hair to make your poof ball as big as you want it, use some fake hair stuffed into a hair net as a rat to fill it out. Tuck in the ends and pin. Super easy, super cute. And it can last 2-3 days!

8. Fuck it.

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There are actually curlers under this bandanna

Alternatively if it’s a casual day, make a pomp or roll in the front, throw the rest up, and stick it in a bandanna. This is a great idea for days when you can’t look that fancy, like when you’re painting, gardening, or roller-coaster-ing. This is also perfect if you would prefer to just re-set it and start all over again, because it will cover it up. It is after all what you do at night. I know you don’t go to bed lookin’ like no grandma.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid!

The Life-Cycle of a Pin Curl Set

Have you ever really wondered why you should learn how to do pin curls? With all the effort it takes, it better be worth it. It takes so long to master and if you’re new to doing it it can take an hour to set each time! GAH! I myself often think about doing a pin curl set and end up saying “fuck it, ain’t nobody got time fo dat.” But on those occasions that I do push forward and do it, I’m really glad I did. Let me chronicle here for you how a pin curl set looks – and holds up – so you can see and compare for yourself. I typically set it dry and spray to wet with Lottabody setting lotion diluted in water once it’s done. As for a setting pattern, I barely have one. I just roll it all down and under, except sometimes at the base I roll it up just because it’s easier that way. I don’t use hairspray so it’s not a factor in these photos. Keep in mind that my hair is naturally super straight, fine, and will only hold a curl after serious negotiation.

April 2nd – I started last night with kind of dirty day-5 hair, but I had done pin curls Friday night for Viva and thus had the motivation to do it again, even if I figured I’d have to wash it soon and might not get the full life out of it. Instead of using the large end of the pin curler I used the small end for the first time. I guess I just wanted to see what it would do. While the pinned curls look the same as when I use the larger end, the result is really quite different. Here’s the large end, that I used over the weekend…

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And here’s what I woke up with today

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So cute! I wish I had tried this weeks ago!

8 hours later it was definitely fuzzier, but had not fallen at all.  So for starters, let’s have a look at what happens when you just sleep on it as-is with no preservation, since this isn’t going to last much longer before I have to wash it anyway.

The next morning…

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Looks like a fresh pillow roller set!

Not bad.  By tonight it once again has managed to hold, however it’s clearly getting pretty gross so that’s the end of that. Now let’s start again and see how long it lasts when I preserve it overnight.

Day 1…

You can see how pleased I am by my expression

You can see how pleased I am by my expression

I think the small end of the pin curler actually works better when my hair is a bit dirty. It was all fluff. By the end of the day it was a little fuzzier like before, but basically the same. So by now we have learned that pin curls, though they may fall somewhat at night without preservation, don’t fall easily throughout the day.

Day 2…

Hooray, it's cute!

Hooray, it’s cute!

Last night I made maybe about 10 large pin curls using a foundation stick as a tool, and left them dry. So now we get to compare the difference this makes. As you can see I also did a victory roll, because pin curls make them about a million times easier so why not.

Day 3…

Last night I fell asleep on the couch and woke up at 4am, so I did a pretty half-assed job of preserving the set. I did 4 very large, very messy pin curls around the base of my head that were just barely hanging on in the pins, left the victory roll alone, covered it in a bandanna as usual and stumbled into bed. Nevertheless, it still looks great this morning.

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Can you believe this is day three? At this point I almost feel like I could keep this up indefinitely until my hair gets dirty. Have I cracked the code on how the girls at Viva could look so gorgeous all day every day on so little sleep? Of course the catch is that I figured it out a few days AFTER Viva. Oh well.

Day 4…

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While it miraculously doesn’t seem to be falling any noticeable amount, I am noticing a change in shape, though I’m not sure if it’s because the curls are getting old or because my hair is getting dirty. It’s a mystery for the ages. My hair is starting to deflate slightly, though it still looks good. It’s been losing its fluff and getting smoother, which is nice to a point. And it’s starting to form ringlets, which is annoying.

Day 5…

Yes I'm in my pajamas.

Yes I’m in my pajamas.

I’m still going at day 5. Basically my hair looks the same as it did yesterday, but by now I would really like to wash it. I wonder if I should give in and do it, or hold on another two days to really see how far I can take this thing. Also notable is it’s not trying to make ringlets anymore. I thought that was part of the curl aging process but it seems to have just been a slightly bad-ish hair day. I’m pretty much back to normal shape-wise.

Day 6…

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Ok so I have some pretty good volume here all things considered. My curls are becoming waves, but still have shape. I’m pretty happy! I think I’ll hang in there for the last day.

Day 7…

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Yeah, so today became a ponytail day.

Yeah, so today became a ponytail day. And I added pearls!

Happy Day of Pink, bitches! I’m wearing pink right down to my mismatched socks, except all blue underwear because I’m a rebel like that. I think these pictures might do a little too much justice to my hair right now. I feel like until this point, you couldn’t really tell that it wasn’t first day hair, that I hadn’t styled it just like that on purpose. Today it’s obvious that this is an old set. It may be because I lightly sprayed it with diluted baking soda in preparation for my next wash, or it might be that I put all the curls on the top of my head overnight because I was sick of pins poking into my head as I slept, or it might just be that it’s been a damn week since I washed my hair. Either way, I’m glad I’ll be starting over tonight. And I’m pretty impressed that it’s lasted this long. I asked Mike if I should just put it in a snood because it was “wonky and loose” and he said “that’s the way I like you,” so I guess I’ll take that as some sort of compliment. And I have no one to impress but myself anyway. Today is a day against discrimination, and that includes discrimination against my dirty fallen hair. That’s right. I timed this thing perfectly.

So what do you think? Broken down over a week, I don’t think I spent much more time on this than on a regular roller set, and I’m pretty inexperienced with this so I’m slow. With a roller set, I have to set it from scratch with water every night, and within a few hours of taking it down I have loose shapeless ringlets that look pretty lame in comparison.

And this is how it looks fresh!

So, worth it? I think so!

Now all this is well and good, but what happens if your set fails? Check back on the 25th, when I’ll show you no less than 8 options, none of which include the ponytail.

Pin Curls for Dummies

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.

All set.

All set.

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.

I just had to come back to this article and add this picture, to show you that THIS is actually normal. Don't manic. Worst case scenario, brushing doesn't calm it down and you put it in a snood for the day. Put it back up into larger pin curls at night, leave them dry, and the next morning it will be beautiful.

Sorry to interrupt, but I just had to come back to this article and add this picture, to show you that THIS is actually normal. Don’t panic. Worst case scenario, brushing doesn’t calm it down and you put it in a snood for the day. Put it back up into larger pin curls over night, leave them dry, and the next morning it will be beautiful.

See?

See? Ok, I’ll let you get back to the tutorial now.

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.

My first successful pin curl set. Go me!

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.

Lisa Freemont Street

I know I’ve directed you to Lisa Freemont Street’s Youtube channel before, but I think she deserves some special attention here. As I start learning more about hair, Mike keeps suggesting that I make video tutorials to show people, but the thing is, almost everything I’ve learned I’ve learned from her, so they would just be mediocre copies of her amazing work. That, and I’m way too shy to be putting myself on video. Carefully selected stills only!

Lisa Freemont Street isn’t a trained stylist. She learned all this stuff on her own. It means she’s approaching this stuff the way we do and not as an expert, so she’s great at making things simple enough for even the most inept of us to understand. You’ll be amazed at what you can achieve by watching these. You could even make yourself look like a vintage cartoon character! Oh, and she also has a tutorial for what I know you’ve all been dying to know… how to make pin curls! I love this woman!

Hair isn’t the only thing she’s good at. She also has all kinds of makeup tutorials, product reviews, and mini guides to all things vintage. I’ve been watching her videos for days now, and I intend to watch them all. I may have some good information for you here, but trust me, it’s nothing compared to this. Go to the source and check her out.