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.



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!

I Got a Middy! And a Word About Setting Lotion

Well, a modified middy. And I LOVE it. My hair was nearly to my waist, limp and shapeless, and I hadn’t had a hair cut in 6 months. It was taking me an hour to curl, and it felt like it took as long to comb. I felt buried. I was extremely close to hacking it off myself. So I made the appointment.
I had studied the middy a fair amount, and looked at a crap load of pictures. It’s a little hard to find pictures of it unstyled, but I landed on a good one, where the length of the layers were modified to be longer and less awkward so that the cut didn’t need to be curled to look right. I took this picture, a picture of the same girl with her hair styled, and a picture of Lauren Bacall, along with a mental list of instructions with me to Tonic.

Lauren Bacall, an awesome woman with awesome hair.

My stylist, Becky, didn’t know what a middy was, as far as I could tell. But she followed my instructions to the letter. Split ends gone, a U-shaped hemline, and lots of box layers with no texturing or feathering. My length rose to the bra line at the back up to just barely past my shoulders at the front. The result was a cut that looks very modern when left straight, elegant when softly curled, even surprisingly high class and professional, but that when set in curlers looks authentically forties or fifties. It’s a beautiful and very cool cut. Becky is awesome. I think I might even go shorter next time.

My hair as styled by Becky, and a horrible display of photographic skill.

In fact, the way she styled it, trying to imitate the picture of Lauren Bacall but using modern tools that didn’t quite do the job, was so sleek and elegant that I liked it even more than my own big fluffy “Hollywood” style of curling it.

My hair before, “Hollywood” style, before it has a chance to collapse under its own weight.

I wanted to recreate this, but punched up with a little more vintage. It didn’t take long to figure out how. My usual set was too curly, and just a curling iron wasn’t curly enough, and too time consuming. So I ended up doing 8-10 big curls instead of 15-20 little ones, radiating outward from the crown, with the thin side of the part smoothed out with the curling iron used like a flat iron. It took 10 minutes to curl instead of an hour, half an hour to dry instead of five hours, and barely a minute to smooth out. Perfect. As far as a perfectly vintage look, I finally got it down, and I love it enough to share. Tutorial to follow in the next article.

Perfect vintage hair, minutes before static and bad quality hair spray ruins it. I’m working on that too.

So if anybody in Winnipeg wants a stylist who will listen to them and give them a great do, go see Becky at Tonic!
Now, there is something that I failed to mention in my curling tutorial, and that’s about setting lotion. Setting lotion is a product that will make your hair fuller and keep the curl for longer. The most popular kind is Lottabody, and you dilute it in water. I’ve heard of different ratios, 1/5, 1/3, 1/2. You’ll have to figure out what works best for you based on your hair type. If it’s too thick it won’t spray out properly and your hair won’t curl. But the stuff does wonders. Alternatively you can use mousse or spray gel. Don’t use hair  spray until AFTER you’ve finished styling though, or it will be too stiff to work with.
So there’s my little update. I’m learning a lot more about styling lately too so when I can get my thoughts on that in order I’ll be posting another. See you soon!

Vintage Hair Part 2 – Curls

You can’t do vintage or rockabilly hair without curls. In the 1940s and 50s straight hair just wasn’t done.

The straightest hair from the period can be seen on Veronica Lake, who had very fine hard to curl hair, so if this is you, don’t worry about it. If your hair is the same, or you prefer a sleeker look, this style is definitely something to look into. Even if your curls fall quickly, going through the process anyway is one of the best ways to get volume, which in this case I’m guessing is something you want. I feel you, because I have hair like this, and I’ve always hated it. Since I’ve started to curl it, even after the curls fall I no longer look like my hair has been slicked down to my head. This is fantastic.
Curls aren’t too terribly difficult, but they do take some practice. I’ve been learning quickly that they’re a bit more complicated than they first appear; I’ll do my best to explain some of the little intricacies involved. It doesn’t take too much practice to get them looking good; already after only a couple weeks of practice I was getting compliments from hairstylists of all people. I’m pretty incompetent at hair, so if I can do it I’m sure you can too.
First, the type of set. A hot set, such as one using a curling iron or hot rollers can be done, but a cold/wet set, that is putting damp hair into curls to dry over time, usually while you sleep, is most definitely best. Of course going to bed with curlers in your hair isn’t terribly sexy, so if you feel bad curling up next to your lover like this, tying a lovely scarf around your head Rosie the Riveter style will help. A satin one especially will reduce friction so you come out of it with a smoother result. It can take a while to do a set when you’re still figuring it out, but again, practice will improve this.
The oldest way of setting curls is with rags, and I’ve been a big fan of this method for a long time. You use strips of cloth from an old t-shirt or something, but you can also use long dress socks as I’ve been known to do ever since the cats stole my rags. For some reason they don’t seem to like socks quite as much, so I got to keep them. I’ve even heard about women from the 40s using strips from brown paper bags when the rags were used up for the time being, so really you can use anything of which you can tie the ends together. Using any of these is just like using curlers. You roll a piece of your hair around it, and tie the ends together.
I don’t really need to explain to you how to use a curler, do I? Good, because I’m skipping that part.

One very important part of curling hair that often gets overlooked is the use of end papers. When you start rolling up a curl, the tips end up getting pushed into the rest of the hair, no matter how hard you try to avoid it, and it creates what are known as “hook ends”, which are nasty looking. Using end papers holds the ends of your hair in place, so this doesn’t happen. You can go out and buy these, but squares of toilet paper work just as well.

The picture above is of two of my own curls. The one on the left was done using a square of toilet paper on the end, and the one on the right wasn’t. As you can see there’s a HUGE difference. Fold the paper in half and put the hair you want to curl inside along the fold, and then slide the paper down so that all the ends are inside of it. If all the ends won’t fit, simply use two pieces of toilet paper together instead of one. Roll it up around a rag or curler, and it’s that easy.

Pin curls are easy to explain, but hard to do. They take a lot of dexterity, but once you master it they’re great for perfect little sausage curls and are much easier to sleep on than curlers. Keep in mind you can’t do this on very long hair, because the pin curls will be too thick to pin. I would suggest shoulder length hair or shorter for this, depending on how thick your hair is. All you have to do is wrap your hair around your finger, from root to tip, slide the hair off your finger, and pin either one side or the whole thing flat against your head. You’re supposed to use pin curl clips to avoid denting, but bobby pins work well too. Something to remember that I learned the hard way: you need to be careful not to twist the hair as you wrap it around your finger. It might look fine when you take it out of the pin, but once you brush it out it gets incredibly frizzy and you could end up with an afro. Not exactly what we’re going for here.

The direction of the curls is important too, and you can actually find diagrams of what direction to curl your hair for different results. Here’s one just below, I hope it’s not too small to read. I’m not at the stage of knowing a whole lot about this, but I can tell you that the hair around your face should be curled towards your face. Combing the top back away from your face later will create that “lift” that you see in all the old pictures. The rest of your hair can then be curled away from your face, or alternate directions. It’s good to experiment with this.

So you have the layered hair, you’ve mastered the curls; next we’ll learn the final part, styling!
And now I want to show you this beautiful girl’s Flickr page, because first of all the images are very helpful, and secondly I totally have a crush on her hair.

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

Any questions about making curls? Leave me a comment!