Demystifying Pin Curls – A Simple Tutorial

In today’s world of retro beauty, there are hundreds of resources offering directions on recreating the old glamour we all love so much. These resources vary widely in style and technique. Everyone has their own tricks and tools they suggest using to achieve beautiful results.

Girls using today’s modern tools and techniques to create their vintage hairstyles may get a different look from the old glamorous images of women in the early 20th Century. It is a subtle thing, but on comparison to an image of a girl in 1942 you can see that there is something different. The biggest difference can often be narrowed down to one element…the pin curl.


The mid 1930s through the 1950s was a distinctive time in hairstyling in which most women utilized pin curls for their main hair curling technique. Its beginnings are rooted in the water-waving techniques popular during the 1920s. Water-waving, more commonly referred to today as finger waving, created beautiful close fitting waves around the head by forming wet hair in to waves and allowing the hair to dry in that shape.

By the middle of the 1930s, fuller hairstyles became en vogue and pin curls were just the ticket for creating a combination of the waves women still loved, but with a softer, fuller silhouette. The pin curl remained a staple well into the 1950s. Although the popular hairstyles changed, the basic pin curl helped create most of the curls necessary.

A pin curl is a simple idea. Curl a damp piece of hair beginning at the end and working up toward the scalp. When the entire strand is encompassed in the curl, use a hairpin or clip to pin it to the base of the scalp for drying. Once the pin curl has dried thoroughly, unpin it and brush it into the desired shape. Where the pin curl becomes more complicated and offers the diversity of hairstyles that spanned so many years is in the direction, size, and manner in which it is rolled.

You can find more details on the pin curl’s diverse options in Vintage Hairstyling: Retro Styles with Step-by-Step Techniques available from

Here are the basics for creating the pin curl. Even in its simplest form, it creates a gorgeous retro look that lasts.

To start you need to prep your hair with the proper products. Your hair should be wet for the best results. Water acts as one of your styling products. The amount of water depends on the hair type. Finer hair may require more water for hold and thicker hair should be more towel dry damp to avoid excessive drying time.

You might also like: Techniques for wet set curling

You will also need a shaping or styling lotion. The best lotions will create a stickiness to your hair that makes it easier to control the ends of the hair and roll the hair into the curl. If you are going to use a hooded hairdryer to dry the curl, a thermal setting lotion can also be helpful.

All of these products, the water, the shaping lotion, whatever you are using, should be distributed evenly through the hair. If a section of hair is too dry or too wet or has less product on it, the results will be uneven. The more even the product distribution, the prettier the finished hairstyle.

Step 1

After you have prepped your hair with the proper products, separate out a 1 by 1 inch section of hair and comb it so the hair is smooth.

Step 2

Begin the curl at the end of the hair section by wrapping the end toward the shaft to start the curl with your fingers.

You might also like: Vintage wet set with the Primrose pin curl set!

Step 3

Once you have curled the section all the way up to the scalp, clip or pin the curl against your head. Let your hair air dry or use a hooded hairdryer or handheld hairdryer with a diffuser attachment to dry curls. After completely dried, the curls can be brushed with ease.

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Welcome to the Bobby Pin Blog! I am Lauren Rennells and as a hairstylist, makeup artist, writer, and generally artistic over-achiever, the Bobby Pin Blog is my outlet for thoughts and research about vintage hair and makeup trends and how to recreate them today. Thank you for stopping by!

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