vintage hair

Vintage hair setting: rollers and pin curls

In my last post, I wrote about wet sets and heat sets, and promised another post on pin curls and rollers/curlers. Here it is!

A reminder that I am an enthusiastic amateur who has picked up a few things over the last 4-5 years of setting my own hair. My last post contained a list of people I consider vintage hair experts (the list is at the bottom of the post), and I’d definitely recommend checking out some (or all) of them.

As before, I’ve written this post in the form of a Q&A, so please imagine me asking the questions in one voice, and answering them in another.

What’s a pin curl?

It’s a way of curling your hair. Starting at the bottom, you curl it around your fingers (some use their index and middle fingers, I use my thumb) and, once you reach the root of your hair, you use a kirby grip to secure it to your head. 

pin curls front view

What’s the difference between rollers and curlers?

They’re the same thing. I think.

curlettes curlers front view

Where do I start?

By finding a setting pattern you fancy trying (if you don’t have one, try googling 1940s setting pattern or 1950s setting pattern and looking for one with a similar hair length to yours). If you want to use rollers/curlers, add that to your search term, e.g. 1940s setting pattern rollers or 1950s setting pattern rollers.

What setting pattern do you use?

If I’m using rollers, I follow one that Miss Victory Violet posted a few years ago.

If I’m using pin curls, I use Jane Russell’s setting pattern, although her hair is much shorter than mine and I should probably find an alternative.

jane russell setting pattern

It took me a while to find setting patterns that worked with my hair and that I liked the look of, so if one doesn’t work for you, don’t give up!

What do I need for pin curl sets?


I use kirby grips that can be bought in most supermarkets and pharmacies (I usually buy mine from Boots or Superdrug, because they’re the closest shops to my house that sell them).

For setting spray, I use House of Drewvid marcel spray. This is a new discovery for me; previously I’ve used Boots setting lotion, which works fine, but the House of Drewvid spray smells delightful and doesn’t leave my hair sticky like the setting lotion sometimes did.

And I use Wella Silvikrin maximum hold hairspray, because I’ve used it since I was 12 and you can’t convince me there’s a better one out there.

You’ll also need a comb for sectioning, a backcombing brush and a paddle brush for smoothing.

What do I need for roller sets?

curlettes curlers brushout with hat

As above, but also with the rollers of your choice. I use Curlettes Curlers, which are crocheted, because I find them comfortable to sleep in and I like the shape they give my hair.

I’ve tried foam rollers many, many times in the past, but I get dents in my hair no matter how many times I reroll and try to get the bar in a different position, and I find them quite uncomfortable to sleep in.

Everyone is different, so you might have to try a few options before you find the one that works for you.

How should I set my hair?


You can read my post on sleeping in pin curls here, which contains a step-by-step guide to setting hair, and, if you’re not sure whether you need a wet set or a heat set, read this post.

Why do you use both pin curls and rollers?

I find that I get completely different looks depending on what I use to curl my hair.

If I use rollers, I get a big, bouncy 1950s style set with fluffy curls, but if I pin curl, I find it settles into a more 1940s style set with smooth(ish) waves. So, what I use depends on the sort of look I’m going for.


Can I use both in one set?

If you want to, and I think this would be particularly useful if you wanted defined curls at the front and smooth waves everywhere else – I’ve thought about doing it but haven’t got around to it yet.

Should I use one for wet sets and one for heat sets?

Nope, you can mix and match however you like. I find that I get the best roller results with a wet set, and heat sets work best with pin curls. It took me about two years of setting my hair to work this out.


Why are your rollers different colours?

Because they’re different sizes. I use the small ones around the front to get a tighter curl and make it easier to style into S waves and the like, and the medium ones everywhere else.

curlettes curlers back view

I’m going out. What can I use to cover up my curls?

I use one of my Sarah’s Doo-Wop Dos turbans, or a scarf (Miss Victory Violet has a great tutorial on tying a hair scarf).


What if it all goes wrong when I brush it out?

Even after several years of setting my hair, it still goes wrong on a regular basis. I have one piece of hair on each side of my head that refuses to do what I want it to – if I want straight hair, those bits will go wavy. If I set my hair, both bits stay resolutely straight. It’s annoying.

I usually cover it with a hat or a hair flower, but sometimes I just rock it anyway!

pin curls brushout fluffy

I’m too nervous to try this on my hair. What should I do?

There are a couple of vintage hairdressers I know of who also take wig commissions. They look absolutely stunning, and – as someone who gets bored with my hair colour easily – I am probably going to buy one at some point!

Further resources

There are lots of books available on vintage hair, including the Style me Vintage series, which I would definitely recommend.

I’m sure there are some things I’ve missed in the above, and I’ve just read it back and most of my advice seems to be experiment, and if you don’t succeed, try and try again. Sorry I wasn’t more definite, but it really is a case of finding what works best for you.

If you’ve got any questions about rollers, pin curls, wet sets, heat sets or anything else to do with vintage hair, please let me know in the comments. If I don’t know the answer, I might know someone who does!


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