Vintage Hairstyling

How To Pin Curl Your Hair

Many of us these days have either a curling iron or a straightener that can curl your hair. Majority of homes at least have a hand held hairdryer. But women of the 1940’s didn’t have such luxuries, instead they needed to rely on setting their hair while it was wet to create the perfect curl (hence the name “wet set”). The hair would then be secured in place with a clip or pin giving this method the name pin curl.

A wet set was the most common way to curl your hair in the 40’s. Women would “set” their hair in pin curls after washing it and then leave it to dry overnight. By wetting the hair you break the salt bonds allowing the hair to be molded into a different shape and once dry the hair will hold that shape for much longer than doing so with heat. Using a setting lotion or spray will also ensure a better result and a longer lasting curl.

Women would sleep in their set overnight and take it out and style it the next day. Often they would leave their pin curls in and cover their hair with a fabulous scarf and head off to work or attend the household duties. Leaving your pin curls in for longer will allow your hair more time to dry and the curls will last much longer. Using a setting lotion or spray will also ensure a better result and a longer lasting curl. A setting spray or lotion is basically a watered down hairspray that helps the hair keep the shape it’s being molded into while still allowing it to be soft and pliable.

Pin curls can be tricky at first, but with a little patience and some practice you’ll be pin curling like a pro in no time. Curling your hair in different directions will give different end results, so play around with setting your hair in clockwise and anti-clockwise directions and see which you prefer.

The pin or clip you use to secure your pin curl may leave a dint, so make sure you use one that’s designed not to, like the ones pictured below. These are the same style of clip that have been used since the 1930’s and leave no creases or dints at all.

Here’s what you need:

  • Wet or damp hair (the wetter your hair the longer it will take to dry. So if your hair is long and/or thick I recommend allowing it to dry a little before setting).
  • A fine toothed comb – preferably one with a tail to make sectioning your hair easier
  • Setting spray/lotion
  • Pins or clips



Take a section of hair roughly 2″ x 2″ NOTE: The bigger the section the bigger/looser the curl.


Add a little setting spray/lotion and comb through.
Wrap the section around your middle and index finger.
Pinch and slide your fingers out.


Start coiling your hair towards to the scalp tucking the ends in as you go.



Twist your pin curl so it lays flat against your head.
Secure in place with a pin or clip.
Allow to dry overnight, or use a medium setting on your blowdryer to dry the hair thoroughly. NOTE: The metal pins/clips will heat up if using a hairdryer and may burn you hair and scalp so use caution.

With all the effort it takes to do a wet set you can easily see why they had to turn down dates, and you can understand why women in old movies would say “No, I’m sorry I can’t make it. I’m washing my hair that night”.



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