How I Style My 1930s Hair

How to style 1930s hair

The one thing I get asked most about whenever I go to vintage events is how I do my hair. So, after reading Jenny’s blog post More Adventures in Bobbed Hair I was inspired to do a post about how I style my own bob into my go to hairstyle for a 1930s look.

Before I start I just want to talk about my hair type. I have very thick hair, and I mean very thick!! And I have a lot of it. Doing any kind of styling on my hair, even if it is just drying it, takes forever and, when I get it cut, my hairdresser books me in for an extra half an hour more than a normal appointment because she knows just how long it takes. I mention this because if I talk about how long something takes me to do it will probably take anyone with normal hair half the time!

My hair isn’t bone straight and it isn’t wavy, it just has annoying kinks in it if I leave it to dry on its own due to the fact my mum left it to grow long when I was child to pull out my very tight curls. I was basically born with an afro! It’s currently about an inch and a half below my jaw line which I personally feel is far too long for me (it desperately needs a cut) and I find this style works best when it’s about jaw-length as it creates less bulk.

Joan Bennett 1932

So this is my inspiration, the lovely Joan Bennett from 1932. The only real difference with my style is I don’t comb the front part backwards with the height as she does, I comb mine to the side and have it flat to my head. The reason I do this is because I know it will stay there whereas Joan’s swept back style would definitely fall forward with my weight of hair.

The Supplies

Tools for styling hair

  • Sponge rollers about an inch wide
  • Elvive Colour Protect Leave In Conditioning Spray
  • John Frieda Frizz Ease Serum
  • Lottabody Hair Setting Lotion
  • Black and White Pluko Hair Dressing Pomade
  • Hairspray – I use Silvikrin Maximum Hold
  • A flat bristle brush
  • A small round brush
  • Comb
  • Smooth sectioning clips
  • Bobby pins

The Roller Set

1930s hair roller set

The first thing I do is wash my hair and whilst it’s still wet I add a spritz of leave in conditioner to help it remain soft. It’s best not to do a roller set with wet hair as the rollers will absorb the water and will prevent the hair from drying so I blow dry mine roughly until it just feels slightly damp. If I need to I’ll spray the ends with water as I’m going along to help the hair sit flat in the rollers otherwise the ends can end up frizzy.

Once my hair is to the right dampness I’ll add a pea sized amount of the Frizz Ease serum which will help to keep the hair smooth and I’ll liberally spray Lottabody setting lotion (half water, half lotion) into the hair, making sure I get to the underneath layers of my mass of locks. Finally I set to curling.

At this point I would highly recommend you have a read of Tasha at By Gum By Golly’s post How I do a late 30s/early 40s sponge roller set (and avoid dents!) as this goes into the whole setting process in detail and was the one I learnt from.

1930s roller set

I use about 24 rollers and use a very simple pattern of rollering the hair downwards in rows leaving the top of the hair flat. I take about an inch of hair each time and make sure it curled firmly against the sponge to create the tight curls. Most people will probably use less rollers but it may take a bit of time to work out what’s best for you. I make sure I get every tiny piece of hair at the back into a roller and if there’s one stubborn bit that won’t go in I’ll spray it with water until it’s wet and will create a tiny pin curl with it and pin it into place.

You will notice that I roller my growing-out-fringe section forward, this is purely to get it out of the way from the rest of the hair. It doesn’t matter which way it is set because it will be smoothed out over to the side once it’s styled. You may also be able to see that the top ones are turned over and clipped into place as described in Tasha’s post. This helps to avoid the dreaded dents that can occur with sponge rollers where the plastic bar pushes against the hair. I only ever use this technique with the top row as the rest will disappear within the mass of curls. I also tend to use bobby pins to keep them in place rather than sectioning clips as I let this set overnight and they are more comfortable.

Lastly I’ll give it a good once over with the setting lotion spray to make sure it sets well and then I always cover the whole lot with a scarf to keep it in place, as this will prevent any rollers falling out whilst you sleep. This whole process from start to finish takes me about half an hour.

The Styling Process

My crazy frizzy hair

After I’ve removed all of the rollers the next morning, the first thing I do is run my fingers through the curls to separate them all and this is what happens! Yes, I have the craziest, frizziest hair. When my mum saw this the first time I couldn’t stop her laughing! This may seem scary but it’s not a mass of tangles and frizz, it’s actually really soft thanks to the leave-in conditioner and Frizz Ease serum.

Before I do anything I get a small amount of pomade, literally just enough to lightly cover two fingertips, and rub it over my hands to get it warm. I then add the pomade to the whole of my hair. I do this no matter how I style my hair, straight or curly, to give it a bit of definition.

Brushing out hair set

Now, I must let you know at this point that I don’t do a brush out at all. I know this may sound strange to those of you who are old hats at doing vintage hair but bear with me. What I’m doing here is brushing the top section of the hair down as far as I want the flat part to be with the bristle brush. I do this the whole way around the head. You’ll find that at some point the bulk of the curls starts to fight against you going any further and this is normally where I stop as my hair does exactly what it wants most of the time, so I don’t try and force it!

Frizzy hair ends

Next I separate the hair into sections to the width I want the curls to be. Remember, the wider the section, the fuller and less defined the curl will be. However, fuller curls mean that it will take less time to do, so it’s best to experiment to find out what’s best for you. I tend to do mine between half an inch and inch depending on how much time I have in the morning. The ends of each section will most likely feel a bit tangled but this is normal so don’t panic.

Brushing out hair ends

Whilst curling the hair upwards over my finger I use the small round brush to brush the ends smooth. This will happen naturally usually without any resistance and only takes a couple of brushes. Sometimes it doesn’t need it at all but you soon get used to the difference in the feel of the hair.

Once this is done on a section get a tiny amount of pomade and smooth it over the length of it, concentrating on the ends. Make sure you don’t use too much as this will make it look greasy, use just enough to help the hair come together as a well defined curl.

The type of pomade you use will depend on your hair type. I use Black & White because it’s better on thicker hair and has a good strong hold. I also have the traditional 1920s Yardley English Lavender Brilliantine, which I love, but it doesn’t work on this hairstyle as it’s too light for my hair. I tend to use it for creating and holding waves as this doesn’t need anything quite as heavy. It may be a bit of a mind field if you’ve never delved into the world of pomade but it’s great experimenting. I’m going to try Murray’s Hair Glo Hair Dressing Pomadespace next as it was one women loved to use in the 1920s.

1930s curls taking shape

As you can see the defined curls quickly begin to appear and you can just see the difference between them and the frizz at the back from when I first started. I generally do the thinner side first, then the growing-out-fringe part, followed by the thicker side and finally the back, which is the most arm aching part. I do tend to have to take several rests whilst doing this section! I work from top to bottom going from the front to the back in rough rows but I don’t worry too much about being precise.

Full head of defined curls

Full head of curls back

And finally, it’s all done. This part takes me about 30 – 40 minutes and I find the back takes the longest mainly because my arms get so tired. As I said at the beginning, anyone with a normal amount of hair will probably take half this time after a bit of practice.

At this point it doesn’t matter if random curls are poking out or drooping down as they will get put into place in the last stage. Before I continue I double check every bit of hair is curled properly by using another mirror to check all the way around as inevitably I’ve missed a bit!

Styling 1930s hair

Now I set to putting it into place which is usually very quick. I take the comb and smooth the lighter side of the hair backwards so it goes behind my left ear. I push it right the way back so the curls can just be seen as you look straight on and place two bobby pins in it, one vertically behind the ear and the other above this diagonally going backwards. This second one keep the top part from sectioning itself off and leaving a gap in the hair.

I then comb the growing-out-fringe section across the top of the front of my head, pinning it in place once I get resistance from the curls. If I’m going out in the evening I’ll often use a sparkly bobby pin rather than a plain one. To finish off I tend to add a little bit of pomade to the front, just above my forehead, to try and tame any wispy bits.

Setting hair in place

I place about four sectioning clips around the hair where the straight part meets the curls to try and make this a straight line all the way around. Sometimes I push the back ones a little bit further down to create more of a horseshoe shape just to add variety. I then tend to go and put my make up on and let it settle into place.

Once I’m done I’ll take the sectioning clips out. At this point you’ll be glad you have smooth ones of these, i.e. without any gripping teeth, as I made that mistake the first time. The ones with teeth will try and cling onto your hair and will pull everything out of place as you take them out!

The last thing I do is just check to see if there are any sneaky curls poking out of place. If there are I hold them in place with my finger and give them a good blast with hairspray. I often have one rather annoying one at the front that needs taming and I sometimes end up sliding a bobby pin inside of it to force it to stay in place.

Lastly, I give my hair a quick once over with the hairspray, just lightly as I want it to be able to move naturally, and then my 1930s hair is done!

1930s hair

1930s hairstyle from the side

1930s hairstyle

Back of 1930s hairstyle

This will last me two days but I will reset my hair back into rollers the second evening, just giving it a light spray of setting lotion once it’s done to make sure. Then in the morning the only product I will use is hairspray as it doesn’t really need any more serum or pomade on it.


Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. A lover of all things old, especially the 1930s, seamstress, crocheter, maker of hats and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.


  1. Oh my goodness, your hair is super cute! Thanks for sharing how you do it. In the super frizzy, out of the curls pic, you look like a colorized photo of Clara Bow! 😀

    Carla, Tiny Angry Crafts

    • Hahaha!! Well, I certainly don’t feel as glamorous as Clara Bow at that point but I’ll keep that in mind next time I do it x

  2. It looks beautiful! It’s all so terribly complicated. I suspect one of the reasons my hair hasn’t worked in the past is because I tried rollering wet hair – and it’s a lot of long hair. Your ‘just damp’ tip is very useful.

    • I used to use the same rollers when my hair was in a horseshoe shape from my shoulders downwards and it worked quite well as it just curled the ends. My hair in this picture – – was done using the one inch rollers, so I’m sure yours would work. x

      • I will need new rollers, in that case. The Urchins found my stash and pulled them all apart to use as cat toys!

  3. Wow, I’m so impressed! I couldn’t do anything this technically advance, which is probably why I stick to such long hair I can’t do that much curling with, if I’m honest!

    • Honestly, I couldn’t until I had it cut to shoulder length. My long hair was impossible to do anything with so I just had a short fringe cut and wore it up in a ponytail. Having it cut into a bob revolutionised my hair styling abilities! x

  4. This looks so wonderfully beautiful! How pretty. I think you must have very strong arms to do 40 minutes of styling, and to attend to each tiny little curl. I know I should try harder with my hair, but I really couldn’t prioritise enough time for that much effort! I did try sponge rollers once, but I find my hair needs heat to set a curl. Hmm, I will have a think about how I can approach this again… Thank you for the lovely photos (the wild hair one is particularly brilliant!!) xx

    • Because it takes me just as long to dry my hair in the morning it doesn’t really make much difference to me whether I do it straight or curly. I’m absolutely sure anyone else’s would take much less time. xx

  5. Absolutely marvelous tutorial, I am now very keen to buy some foam rollers, as I usually use hard plastic perm rollers which are so hard to get in without buckling the ends. It looks so professional. A great tip about the clips for flattening the back out too! Thank you.

    • Oh yes, you should definitely get some, they’re so much more forgiving. They’re not the most comfortable things to sleep in but you soon get used to it. x

  6. Your hair is so immensely beautiful. From the colour to the cut to how you style it, I’m beyond smitten and have admired your lovely locks from the first moment I saw a photo of you here.

    ♥ Jessica

  7. Dearest Cate,
    I can’t quite get over how utterly PERFECT your hair always looks! Each curl looks like a little work of art, so perfectly smooth and shiny. It’s always interesting to see how people style their hair, and how it differs between hair types. I love your frizzy-haired picture too! 🙂 xxx

    • I know, I watch video after video on YouTube to see how to do hair styles but then try it on my hair and it’s an absolute disaster. I have finally accepted the fact that my hair type is very different to the majority of people so will always need a different approach. xxx

  8. This was really interesting to see, and your hair looks AMAZING! Thank you so much for sharing!

  9. Those curls are FANTASTIC!!!!!! What a wonderful tutorial, great photos, great tips, great everything. You really nailed the look you were going for. Great job.

    Liz 🙂

  10. This is such a fabulous hair do. I am so impressed with your patience to get all those perfect curls. Very clearly explained too, I totally get what you mean though I don’t think I have the skills to try it!

    • Thanks Kate! I was useless at doing any curled hairstyle before I tried sponge rollers but they’re so easy to use and make such a good base curl for styling hair. x

  11. Wow! Really want to try my sponge rollers again now! Thank you for doing such a clear tutorial ~ this is super great! ❤

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    • Oh yes, get them out! I love them, they make curling your hair so much easier. I’m dying to try them out now I’ve cut my hair a bit shorter. Come on weekend! xx

  12. Hi, I just discovered your blog 🙂
    Your hair looks so lovely!
    I’m secretly jealous of short-haired gals who are able style their hair like this.
    I have pretty long hair and it feels like styling it takes much more effort, if you don’t just want to leave it hanging open.
    I just can’t bring myself to cut it short! :O

    • Thank you Cherise! I’ve had all sorts of hairstyle, long and short, and have always found that I hardly ever styled my long hair, it was far too much hassle. Shorter hair is definitely the way to go and it’s very liberating getting it cut. I’ve gone from waist length to 1″ all over before, it’s really not as scary as you might think!

  13. Cate!! Wonderful lesson and spectacular look!! It would be a huge help for those of us with long hair to see what cut you have when you’ve not got the luscious locks. Possible to post a pre-curled photo??? I have waist length hair that is fine as string and something’s gotta go! Read your lesson, bought all the tools and supplies, but had to wait 24 hrs for the hair to dry from just the 50:50 Lottabody-water mixture. Then all I had was frizz. Help!

    • If you take a look at this post – – you’ll see my straighter hair. At the length it is in these pictures it’s too short to curl, so I generally have it a couple of inches longer than this most of the time.
      I always set it in the evening and sleep in the rollers overnight to allow it enough time to dry. However, you must make sure that your hair is not sopping wet when you set it. I dry mine so it just and just feels damp, then I add the setting lotion. You won’t needs masses of it, so your hair should still just feel damp.
      In terms of the frizz, always, always, always wear a scarf over the hair the whole time it’s setting. I’ve heard that silk scarves are the best but I only use a cotton one. Also, pomade is your best friend when trying to control any frizz once the rollers are removed. Don’t be afraid to add more, it washes out easily!
      I hope that helps! xx

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