The Perfect Vintage Haircut

My hairstyles over the years

I’ve had a lot of hairstyles over the years, as you can see from a very small selection above, and I’ve never been afraid to experiment with my hair. When I was born my hair was really dark, extremely curly and was very thick, basically I had a little afro! By the age of three it had turned blonde, was well past my shoulders and very lightly wavy, but still very, very thick. The curls had disappeared partly because of the weight of it, but was mainly due to my mum pulling the curls down, clipping my hair in place with a ton of hair grips to make it look less crazy and sticking a bonnet on my head to try and calm it down.

By the age of 7 it was really long and at the the age of 9 I had my first radical haircut, from waist length hair to a short chin-length pageboy style. The top middle photo is me on Christmas day that year having decided that multiple bunches and a summer playsuit was a really good idea. At the age of 13 I had my first perm. I also desperately wanted a Thomson Twins style weave effect at the sides, just above my ears, but my mum thought it was a little too fashion-forward for school!

By the time I hit 21 it had grown again to waist length and was a natural golden blonde. I straightened it with my trusty Babyliss super huge straighteners (I also had matching crimpers!) and always left it loose. Then I broke up with my first proper boyfriend and decided to have a radical image change. This resulted in a shoulder length, Meg Ryan-esque hairdo with bleach blonde highlights, but it didn’t last long. Now it was short it was easier to experiment with and boy did I experiment. I pretty much had a new hair style or colour every two weeks. Thankfully there’s no photographic evidence of the green hair, which was a mistake, and I decided against the blue after my housemate and I turned the entire bathroom the same colour whilst dying his hair.

After a good 15 years of playing and experimenting, with varying results, I settled on red. Initially it was a very ginger colour but has gradually become a slightly darker, more natural red, very similar to my mum’s natural colour. Strangely, I now think it’s the colour I should’ve been born with but somehow it completely skipped my generation. My grandad had red hair, my mum and three of her siblings have red hair, but neither me or my brother or any of our cousins have red hair, however, some of their children do have it. Weird!

My long vintage hair

When I really started to take the whole vintage thing seriously a few years ago I had no idea what to do with my hair. Initially it was about an inch all over, after another radical image change due to a break-up (there’s a recurring theme here), so I decided I needed to grow it. I knew how my hair has a mind of its own and was really scared about trying to get a true vintage style so, once it was about shoulder length, I opted for the easiest solution, Betty bangs. This lasted me three years and I just left the length to grow because I had no idea what else to do with it.

Fast forward to this year and with my ever growing obsession with the 1930s I really began to struggle with how to style it. I literally only ever wore in one of two styles, straight and up in a ponytail or curly and down, which initially looked fab but after a few hours dropped out and went into ringlets due to the sheer weight of it. This, in turn, meant that I wasn’t wearing the few pieces of 1920s and 30s clothing I owned. This was really getting on my nerves and something needed to be done. I needed to find the perfect vintage haircut for me.

Lady Persephone Towyn

Lady Agnes Holland

One of my most favourite 1930s based period dramas was, and still is, the remake of Upstairs Downstairs. Why, oh, why did they cancel it? Well, I know why, Downton Abbey and the fact that fans of the original series didn’t like it. Upstairs Downstairs was BBC’s attempt to cash in on the whole Downton phenomenon but instead of producing a soap opera type show that could translate into any era, much like Downton is, this was firmly set in the turbulent years of the 1930s.

My most favourite character, Lady Persephone Towyn, played by Claire Foy, was the younger sister of Lady Agnes Holland, played by Keeley Hawkes. During season one Percy, as she was known, had exactly the sort of hairstyle I love from the 1930s. It was cut into a bob and then curled tightly and the top was smoothed out so the curls gathered together at the sides of the head. As the series went on her hair became much more coiffured and grown up, but then it was Agnes’ turn in series two to have the same sort of style, although hers was cut shorter. This is what I was going to aim for.

1930s hairstyles

Next, I wanted to get some inspiration from some of the true icons of the 1930s, those beautiful Silver Screen goddesses women of the time all aspired to look like. Clockwise from top left is Marion Davies, Joan Crawford, Myrna Loy and Norma Shearer (my new style icon!). They all have that short curly bob which parted and fuller on one side. I particularly love Myrna Loy’s super short version, but I wanted something that I could style for several different eras, from the 1920s up to the 1950s, as I tend to wear styles from all of those decades. Therefore, it had to be more like Norma Shearer’s length.

Vintage Gal bob haircut

And this is how I had it cut. I wanted to take a picture of how it looked having been styled by my lovely hairdresser Zoë. She owns a salon not far from where I live and is an expert in vintage styles, having styled at some of the big vintage events across the country, including Goodwood Revival. I trust her completely with my hair, so had no qualms about getting her to do this.

I showed her the sort of length I wanted it once it was curly and we quickly agreed to a couple of inches below my jawline. She didn’t touch my fringe at all because I’m, at last, growing it out. She knows I’m happy to trim it if it needs it, so thought it best just to leave it alone. However, since the day this was taken, I have been drying it by pushing it over the top which allows me to then pin it in place, so it almost looks like it’s not there.

First Pin Curl Set

And this was the next day with the results of my very first pin curl wet set! I’d attempted to do one before on my long hair but it took an hour just to do a quarter of it, so I gave up. This, however, took me an hour and half from start to finish. I was pretty satisfied with that and I was also really quite chuffed with the results.

First Pin Curl Set

I really struggled to define the curls after the brush out and the fuller side ended up just looking like fluff rather than curls. However, I do seem to have mastered this now by keeping a pot of my trusty Black & White Pluko Hairdressing Pomade handy. I’ve used this in my hair for about 20 years and it always calms my hair down and gives definition to any style. However, I am thinking of buying some Murray’s Hair-Glo Pomade, which was invented and used by many during the 1920s.

What I do now is, once I’ve brushed it out, I grab individual curls and just smooth a tiny amount over them before setting them in place. I find it hard doing it on the shorter bits around the bottom at the back, but I get the majority of looking good.

First Pin Curl Set

I love the way it gives so much body at the back but it did rather scare me that first day. It was very strange going from a very sleek hairstyle to masses of curls. The last time I did that was back in 80s with my series of perms!

1950s Style Hair

This was my second pin curl set. I did it with much looser pin curls and it only took me 35 minutes, which was fantastic. I was off to the Auto and Retro Festival in Swindon and wanted a more 1950s look to go with my outfit, so really concentrated on creating the flick at the fuller side and making sure my ‘fringe’ was lifted before sweeping over to the side. It took me a while to perfect it but I was really pleased with it.

Auto and Retro Festival Lydiard Park

I just had to include this fantastic photo taken at the festival with myself and my friend Jim in the foreground by Mike and Niki Photography who were taking lots of photos throughout the day. It’s just so lovely and my hair looks great! 🙂

The Perfect Vintage Haircut

Although my pin curl sets were a success I didn’t really like the feel of my hair, the ends were very dry and brittle. Having used sponge rollers in my long hair before I thought I would try to see if I could get the same 1930s look using them in my short hair because it left my hair feeling a lot softer. Before I started I had a good read of By Gum, By Golly’s How I do a late 30s/early 40s sponge roller set (and avoid dents!) post and A fast roller set for everyday vintage hair post to get some really good tips, not only about the how to set the rollers, but also how to brush it out. I was really pleased with how it turned out. The curls are much more defined and not so crazy full. This is exactly the look I was after and I cannot tell you just how much I love it!

The evening after I did this my boiler broke! Nice timing. Thankfully I remembered By Gum, By Golly’s tips about resetting your hair for the next day without having to wash it and start all over again. As I always wash my hair every night this was a foreign concept to me, however, it worked beautifully and looked just as good the next day. I’ve now got into a routine of setting it one night, resetting it the next night and then washing it the following night to set it from scratch again.

I have to admit sleeping in sponge rollers isn’t all that comfortable but it is bearable and you quickly get used to it. I’ve not yet experienced a restless night from them and a little annoyance is a small price to pay for fab hair! I’m still finding it strange to have curly hair most of the time and do want to wear it straight sometimes for a more 20s look. However, I still feel it is a little bit too long and am planning to have about an inch taken off it this weekend, then it really will be the perfect vintage haircut!

Cate

Just a vintage gal suffering from the Golden Age syndrome. Lover of all things old, lingerie obsessive, crafter and enjoys rummaging at flea markets.

16 Comments

  1. Your hair looks so wonderful, and it really does seem that you should have been born with red hair, it suits you so well! It’s really interesting seeing your previous hairdo’s, I went through some major hair ‘experiments’ whilst I was at university.. I had a bright pink spiky crop, which I sometimes styled stading on end (similar to a mohawk!)
    It then faded to a weird grey/pink colour, then I dyed it purple. One of my hair disasters of note, was when I tried to dye over black to red – the red dye took to my roots, but not the black, resulting in orange roots & black lengths. I then resolved this by cutting it all off, so it was about 1inch long!
    But all a learning experience.. xxxx

    • Hehehe, that made me laugh! My worst one was when I had it brown with blonde highlights, then two days before my graduation ceremony decided to dye it red and the highlights turned green. I had an emergency appointment at the hairdressers the afternoon before the ceremony to try and correct it. I hate looking at the photos of that day now as my hair is such a flat, murky colour! Oh, and there was the time I bleached it twice in about 4 hours to try and get it white blonde but it just ended up orange!! Oh, how we live and learn 🙂 xxxx

  2. I rather enjoyed reading about the history of your hair! The new hairstyle looks super. Bravo on quickly mastering the pin curl sets.

    • Thank you! I was actually very surprised at how well the pin curl set turned out, I was expecting a total disaster.

  3. Wow, that looks amazing – it’s got the perfect look for you when it’s curled. Just right for showing off the high neckline of the green blouse, or a long pair of deco earrings.

    I really can’t do hair. It’s my bugbear. The only time mine’s looked remotely stylish was when I used to get it cut into a sharp 1920s bob; right now it’s just long and shapeless.

    • Aw, thank you! I really am so pleased with it. I’ve never really been able to style my hair before but this is just the most perfect cut to manage for my type of hair.

      Oh, I bet you look fab with a bob. You should get a sharp sixties one with a bit of height at the back, it would lovely with your vintage dresses.

  4. your hair looks lovely i would love to have a go at a pin curl set but i always think it looks really complicated it really suits you

    • Thank you Katie! You should give it a go, it’s actually much simpler than expected. The first time I did it I followed a set pattern but the second time I just did it blind and it worked out fine. The main things are to keep the hair damp when you’re curling it, use setting lotion and make sure you wear a scarf over it as it dries. This will stop it going frizzy. I hope that helps!

  5. I love your hair. I’m terrible at styling my hair and no matter how many how tos I read it’s never just right. I’m trying for a 20s Bob and am going to get it cut Colleen Moore, a Dutch Bob, style next.
    I need my fringe to cover forehead wrinkles
    Retro rover

    • Oh, a Colleen Moore Dutch bob would be amazing! You should definitely go for it. I was tempted to get a Louise Brooks cut but really wanted something I could style for different eras. I’m not sure it would’ve worked for 1940s looks!

  6. Wow! Fabulous hair! It looks fantastic. How nice to get a cut that works so well for the curly styles that you wish to wear. It was really interesting reading your hair history. I must get better at doing mine, I need to practice and never make it a priority. You have inspired me to have another go!

    • Aw, thank you Kate! I’m so glad I got it cut, it’s the best decision I’ve made in a long time. I’m glad you’re inspired too and I look forward to seeing the results!

  7. Is it crazy that I’m still trying to find my perfect vintage haircut? I don’t know if the pixie cut is any good for pre-1950s… I get hair envy all the time seeing other people with their beautiful curls and victory rolls! xxx

    • Oh, I love your hair Nora! Whenever I see someone with a lovely pixie cut like you it makes me want to have mine cut short again. You could definitely get away with a 1920s look by slicking it down and adding some sparkly accessories. I used to do that a lot just to give it a bit of femininity when I went out. xxx

  8. As a fellow vintage enthusiast, I can only confirm my own prejudices that you look absolutely stunning with how you wear your hair now! Your curls and waves frame your face most elegantly.

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