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1930s Hair Styles

My interest in vintage hair began when I was a child, as I have always loved the 20s, 30s and 40s, but I actually began styling my own hair in vintage styles back 1999 when I started swing dancing. I have also run vintage hair workshops many times in the last 12 years. The 1930s softly waved and curled feminine hairstyles are my favourite and I drool over old pics from the time. I have a short middy cut myself so I can wear a 30s look when I want to. Sadly, ladies today don’t have the benefit of being able to go to the salon on a weekly basis to have their hair ‘wet set and styled’ as they did back in the day. The ‘beauty salon’ certainly was a different place back then. I once read in an old hairdressing magazine that around 50% of a salons’ business (from the 20s to the late 50s) came from ‘setting’ hair alone. Today it’s all about cut and colour.


Most of the waved and curled 30s styles required sculpting and constant upkeep. So wearing a hair net to bed with pin curls, wavers clips or rollers to maintain it was just part of every day life for ladies of the day, unless of course, you were lucky enough to have hair that waved or curled naturally and easily. Husbands and boyfriends back then certainly were used to seeing their ladies in curlers regularly. Was just part of life.

Women that could afford to go to the salon on a regular basis usually went for a ‘wet set and style’, which would last up to a week if you protected it while you slept. For those of you new to vintage hair speak, a wet set involved having your hair pin curled or finger waved in the style you wanted while the hair was wet, then sitting under a hood dryer for an hour or so at the salon, until the hair was completely dry. Then the hair would be brushed out and combed into the style required by the hairdresser. Certainly a lengthy process, but worth it for a week of hair that retained its style. This was a common practice right up until the 1960s in salons. Many ladies of the day (like my Nana and Grandmother) who weren’t flush with money, learned to style and set their own hair at home in the 30s, 40s and 50s for the most part and went to salon once a month.


Tips for 30s waves:
What many people don’t realise is that finger waves were actually designed to enhance, tame and smooth the waved, curly tresses of those lucky enough to have them. The waves and curls were stretched and moulded into the looks in the pics shown. But for those like myself who have dead straight hair (ugg) – I was given some invaluable tips a few years back from a lovely ex-hairstylist named ‘Lily‘ who is now in her 90s. This is how told me she used to set waves and curls for her straight-haired clients in the 30s:

– wet set hair with setting lotion under a hood dryer (or overnight) to give yourself a good curly base to work with
– THEN brush out the tight curls, smoothing the hair and relaxing it a bit
– use a styling comb to sculpt the curls on top and sides of your head  into soft waves and ridges and clip them into place with wavers (so much easier when the hair is already curled). It’s all about the sculpting.
– sculpt the smaller curls so they are softer around the back of your head/ears etc using the comb and your fingers. Spray on some hairspray to set.

So – curling first, drying, THEN waving for us straight haired lot! 🙂 For years I wondered why trying to achieve soft finger waves was so much harder with straight hair … simple, because they were designed to beautify curly hair! So, salons of the day had to come up with techniques to help out the straight-haired gals like to me achieve these amazing styles too. Information has just been lost over the years as the older generation pass away. Anyhoo, here are some great style to inspire you. My fav 30s ladies are Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy and Ginger Rogers.






{ 12 } Comments

  1. Rebecca | 21 January 2012 at 2.44 pm | Permalink

    There is a hairdresser near where I live that still has a reular weekly clientele – but I’d say its a pretty pricey luxury. I love the idea too – but I’m not sure I could find the time to spend on a weekly basis!

  2. Michelle | 22 January 2012 at 12.24 am | Permalink

    There are a lot salons that still do a wet set and style for little old grey haired ladies who require it, but once those older lady clients in their 70s and 80s are gone, I doubt that they would even continue teach some of the old techniques in hairdressing schools anymore.

  3. Miss Stella | 22 January 2012 at 1.55 pm | Permalink

    What a great post!
    I have curly hair but it can be frizzy! I find a wet set works the best for me and even without nightly settings (omg, cannot imagine The Mister letting me into bed with my hair ‘set’!!), I can go a week with just a few touch ups with a curling iron.
    I had my hair cut in a mid length middy last time and am going to try your instructions on the setting this week.

  4. Yossef | 15 February 2012 at 9.26 pm | Permalink

    I was just idly scrolling through articles until a picture of Myrna Loy jumped out at me. She was such a lovely, elegant woman. Now I think I should re-watch “The Thin Man”.

  5. Michelle | 16 February 2012 at 9.04 am | Permalink

    I love ‘The Thin Man’. One of my favs 🙂

  6. Ezza | 22 March 2012 at 4.10 am | Permalink

    Really good site. Was having trouble finding styles for the 30s for my assignment. Thank you!! 🙂

  7. Michelle | 23 March 2012 at 9.23 am | Permalink

    Glad you could use the post 🙂

  8. Linda | 12 July 2012 at 8.08 am | Permalink

    Hi Michelle – any chance of another Vintage Hair workshop sometime soon?? That would be fab.

  9. Michelle | 12 July 2012 at 8.40 am | Permalink

    Hi Linda,

    I really do that!! Just a matter of when! 🙂

  10. Michelle | 16 March 2013 at 9.28 pm | Permalink


    I also have a blog at

  11. Anna | 16 October 2014 at 1.22 am | Permalink

    Love this post, I’ve fallen in love with fingerwaves, and will get my quite long curly hair cut back to a bob this week (I’m donating it for a whig). I think fingerwaves will be great on the new length, but could you tell me how to protect my hair while I sleep? Love A.

  12. Michelle | 24 October 2014 at 10.05 pm | Permalink

    Hi, women usually wore a hair-net to bed or a silk scarf. Men in the day were very used to seeing women with curlers and pin curls in their hair at bedtime. There was all types of hairnets made to accommodate this. The silkier hair nets and scarves are god because they don’t catch on the hair so much.

    M 🙂

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