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Pin curls are the ultimate vintage hairstyle. Here, learn how to master this Old Hollywood-inspired look in just a few simple steps.

Retro Pin Curls: An Easy Step-by-Step Tutorial

Pin curls are the ultimate vintage hairstyle. Here, learn how to master this Old Hollywood-inspired look in just a few simple steps.
Retro Pin Curls: An Easy Step-by-Step Tutorial

Hair trends come and go, but there are a few iconic hairstyles that have stood the test of time. Pin curls are undoubtedly one of those looks that will always be in style. You’ve likely seen this Old Hollywood hairstyle on the red carpet year after year—but this vintage ‘do is also versatile enough to wear for pretty much any occasion. Pin curls first rose to prominence among Hollywood starlets in the 1940s and 1950s and, decades later, they’re still undeniably feminine, glamorous, and seductive.

If you’re looking to switch up your signature look with a new retro hairstyle, pin curls may be just the thing for you. Ahead, we’re sharing a few basics about pin curls and explaining how to achieve gorgeous, heatless curls you’ll be obsessed with.

Good hair day by @hairbyhollyhayesx.

What Are Pin Curls?

As the name implies, pin curls are a hairstyling technique where the hair is pinned down (either flat or elevated) in the shape of a curl. This style is created by curling small sections of hair into tight coils and securing them against the scalp using pins (like bobby pins or alligator clips).

This method is often used to create vintage-inspired hairstyles and is a great way to set your curls without the need for hot tools. There are several different setting patterns that can be used when creating pin curls, and each setting pattern can be used to get a slightly different look—from tight ringlets to loose waves.

Good hair day by @niaraalexis.

How To Do Pin Curls Step-by-Step

Now that you know the basics, let’s dive into how you can easily create this vintage look at home. Read on to discover our easy step-by-step tutorial for getting bouncy, glamorous curls that last all day long.

Good hair day by @pureology.

Step 1: Wash and condition your hair

Most traditional pin curl styles begin with damp, freshly washed strands. So, before you begin styling, wash and condition your hair with a salon-quality haircare system. One of our favorites is Pureology Hydrate Shampoo and Conditioner. This deeply hydrating duo for color-treated hair helps replenish dry hair, nourish your strands, and add softness and shine.

Editor’s Tip: For a slightly more modern take on pin curl hair, you can try starting with dry, second day hair. This will create looser curls that give off less of a vintage vibe and more of a laidback look.

Good hair day by @pureology.

Step 2: Apply styling products on damp, towel-dried hair

After hopping out of the shower, towel dry your hair and remove any excess moisture from your ends. You’ll want to make sure that your hair isn’t soaking wet, as this can affect how well your curls hold and extend drying time.

Next, prep your mane with styling products that help smooth your strands and prevent frizz, like Redken Frizz Dismiss Rebel Tame Cream and Mizani 25 Miracle Milk Leave-In Conditioner. Saturate your hair and evenly distribute your chosen styling products using a fine-tooth comb.

Good hair day by @gregoryrussellhair.

Step 3: Part and section your hair

Part your hair using the end of a rat tail comb. For a classic 1950s-inspired look, we suggest trying a deep side part. After deciding on your part, you’re ready to begin sectioning your strands. Use your comb to create three horizontal rows of hair (top, middle, and bottom), securing each section with a claw clip or elastic.

Good hair day by @matrix.

Step 4: Create your first pin curl

There are a few ways to create pin curls, but most methods recommend curling from the top down (in rows) and front to back. This will allow you to see each section better and help keep your curls neat and uniform.

To create your first curl, start by releasing the top layer of your hair. Then, grab a small section of hair—roughly one to two inches wide—at the front of your hairline, near your part. Starting at your ends, pinch the section of hair between your thumb and pointer finger, and slowly roll the hair inward to create a small pinwheel. Continue rolling, wrapping the section around itself as you work your way up toward your root.

Once you’ve reached your scalp, grab a single- or double-prong clip, and secure the pin curl in place at the base. Remember to tuck in the ends so that no hair is sticking out. If you have thinner hair, you can typically use a bobby pin to secure the curl in place. For medium to thick hair, we recommend using an alligator clip. Pin curl clips are also another option—these clips are specially designed to help prevent any dents in your curls. Regardless of the type of clip you choose, the goal is to secure the curl so that it looks as circular and uniform as possible.

Editor’s Tip: The smaller your curl, the tighter it will be when you let your hair down. So, if you want bigger, looser curls (or have long, thick hair), try wrapping the hair around two or three fingers (rather than one) when creating your curl. For more volume at the root, you can try elevated pin curls (also known as barrel curls), where the curl remains standing up rather than lying flat against your head.

Step 5: Repeat the process

Next, take down the middle layer of hair and begin creating pin curls using the same process. Roll your curls in 1-2 inch sections, working your way from front to back. Once the middle section is complete, release the bottom layer of hair and continue pinning your hair up until you have a full head of curls.

For a classic pin curl look, you’ll want to use an alternating setting pattern—this means you need to alternate the direction of your curls each time you change layers. So, for example, you can curl the top layer inward, the middle layer outward, and the bottom layer inward again. Finding the right setting pattern for your desired look and hair type can take a bit of practice, so don’t be discouraged if it takes you a few attempts to discover what works best for you.

Editor’s Tip: If you’re in a rush or have straight hair that struggles to hold a curl, try this slightly different approach: Use a curling iron or curling wand on dry hair to curl each section before pinning it up. This will allow your curls to cool while pinned up, resulting in bouncy, long-lasting curls.

Good hair day by @darycetolliver.

Step 6: Allow your curls to set

The general rule of thumb when styling pin curls is that the longer you wait to remove them, the better your curls will turn out. Some people prefer to tie a silk scarf over their pin curls and let them sit overnight while others set their curls before getting ready for a night out or while cleaning the house. At a minimum, it’s important to make sure your hair is fully dried before taking out your pins. As mentioned earlier, damp curls won’t form properly and will be more likely to droop. You can allow your hair to air dry or use a diffuser to help expedite the process.

Good hair day by @josie_sassandmaine.

Step 7: Remove the pins and separate your curls

Once your hair is completely dry, it’s time to remove your pins. Try to be extra gentle when pulling out each pin. After all of the pins have been removed, gently run your fingers through your curls. This should help loosen them up a bit and give them a fuller appearance. If you find that finger-combing your curls adds frizz to your strands, feel free to skip this step. Another way to help break up your curls is to gently shake out your hair at the root. To do this, just place your hands underneath your hair (behind your ears) and give your tresses a gentle shake using a back-and-forth motion.

Editor’s Tip: Before finger-combing your pin curls, try applying a bit of hair oil or serum to your palms to help keep your curls looking polished and frizz-free. Matrix Food For Soft Multi-Use Hair Oil Serum and Kérastase Elixir Ultime L’Huile Original Hair Oil are two great options that we can’t get enough of.

Good hair day by @denisesuzanne_.

Step 8: Finish the look

There are so many different ways to style pin curls, and it’s hard to go wrong with any of them. For a classic vintage look, you’ll want to brush out your curls using a soft bristle brush—this will give you that Old Hollywood aesthetic of the 1940s and 1950s. Grab a flexible-hold hairspray, like Redken Brushable Hairspray, and add a few spritzes to your bristle brush before combing through your curls. This will help tame any flyaways and give shape and hold to your retro style.

Brush your locks gently against your hand, alternating between brushing on the inside and outside of your curls. Classic vintage pin curls should tuck inward slightly at the bottom. To achieve this effect, place your hand on the outside of your curls and brush from the inside, twisting the brush inward so that it curls under after repeating the motion a few times. Finally, once you’re happy with the final look, spray a strong-hold finishing spray to seal in the look—we recommend Biolage Professional Freeze Fix Humidity-Resistant Hairspray.

If a 1920s flapper-inspired ‘do is more your vibe, you can also try styling sleek, flat pin curls. This look is similar to finger waves and looks especially flattering on short pixies and bobs. To get this style, follow all the same steps as above but, instead of brushing out your curls, leave them tight and flat against your head. You’ll need a strong-hold gel, like L’Oréal Professionnel Controller Gel, to really ace this flapper girl look.

Next Up: 25 Best 1920s Hairstyles That Still Work in 2024

Header photo credit: @hairbyhollyhayesx

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