Perfecting the retro wave is one of the rights of passage in this lifestyle. Most all other accessories may fall to the wayside in favor of a good pin curl to make any ensemble look clean and classic. Once you have the basics of the pin curl down the style is really up to your imagination–down, up-swept, victory curls, head scarf, hat, loose, tight, etc. The real structure lies in a clean curling pattern and a good haircut.
One of the most popular cuts that defines the era is the Middy. It is a U-shaped layered cut that falls at the shoulders and feathers to frame the face. This is the iconic housewife style (Elizebeth Taylor had this hair and was worn longer by Jayne Mansfield). The shorter version of this is called the Baby and was famously sported by Marilyn Monroe. Women also took care to have perfectly U-shaped bangs (Betty Page), short bobs which were also pin curled, and pixie cuts (know as The Gamine Look worn by Audrey Hepburn). The Pageboy is another cut worn by Grace Kelly. The Bouffant was also worn by Sophia Loren and is also a short style.
False hair was popular for up-do’s as were hats and headscarves. Hair was typically styled around a hat so the hat would not be removed all day until they day was done.
Common up-dos of the day were the Victory Rolls, French twist (still popular today–with and without a bouffant), The Poodle (a style and cut famously worn by Lucile Ball), and ornately pinning curls into place up and out of the face.
Hats included turbans, lampshade hats, small-brimmed cartwheels, French berets, Kentucky derbies, the derby bowler, cloche, pillbox, bumper, halo, Capulet, snood, and calot; to name a few popular styles.
Traditionally pin curls were pinned into place with damp hair using the infamous Lottabody setting lotion. A wetset with this setting lotion is said to hold the strongest curls. Each section is dampened with a mixture of Lottabody and water (according to the instructions) and the carefully twisted around two fingers from tip to root and pinned into place with special pin curl clips that are designed to leave no creases like a bobby pin would. These are done in varying directions depending on the pattern for the desired style. Many modern ladies will use other lotions such as Motions (like myself) which can be used on damp or dry hair for a hot set (with an iron or steam rollers). Famous modern day burlesque dancer Dita Von Tease uses a hot steam roller set for her perfect Pageboy hair cut.
The brush out is known to be not only one of the most important steps but also the most difficult. Once your curls are set and taken down you must brush through all your hard work which can seem counter intuitive to many new to pin curls but this allows you to mold the hair into your desired style. Be patient and take your time, section by section and brushing the hair over your hand in the correct direction and spraying it in place. For a nice wave that frames the face you can use finger wave clips to hold the hair where you want it and blast it with a little heat from a blow dryer and spray it in place. Many styles are designed for a deep side part but a middle part can be worn in some cases.
There are hundreds of pin curl specific tutorials you can find on youtube. Practice makes perfect and once you get the hang of the brush out and begin to feel more comfortable with your skills you will find yourself effortlessly creating a vintage look that comfortably works perfectly for you.