hair thursday makeover 20

The Retro Glamour Edition!

The lovely May wrote me months ago expressing her love for this hairstyle.


From her email:

“I don’t think my hair needs drastic cutting. But for the life of me, I have no idea how to get it to do what I want. Right now I do nothing to it. It’s naturally blond, it’s fine but there’s a lot of it, and it’s stick straight.

Can you suggest something that won’t make me lose much length but will help me look red-carpet fabulous? I need product recommendations and help. I’ve always wanted to look like a movie star of yore, sort of celluloid glamorous.”

May’s hair:


I must admit, I became overly excited at the prospect of such a style for May. To me, she just emulates that old school look. (Red lips! Be sure to wear the perfect red lipstick!) So, I did a lot of research – finding ways to get the pin curl/finger wave look without the all of the hassle.

First off, I found this link, which lured me into the greatest time suck continuum of my life. Oh my god, I could look at these hairstyles all day. Roller sets? Photo tutorials of rolls? Get out of here! (I’ve also been catching up on the first season of Mad Men, which is just fueling this 50’s obsession I’ve got going on.)

That website is just chock full of tutorials on how to get the retro glamour look, but let’s be frank, those hairstyles take a LOT of time and effort. Right?

Well, then I came across this link, which described a more modern take. But to me, that photo doesn’t have the detailed wave pattern in the front that really completes the look.

So, I’m going to recommend mixing the two tutorials and meeting in the middle. This should achieve May’s desired look without actually placing pin curls all over her head and taking 1,200 hours.

WWWD (what Whoorl would do) for pin curls/finger waves/50’s hair:

1. Wash and towel dry hair.

2. Apply a setting lotion or wave enhancer all over. I recommend Frederic Fekkai Wave Creating Spray, it works really well on damp hair and smells great. (I use it with the curling iron.)

3. Going from ear to ear (up and around the head), section off the front 1-2 inches of hair and twist in a clip.

4. Blow dry the remaining hair while brushing with a GOOD boar bristle brush (to close the cuticle).

5. Curl the dried hair with a 1 to 1 1/2-inch ceramic curling iron, wrapping the hair around the barrel like so:


6. Continue curling. Voila, three-quarters of your hair is done. Now, loosely pull the curled hair into a band to get it out of the way.

7. Now, we’re going to finger wave the front to give that specific retro look. Pull the front hair out of the clip, making sure it is barely damp – not too wet, not too dry. The old-fashioned way is detailed here (ohmygodwhat?) OR you can buy some hair clamps at the local beauty supply store, and place those clamps horizontally like this or this and allow the hair to dry/set OR (this one is the easiest, fastest and of course, most expensive!) buy one of these.

Any of these options will work, depending on how much time you are willing to spend. (Me? If this were a hairstyle I was planning to create multiple times, I would buy the triple-barreled iron. Only special occasions? I would use the clamps.)

If you go with the three-barreled iron route, start towards the top of the hair, and work your way down, starting where the previous curl ends in order to keep the waves symmetrical. In fact, if you buy the curling iron, you can use it for the entire head of hair. (Thus rendering my detailed, step-by-step instructions completely useless. Am crying.)

Okay, then! Am I forgetting anything? What about you sessy ladies? Do you have any tips for May regarding a retro look? Do tell!

  1. Liz

    February 1, 2008 at 1:48 pm

    Omigod, I have a new obsession. If any of you lovely ladies out there are able to do this at home, have your hubby or roomie take step by step pictures!

  2. Amanda Strong

    February 1, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    Do not wash your hair before curling.

    May’s hair looks slippery and soft which is lovely to run one’s fingers through but not lovely when trying to set a style.

    All the tips are great, but you need at least a days worth of “dirt” to help a style hold.

  3. Moose in the Kitchen

    February 1, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    I love the vintage/retro look. (When I’m not being lazy, which is, um, most of the time. Actually, I prefer “indolent” to “lazy.”) I don’t have much in the way of hair advice because my hair always looks like it was styled with a blow torch and a weed whacker. (Heresy!)

    But a good way to get those super red lips is careful liner application over lips with some gloss or lip balm already applied. Fill in the liner with a lip brush and red, red lipstick. Then blot. (I originally typed “Then blog.” Awesome.) If you don’t have much kissing to do, apply another layer of lipstick, just with the tube. Or if there’s going to be mad smooching action or a lot of martinis in your future, cover the blotted lipstick with some berry gloss.

    Goes well with a nice black vintage dress and that awesome hair. (Problem with those vintage dresses is they tend to smell like your grandma’s attic – namely, eau de squirrel.)

  4. Spandrel Studios

    February 1, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    For an old Hollywood, glamorous red, I highly recommend Lipstick Queen’s Rouge Sinner.

    You can order it from Barneys, but beware that the packaging is totally ridiculous.

  5. Carla Hinkle

    February 1, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Seriously, flax seed oil is the new wonder drug. Staves off depression! Reduces cholesterol! Makes a fabulous setting lotion when boiled!

    I do love that retro glam look but can’t imagine doing the work to achieve it. Even the low(er) effort version. But it would look great on May.

  6. Miguelina

    February 1, 2008 at 5:46 pm

    I use conair hot rollers – I find them easier to work with than a curling iron:


    It only takes a couple of minutes (there’s a little indicator that tells you when they’re done.) As a nice bonus, I feel like a fifties glamour queen when I wear them as I put on makeup .. I think May might like that!

  7. Her Bad Mother

    February 1, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Oh, my god, what I wouldn’t give to have my hair fall in lovely, Veronica Lake swoops and curls.

    And to wear red lipstick. Well, to have a reason to wear red lipstick. SIGH.

  8. May Vanderbilt

    February 2, 2008 at 3:24 pm

    Sarah! I owe you my first born, only I don’t have a first born and I suspect another wee babe around the house is the last thing you need.

    THANK YOU or perhaps in the spirit of this post, Bully for you, kid.

    I’m getting married very soon and I’m so sick of my boring old hair. I’m thinking I’m going to get the Frederic Fekkai product and arm myself with the triple-barrel shotgun – I mean curling iron – and go for it.

    My fiance is a HUGE fan of film noir and he’s always saying, Could you get your hair to do that? It’s cool.

    We shall see indeed. And good call on the red lips. And thanks to Amanda on the “dirt” tip. You’re very right, my dear. My hair is slick!

  9. Amanda

    February 4, 2008 at 7:15 am

    May, you have beautiful hair and I think you’ll look stunning with those glamorous waves. For my wedding I had my hair pulled into a low bun with slick finger waves in front. Just to warn you, it took the stylist FOREVAH. Lots of product, lots of pins, lots of this long scary really really hot hair iron thingy that I’d never seen before. But anycrap, I think for daily hair you could totally get the same effect using Miss Whoorl’s curling iron technique, OR hot rollers (and pin the curls into finger waves while they are cooling). The triple barrel thing is boffo but would that give you the same effect? Dunno. You gotta find those special wave pin clip things. They are looong and look like a bird’s beak. I hope you’ll show us your fab hair!

  10. Leah

    February 6, 2008 at 3:02 pm

    Yay! May and I have the same hair! I’m going to pretend you wrote this entry just for me!

    Triple-barrel iron? That’s life-changing.

  11. Sara

    May 22, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Ladies, here’s something I’ve tryed that really works for some fabulous waves.
    When your hair is just barely damp work a little bit of styling gell all through the hair evenly, or just comb through.
    Next take a few or several hair clips, and either section off the hair or just do it randomly all over your head for a more natural look. It gives LOTS of body. Gather up a section of hair (after runnig a comb through the section)then twist the section of hair to the full length of the hair and clip it up to the hair on your scalp. You can use a blow dryer for faster results, or simply let it air dry.Using the gell might take a little longer to dry without the aid of a blow dryer.
    When dry remove the hair clips, and work your fingers through each section of hair. Next tossle with your fingers and your done. Use hair spray at will. IF your waves are too tight or too wild for your taste, just use a few drops of water to relax the hair. I have baby fine, straight hair like May and this seems to work like a charm. I hope this tip helps someone else out.