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The Power of Pin Curls

by Rose Leffler 3 months ago in hair

My love-hate relationship with my favorite style.

A rare successful attempt at pin curls.

By pure julia on Unsplash

Everyone knows her. Marilyn Monroe is an icon, a standard of beauty from a bygone era. Today’s Instagram-worthy high pony tails and long waves have never appealed to me like the glamorous coiffures of the last century. Not because I don’t like them; I just don’t think I have the face for them. On the other hand, anyone could wear this style well, and ladies of the era were rarely seen without it. If you haven’t guessed yet, I’m talking about pin curls: my absolute favorite way to wear my hair.

Okay. My favorite way to wear my hair sometimes. Pin curls are a huge hassle to set for a few reasons, even if you’re cheating with foam rollers and a curling iron:

1. My hair has to be completely dry when I put the set in before bed. If it’s even remotely damp, all my hard work will fall out in the morning. The solution: I might be able to salvage it with a curling iron, but only if I’m lucky.

2. It’s easy to mess the pattern up if you don’t sell your soul. Sometimes I follow a pattern meticulously until my arms get too tired (at which point I throw the pins in wherever) and the results are not ideal. Instead of waking up with Lauren Bacall waves, I wake up with mad-scientist-standing-directly-in-front-of-an explosion hair. The solution: give yourself enough time to set them, and make sure you have the patience. Pin curls tend to be a commitment.

3. They can be uncomfortable to sleep on, especially the foam rollers. Every once in a while I wake up to find a couple placed nicely on my nightstand. Thanks, sleepy self. The solution: keep them in place with a headscarf.

Though it varies, my routine goes something like this:

1. I wash my hair. I’d probably have more success more often if I didn’t start by washing my hair, but it’s compulsive. I have to. I don’t like not washing my hair. However, the curls are more likely to stay in hair that hasn’t been washed in a day or so.

2. I either blow my hair dry or wait for it to dry on its own.

3. I slather my hair with product. I can rarely use too much.

4. I choose a pattern based on whether I’m more of a Rita Hayworth or Ava Gardner that day. You can find patterns you like online by Googling “pin curl patterns.”

5. I put in the curls, either by rolling them around my fingers/sometimes a curling iron and pinning them in place, or rolling them around foam rollers.

6. I go to sleep and hope for the best.

7. I brush them out in the morning! Brush until satisfied, and don’t be afraid to be aggressive. If you left your hair pinned overnight like I do, shaping it takes some time. Brushing against your palm can smooth out some of the frizz. Pin as needed.

I learned how to tie a headscarf and most of how to set my hair from vintage-inspired YouTuber Jessica Kellgren-Fozard. She posts detailed, easy-to-follow tutorials that even beginners can try. Practice does make perfect, and it’s important to find what works best for your own hair!

Rachel Maksy is my other go-to for vintage inspiration. I love that there’s a community of YouTubers who appreciate vintage fashion the way I do, maybe more than I do.

Think pin curls belonged only to soft-spoken housewives of the ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s? Think again. During World War II, women working in the factories kept their hair under headscarves during work and brushed them out when they left. That’s why Rosie the Riveter wears a bandana—gotta keep those badass curls in place!


I understand why pin curls went away: they’re complicated and they can take hours to get right. Using a curling iron is definitely more user-friendly, but I haven’t figured out how to make curls look the same way using only modern methods. There’s something magical about genuine pin curls, and maybe it’s the feeling you get when hard work pays off. And it doesn’t hurt that my boyfriend loves them too!

Rose Leffler
Rose Leffler
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