Two years ago I did a long tutorial on a sponge/foam roller set, and it continues to be one of my most popular posts. It’s time for an update, I think! So today I’m going to show you my fast and basic daily roller set for everyday vintage hair, and how I brush it out.
While I try other techniques, setting patterns, methods and products now and again, this is my tried and true. I go for casual curls, an everyday look you might see in vintage catalogs or photos. Remember Solanah’s post on 1943 yearbook hair inspiration? That’s just what I aim for: casual vintage hair. Not special occasion hair, but everyday hair.
But I aim to do it fast. People are sometimes surprised at how little time I spend on my hair. While I like having a vintage hairstyle, I’m just not interested in spending a lot of time on it. (And vintage or not, that’s always been the case.) On freshly washed hair it takes me about 10 to 12 minutes to set it. On previously-set hair any other day (i.e. “next day hair” that’s still holding a curl), about 6 or 7 minutes. A few minutes to brush out in the morning and that’s it. If it took longer, I probably wouldn’t do it. Seriously.
This is truly a tutorial for the everyday vintage girl who doesn’t want to (or doesn’t have time to) spend a lot of time on her hair, but wants something relaxed and casual she can do any day. So let’s get to it!
- sponge/foam rollers, about 1″ in diameter for the length of your hair… you can use rag rollers, perm rods, pillow rollers, bendy stick rollers or any other type and still follow this tutorial! (And hey, if you like the result of sponge rollers but they bother you to sleep in, check out Fiona’s brilliant roller hack, that’s a cross between sponge rollers and rag rollers!)
- duckbill clips (optional)
- Lottabody setting lotion or Motions Foam Wrap Lotion (I tend to change this up about once a season)
- a frizz control serum, cream and/or pomade (whatever you find works for you on damp hair and dry hair after brushing out)
- a spray bottle of water
I slowly whittled away the number of rollers I use over time, until I discovered the minimum number that still gets me good results: 8 or 9, not including whatever I do with my bangs. Lately I’ve added a couple back in, so I hover around 11 currently for collarbone-length hair. If I want more volume in the back or on the light side of my part, I add more. The more rollers you use the longer it takes, naturally, so feel free to use more or less and play around until you get a number that works for you.
The rollers I use for my whole head are about 1″ in diameter. The rollers I use for my bangs are 3/4″.
- Use setting lotion! I use Lottabody in a small spray bottle (about 3 parts Lottaboddy to 1 part water) or Motions Foam Wrap lotion (which is a foam you pump out). I know some people like Layrite Grooming Spray which I keep meaning to try, but vintage hair expert Lauren Rennells updated a post last year saying it now smells more like a man’s product, so I’m less inclined to bother to try it.
- Like in a pin curl set, if you’re going for a 1930s or 1940s look, don’t place the rollers at the back of your head higher than just above the top of your ears. If you want a tighter 50s ‘do or just more of a full head of big, bouncy curls, higher is fine. But the goal for most earlier styles is a flat crown, so if that’s your goal, don’t roll too high up your head.
- Apply setting lotion to each individual section of hair as you set it, not your whole head before you do it. It’ll dry too fast.
- You can comb each section through as you roll it, but it’s faster to just use your fingers. I have noticed no difference in results. If you have naturally very curly or wavy hair though, you might need to use a comb.
- If you use sponge rollers and they get dented in the middle over time, just run them under water and squeeze out the excess. When they dry, they’ll be back to normal.
- Don’t set your head straight out of the shower unless you are planning 12+ hours in your rollers. It takes much longer for hair to dry in rollers than normally. If you shower before bed and set your hair right away, your hair won’t be dry enough to take out your rollers when you wake up. This is a wet set, but you really want damp, not wet. (Unless you have a cool vintage hood dryer!)
- If your hair dries before you get a chance to set it, give it several spritzes with a spray bottle of water to dampen it.
- Don’t use rollers that are too big. You will not get curls, you’ll get waves or just body. Likewise don’t use teensy ones unless you’re going for a poodle ‘do.
The Setting Process
After I wash my hair, I use a little bit of Layrite pomade and/or Frizz Ease in my damp hair… if I remember. How’s that for honesty? When it’s still wet I part my hair how I want to set it, then I go about my day or evening until I’m ready to put in my rollers.
(Please pardon the fact that I’m growing out the black dye and going back to close to my natural medium brown. I currently have a lot of roots and grays but haven’t gotten a touch up since I might be getting a perm soon, which will strip out some of the dye anyway. Moving right along now that the pardons are out of the way…)
I start by fixing my bangs, which are about chin length. (Should I even bother calling them bangs at this point, isn’t it just a long layer? But I digress again.)
I have the rest of my hair clipped back just so it’s easier for you to see. I don’t bother clipping my hair back at any point during the setting process as it slows things down. We’re going for speedy, remember?
I use three small rollers, rolled away from my part. My goal here is a small forward roll with them, but I can also backcomb them a bit and get the hair to go backwards if I want (I did for this updo). Sometimes if I know I want to do something different with my bangs, I do a series of standing pin curls that alternate rows facing towards and away from my part, but those don’t fall into the quick-roller-set category today, so you’re seeing what I normally do.
I start with a small section of my bangs closest to the part, spraying it with setting lotion. Then I run my hands along the section of hair to make sure the setting lotion covers it. Again, you could use a comb, but it’s faster this way.
By the way, you may notice this is the part of the tutorial where it switches to “watch my dog watch me in the mirror.”
I roll up that section to the base of my head, while holding the hair at a 90° angle to my head (i.e. straight up).
And then do the second and third rollers the same way. If I didn’t have bangs, or this section was much longer, I’d use one or two 1-inch rollers going either backwards or forwards to give my roots more lift… my hair doesn’t have a lot of body naturally.
(By the way, it’s using small rollers like this that allowed me to successfully grow out Bettie Page style bangs twice. I used 4 half-inch rollers and just brushed it into a little curl fluff and called it my 1959 Barbie bangs.)
Then I move to the heavy side of my part, on the side of my head in front of my ears. Again, the rest is clipped back here only so you can see what I’m doing.
I use two rollers above my ear, rolling to the base of my head (but not so tight it pinches). I start at the top and work my way down because it’s faster than starting at the bottom, clipping up layers of hair and unclipping them to do the next layer. Again, going for speed here.
For each section I roll, I spray with setting lotion. To keep it from spraying everywhere, I kind of cup the hair in my hand, and spritz it 3-4 times down the length of the hair. Then I run my hands along that hair to get the setting lotion all over. If you use Motions Foam, you’d just pump some into your hand and run it along the section of hair.
The way I set my hair, the majority of the rollers are placed off base, meaning they are held at a 45° angle to the head in the direction rolled. This results in less fullness higher up your head, which is usually what I’m going for with my everyday style.
However, I personally like the heavier side of my part to be fairly full, so the two rollers at the front I place half off base, which is held at a 90° angle to the head.
Here’s an example of the difference between these rolling styles:
So this is how I roll the heavier side of my part in front of my ears.
The roller below it goes in the same way. Every other roller after this I place off base, so I won’t bother mentioning it again. Experiment and see what you like! This is actually inspiring me to try a set with half off base rollers and see what happens.
Next, I make a section just next to the front. This section will get 3 rollers, with the topmost one just above the top of my ear, but not higher.
You can see how the rollers are placed, below.
Before moving to the other side of my head, I turn the bar of the top front roller down towards my head and insert a duckbill clip to keep it there. That helps prevent a dent from forming and you can’t even feel it when you sleep. I used to do that on every top roller but lately have only bothered with the sides. You can do it or not do it as you like.
Here’s a tip: I sometimes like a little wave at the front side of my head on the heavy side of my part, so I tilt the top roller down a bit. If you do that, make sure when you put your scarf on to sleep that it’s still facing that way.
Then I move to the light side of my part and use one roller. I personally like this side with a little less curl, as I often tuck it behind my ear. But if you want both sides of your head to be more equal or if your part is less deep, you can use 2 or even 3 rollers. Sorry, this is the one bit I forgot to photograph! But you can see the one roller in the photos below.
Next is the hair beside that roller, which I separate into two or three rollers like I did on the other side of my part.
Then the front top roller (there’s only the one in front in my case) gets a duckbill clip, too.
What’s left is the center back. Again I use 2 or 3 rollers. On occasion when I get to this spot it seems extra wide, so instead of cramming all the hair into one vertical row, I’ll put in 2.
And those are all the rollers!
Last, I spray my whole head a few times with water.
Then I don a cotton scarf (it moves around less on my head than silk). I like to make sure my rollers aren’t all poking around in funny directions, so I push them down a bit when I put on the scarf.
Hey, can I talk about my PJs here for a sec? This was about the most exciting vintage find I’ve had in ages, a 1940s rayon pajama set and matching full-length quilted robe (which unfortunately ran quite a bit when I hand washed it so the colors are darker than the pajamas, but I almost never dry clean anything so it was an understood risk). I bought the set last year at a local antique mall for $25, in a booth I’ve had luck finding clothes in for literally 10 years. At the same time in the same booth, Liz found two wonderful vintage dresses at a reasonable price, too. I didn’t think the pajama pants would fit as the waistband looked too small but I tried them on anyway, and I was giddy to find out they did indeed fit. Oh happy day!
So back to hair. Well actually, it’s time for bed. (In boxers and a tank top, in the interest of full disclosure.)
Now for the next morning…
The brush out
Vintage hair is as much about the brush out as it is the set. Different techniques, lengths of brushing and the texture and length of your hair can lead to different results from the same setting pattern. But I’ll show you what I do, and how just a little bit of change can get you different looks, all easy and casual and perfect for everyday wear.
When I take my rollers out, I unwind them gently, and in no particular order. Don’t tug them out! I often hold the curl high up and twist the roller in a clockwise direction to free it.
When the rollers are out, it looks a little something like this.
Time to brush! I brush my bangs out a couple of times with long strokes. Looks really hilarious!
Because it gets in my way while I’m brushing the rest of my hair, I sometimes just loosely curl that lock of hair around my finger so it stays out of my way (though sometimes I like the result and I’ll just pin it to my head that way). If you don’t have bangs to contend with, you’d just be brushing everything out at this point.
Onto brushing the rest of my hair. I take one section at a time starting at the front right (personal preference), and brush from the base of my head down to the end, smoothing the hair in that section with my hand as I go. It goes kind of like: brush / hand stroke / brush / hand stroke.
I don’t brush my actual scalp much as my hair tends to end up greasy quickly when doing that with a bristle brush, so I usually lean my head out a little bit as I brush. (Just telling you since I didn’t do that taking these photos.)
I repeat that a few times with the same handful of hair, then I grab another handful of hair and do the same thing, just going around my head until I get to the other side.
Sometimes what you end up with is totally different on each side (especially if you have different amount of rollers on each side like I did). Keep going if you get weirdo results like this, it’s okay!
If you do find that you have a troublesome section, don’t smooth the hair down as you brush. Go over your whole head once or twice until you get something resembling clown hair, then just start back at it.
But if you want a fluffy and bouncy head of curls, you can stop when it’s starting to look something like this! Or, you know, somewhere between sleek and clown.
Then go back around and touch up as needed, smoothing the hair down slightly with a hand to tame it back into submission.
At this point you are just going to have to learn how your hair reacts and what you want it to do! This is what my hair does… and your hair won’t be the same.
Once I get my hair about how I’d like it, I do my front roll. If you aren’t doing one you can obviously ignore this step. I brush this section of hair out again, then starting at the end and keeping the hair fairly taut as I go, roll it into essentially a large sculpture pin curl. I roll it tightly to the base of my head.
(Sometimes I actually remember to put a little pomade on it beforehand. Not here, so it’s a bit fuzzy.)
Then I insert a bobby pin in both ends to anchor it to my head.
And now I have a happy little roll!
It takes me less than 5 minutes to brush out and fully style my hair in the morning, but keep in mind I’ve been doing this for years. It will take you longer at first, but the more you do it, the more adept you’ll get and the faster you’ll be at it. You’ll always have occasional days where your hair acts like absolute crap, and those are great days to hide problem areas with hair flowers, headbands, scarves, hats and the like.
What I showed here is a somewhat sleek style, with most of the curl brushed down towards the lower half of the length of my hair, and smoothed a lot with my hand as I went along. (If I were stopping here, I’d usually add a little pomade or frizz cream, use some hairspray and go about my day.)
Your results will vary, of course. It depends on how tight your curls turn out vs. how loose you want them to be, how thick or fine your hair is (mine is pretty fine), how long it is, etc. In the summer I tend to brush my hair out more thoroughly as I know it’s going to drop more during the day, since humidity is a curl’s worst enemy. Also if you’re new to hair setting, it’s worth noting that the way it looks when you finish brushing and the way it looks even 15 minutes later when things start to settle into place can be a little different.
Oh, remember how I said you can try and work a little wave into your hair if you angle the top side roller down? Check it out after a little more brushing, where I used the brush to angle the hair forwards a bit and then back towards my ear once I hit the curly bottom:
That wave is much more pronounced in the way I styled my hair in this post.
Now, if you want a looser style, are planning victory rolls or intend to pull back sections away from your face with combs or barrettes, you may opt to skip smoothing your hair down with your hand as you brush, and just brush through your hair freely.
For instance, below I brushed my hair until it was getting closer to clown-hair, and then pulled the side back with a comb and a hair flower, and you can see the curls are more fluffy and full:
You could also brush and run your fingers through the curls a bit for a looser look, then pull it back on either side with a comb (Grip Tuth is the only brand that works in my fine hair). That’s how I styled it below:
Or maybe use a wide ribbon as a headband to pull it away from your face a bit:
There’s lots of possibilities with this set! Of course, you can use it for fancier styles and updos, but this tutorial was about fast and easy. About 10 minutes a night with practice, and a few minutes to brush out in the morning.
Re-setting on 2nd days and more…
Just some info on what I do later that night. If I set my hair fresh the day before, I can go one night sleeping on my curls and have a similar-but-longer-and-wavier version the next day, but that’s it. And in summer, I can often only get very loose waves the next day. You’ll quickly learn what your hair will and won’t do! When I’m not being lazy, I just re-set my hair that night and each night thereafter until I need to wash my hair.
To re-set my hair I use the same setting pattern, but I dip my fingers in a small bowl of water and run it over the section I’m rolling to very slightly dampen it, then roll it, without using more setting lotion. (Some days I just use the spray bottle with water again, but don’t get it so wet that you lose the curl.) The rolling is really easy as the ends of the hair just spring back into position on the roller, so it goes much faster than a fresh wet set!
When I’m done I give my head several spritzes with water, then I wrap it in a scarf. The next morning’s brush out follows the same routine as the night before. And I simply repeat that process until I need to wash my hair again. I find that just before my hair gets gross enough to wash, I can do fun and slightly more sleek styles than my usual casual curls.
And that’s it! A fast way to vintage curls using rollers, from an everday vintage gal who’s spent a lot of time over the years figuring out how to spend the least amount of time possible on her hair!