A week with my first permanent wave

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Instagram may know that last Friday, I got my first perm!

Many of you who regularly set your hair for vintage hairstyles have read about getting a permanent wave, or have even gotten one yourself. I think the first time I read about someone getting a perm in order to help vintage sets hold was Fleur de Guerre, a few years ago.

Those of you who aren’t familiar with vintage hair in conjunction with perms might be thinking it’s 1985 all over again but fear not. It’s more like 1942 all over again!

sears-spring1942-perms{Source: Sears Catalog, Spring 1942}

So I finally got around to getting a permanent wave! The amusing thing is that it must have seemed so obvious for me to get a perm that when my stylist, Angelica (who knows all about vintage hair) was putting in the perm rods, she actually thought she’d given me a perm before! Angelica is awesome, and is the owner of Tigerlilie Salon in Chicago. (She does great pomps too—Mel and I have both been going to her for years.)

I wanted to get a perm to see how it would help out my hair setting process. Well not the process itself, but the outcome. That’s the thing, a perm isn’t meant to replace the setting process, but to help your sets last. Now I wasn’t sure how that would actually work for my hair… and it’s not been long enough for me to fully report back either, but I’ve documented my first week with the perm.

You’ll now see a whole lot of unflattering photos of me! This is what happens when you take photos a bunch of different days but don’t actually bother to check any of them until it’s too late. Oops.

My hair is pretty fine but there’s a decent amount of it. It has a very faint natural wave but a really wimpy one that brushes out almost instantaneously, and I have pretty much no natural volume to speak of. When I went in on Friday I hadn’t washed my hair in two days and had not set it nor put any products in it. Here’s what I looked like going to the salon:


Here’s the perm rods in my hair at the salon. Great look, right? Maybe I should start going around like this every day…


Keep in mind that my hair is color-treated. I used to dye it black using permanent dye, and it had been semi-permanent dyed since that point. I had pretty crazy roots (and grays) to begin with, and knew that the chemicals from the perm would strip out some of the color. It didn’t pull out any of the permanent black but pretty much all of the semi-permanent dye, so my hair is a bit more two-toned right now and will be for awhile as I grow out the dye. So in some of the following photos you may notice how much lighter the hair towards my scalp is. (My natural color is kind of a medium brown.)

So here’s the result later that night! A permanent wave, and a good bit more volume, especially on top. This was blown dry slightly by my stylist, then left to air dry. The photos were taken several hours after I left the salon.


But of course, remember wearing my hair “normal” wasn’t really the ultimate goal. You can’t wash or set your hair for a couple of days after, so this is what my hair looked like for the whole weekend. By Monday, I could wash my hair. Part of me felt like my hair was going to go completely back to normal after the shower but nope! Here’s my hair straight out of the shower.


I let it mostly dry as I normally do and then set it exactly the same way I normally do (see my everyday roller set post). I expected the results would look pretty much exactly the same as normal, and they did. These photos below were taken in the evening, and I’d taken out my rollers that morning. A pretty typical look for me, you’ll probably agree.


Those photos above were taken Tuesday evening. I didn’t set my hair back in rollers that night, and the following morning my hair looked pretty much the same but messier and with a few droopier curls. So of course I had to brush through it, which did destroy some of the curl. I was left thinking I’d probably still need to put rollers back in every night if I wanted optimal results. I was hoping to avoid that, but an interesting thing happened the following day.

To see what would happen after night two of sleeping on my hair as-is, I didn’t put in rollers Wednesday night, either. And here’s my hair Thursday afternoon. I brushed it Thursday morning again as normal, put in combs for several hours, but then later took the combs out and brushed it again before taking these photos.


So this is technically Day 3 on a roller set, without putting in rollers again.

In these last two photos you can really see the hair color difference between the dye that didn’t lift and my natural hair. Eventually it won’t look so jacked up, but give me some time. 😉


Yes, that may not be the most amazing looking hair, but I think it’s presentable for a casual vintage look considering it’s day 3 of rollers. It’s definitely not completely curl-free like my hair would normally be by this point if I’d slept 2 nights without putting rollers back in. (At this point my hair would only have retained some body or volume from a set, but probably no real wave to speak of.) You can even can still see remnants of the original style a bit, even though there’s some seriously wonky bits that developed a mind of their own. But not half bad, huh?

A few general thoughts:

  • It’s not your final style (well, unless that’s your goal). It’s more like a good base for your sets. I used sponge rollers like I do most of the time, but I’m curious the difference in results with other types of rollers, including Hot Sticks.
  • I used no styling products in my hair when setting it or brushing it out to see how my hair would perform compared to pre-perm. It’s possible that if I’d used some frizz-reducing serum or something that I might have been able to get away with not brushing out my hair on morning 2 of the set, but it seems like kind of a long shot for me. I’ll have to experiment.
  • For me, it didn’t drastically change the texture of my hair, but keep in mind my hair has always been pretty resilient to chemical processes. However there’s a noticeable difference in how my hair feels when wet, I can really tell it’s wavy now!
  • If you color your hair, be prepared it’ll pull out some of the dye. You won’t want to color it soon before the perm, and you may want to stick to ammonia-free dyes after.

So that’s the first week of my first permanent wave. If you were contemplating getting a perm to help your vintage sets, I’d definitely say it’s something worth trying out! I’m really looking forward to experimenting more and finding out how my perm helps my hair perform in wind and humidity, two big factors where I live. Expect more on the perm front from me in the future!


Filed: Vintage Dibs and Dabs

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Golly, 26 Comments!

  • I think your hair looks great in every single picture! I think you could go without setting it at all for a casual, wavy look. It’s not retro looking like the set, but it’s still really pretty. For the record, I don’t think your color looks jacked up.


  • I went to get a perm too – since my hair is notoriously hard to curl. But its also bright red! The perm was a total no-go – my hair went all elastic and weird. Did a test first of course!
    So anyone who uses more than 20vol developer in their colour, I don’t think its gonna happen for them!

    Your hair looks awesome though – it will save you a bit of time and also comfort from not having to sleep in rollers so often 😀


    • Ooh sorry it didn’t work out, but great you tested first. I remember that elastic issue waaaaay back in the day of failed hair experiments gone by. 😉


  • Your first set after perm was so beautiful!!! You can truly tell the body that it gave your hair. There are tons of color lines that are permanent which are ammonia/peroxide free (still with 100% grey coverage). I think the biggest thing is to make sure that you use sulfate free shampoo! The sulfates will pull the perm and color out fast.

    Looks great!!! I do perms all the time in the salon, just “body waves” for my surfer girls.


    • I forgot to mention I want to convert to semi-permanent dye since I’m going back towards my normal color (well the eventual goal, just to cover the gray, lol). Great tip about the sulfate-free shampoo, I’ll be sure to switch this out!!


      • Looks marvelous! I’ve been thinking about perms for a bit, but worried about extra baby hairs and flyaway type situations. Glad to hear about your experience and think someday I’ll take the plunge. I’ll be interested to see if it holds up better in humidity…

        Re: demi-permnament hair dyes–I’ve been using demi-perm for about three or four years. They are spectacular for shine and, surprisingly, add a bit of body and moldability (if that makes sense) to my hair and wetsets in the first week or so after dyeing. However, demi-perm dye has made my hair STICK straight if I don’t wet set. I mean, people think I’ve completely flat ironed, dyed & cut my hair if I don’t wetset it. I previously had a pretty good amount of curl/bouncy waves (on regular permanent color treated hair). I believe it’s because the color coats the hair rather than lifting and depositing. You probably won’t have the exact same experience because of the wave, but thought I’d add my two cents anyway!


  • I think. It looks lovely – good for you for taking the plunge! In on my second perm now, and have found, after much experimentation, that I get the best results using hard plastic rollers that are kept in place with plastic pins and – and this is the key part – a hood hairdryer. I bought one new from amazon as I didn’t want to mess around with vintage electrics. I get the longest lasting curls when I use quite small (1/2″) rollers; these keep my curls looking lovely for almost a week!


  • Thanks so much for this post! I’m getting my hair permed on Wednesday next week. I have the straightest hair in the world that will not hold a curl, no matter what I do. Hoping the perm will give my hair some body and wave. Exciting!


  • You look great! I’ve been perming my hair for about 4 years now for vintage sets. I try to only wash my hair once a week, as it is very dry, and I only have to do one or two pin-curl sets within the week. The two things that help this? I switched to J.R. Liggett’s shampoo–it is an all-natural shampoo, and my hair has gone from super frizzy and requiring a ton of product to control it, to no conditioner needed, and very healthy. A bar shampoo was strange at first, but now I love it! Also, on the nights when I don’t re-set my hair, I wear a snood to bed. I put a couple of bobbie pins in to hold it, and it keeps my curls nice and tidy. They last much longer than before I did this. My husband calls it my lunch-lady look, but it is worth it in the morning!


  • So pretty!! I think it looks amazing and I can’t believe how nice the curl looks after day three with no re-set! I’d say that’s a success 🙂


  • I think we have very similar natural coloring. Including the greys lol
    It looks really good though!


  • Looks pretty great, I’ll say! I didn’t realise your hair was so straight usually, so YAY for it working, and yep, a casual vintage look (without the rollers everyday) is the pay off!

    I’m usually pin curling mine once a week, and I leave it for the week without washing, but the last few days I kinda bun-it or don’t go vintage-y those days. I’m more into modern style vintage at the moment because of Mama Lyf! I’d be interested in a perm one day, but as I’m borderline platinum it’s a no go area. My hair would burn off apparently!


  • Very interesting post! Your hair is so much like mine except mine is naturally darker, but I have more greys. I’ve been dyeing mine for about the last 2 1/2 years and its frustrating because it is so dry now. My texture is like yours: fine, but with a wave, but not enough to really do much with! Anyway, I think all these pictures are actually really good – not unflattering at all. My favorite is the fourth set of two down, where you have on the yellow sweater. It looks terrific! I’m so afraid to perm though, because of how dried out my hair is already just from dyeing.


  • Yay thank you so much for posting this! I had a wave perm several years ago- way before I ever set my hair, I did it to give my hair some body. It worked, but it also fried the crap out if my hair. My hair is pretty resilient too (used to bleach it every other weekend ha), but I dunno- that perm just made it unhappy. So that’s part of the reason I’m hesitant to try it again, although I’m sure there have been some advances in what chemicals they use in the past 10 years. Is be interested to see what your curls look like without being set- they look like ~beachy waves~ right now haha. Anyway, awesome post and info!


  • oh how I remember those home perms my mom tried on me, with all the pink curlers and papers twisted throughout my hair. I can still remember the smell and the scalp burning in a couple of spots. For what ever reason my perm would only last a couple of days and if I made the mistake of using a full bristle brush, well let’s just say I looked like I had stuck my finger in a light socket and the voltage made my hair friz out and stand up.


  • You can tell it has much more curl and hold to it after you had it done – beats curling it everyday!



  • Oh! I love it! As someone who was born curly , I’ve only recently started to appreciate my curls now that It’s starting to go straight on me lol! Having a vintage style really lends itself to curly hair and your’s looks fab with a perm! So pretty!


  • I really Am against perms haha, as a Hairstylist i know how it damages hair, but I find cool that it hasnt on you , pffiou ! It could have been really spores, you do have résistant hair 😉


  • What a lovely site, yes you should wear the permrods more often. I hope more woman will dare to get perms again.


  • Hi! How wonderful to come across your info! I’ve been discussing exactly this with my hairdresser/friend recently (perm to make curl set last) From what you describe, my hair is similar. Fine but lots of it. Won’t hold curl to beat the band. Though I’ve had perms before and then the perm itself lasts forever. WEird huh? Anyway. I was wondering what kind of perm you got? Was it a straight/regular or a spiral? We were thinking of doing a spiral even though a regular would be closer to pin curls. Just like the look better if not set. Do you know what kind they did for you?
    Also, I would like to say thank you for your tutorials as they are some of the best explained I’ve seen around. Very thorough! Thanks for taking the time to share this with everyone! Greatly appreciated.


    • Hi Bonnie, thanks! I’m really not sure which type of perm I had– I may have remembered at the time, but that was several months ago at this point so if I did know, I no longer recall. 🙂


  • Thank you for this! I googled “vintage style hair permanents” and your post here came up. It’s really helpful! I NEVER style my hair… unfortunately, because hair is pretty much the most important way to achieve a “vintage” look. I didn’t know exactly what a perm would do, but I thought perhaps it was like a long-lasting wave. I didn’t realize you still have to set your hair each day (which I’ve never done). I know more now, but I’ll still consider getting a perm one of these days…


  • Hello Tasha, I’m a fading auburn with fine wavy hair. Perms always make my hair feel so soft and keeps the shape so much better. Also they lift the crown area which is a definite plus for me; also softening my jowly jawline. All the styles suited you and I especially liked your bob haircut.


  • Urs looks amazing! I just got one last night I’m a little worried it’s kinda dry and more kinky then I wanted it how was urs when u first got it


  • I am dying of the stench! How long will it stink?!?


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