Pin curls were all the rage in the 1920s. Fast forward to the 2020s and many folks wouldn't be able to tell you what a pin curl is, let alone how to properly make one. This style of yore may not be common knowledge today, but it really is as simple as it sounds: a pinned curl.
Historically, flappers who favored a pin-curled 'do would saturate their strands with a setting lotion, and use their fingers to meticulously roll tiny 1-inch sections of hair into curls until the set covered their entire heads. Then they'd sit under a dryer to let the heat manipulate their tresses, and, once dried, would comb or brush it out for a very glamorous finish.
These days, with our busier than ever lives and our time being the most precious of commodities, pin curling your entire head of hair with your fingers and copious amounts of setting lotion isn't the most attractive approach. And while our trends and tastes for what's deemed glamorous have certainly evolved, pin curls have remained a foundational styling technique behind many coveted celeb-worn looks.
We tapped Utah-based hairstylist and salon owner Jessica Page to demonstrate how to create a pin-curl set that's both easy and compatible with styles that are more popular today (spoiler alert: curling irons are welcome).
Meet the Expert
Keep reading for a modern step-by-step guide to getting flapper-worthy pin curls.
Gather Your Supplies
Having your supplies at the ready can make your approach to a new hairstyle feel much more seamless. Here's what you want to have:
- Single- or double-prong curl clips
- Hair clips for sectioning
- Rat tail comb
- 1-inch curling iron
- Thermal protectant spray
- Boar bristle brush
- Bobby pins
Double-prong clips can hold more hair, making them a better option than single-prong clips when pin curling thicker hair types.
Apply Your Product and Create Your Sections
Page recommends starting with clean, dry hair for a more modern approach and finish. For a more classically styled pin curl set, you'd typically begin on wet hair and saturate the strands with a setting lotion, evenly distributing the product with a fine tooth comb. To save time and energy, we love Page's dry approach, which begins by spraying a thermal protectant all throughout the hair.
When creating pin curls, you always want to begin at the top of the head and work your way down. Page recommends three horizontal sections: top, middle, and bottom. Using the end of your rat tail comb can help you create clean lines to clip away the bottom and middle sections as you begin.
Create Your Pin Curls
Your first curl is going to be on that top section, right next to your parting. "Curl 1-inch or 1.5-inch sections," says Page (roughly the same size of the iron you're using), "pinning each curl close to the head." The smaller the curl, the tighter the waves.
Use your single- or double-prong clips to secure each pin curl in place. "Continue making curls in the same direction throughout the top section, so all curls are facing the same way." For more volume and more drama, over-direct your section before you curl it down towards the scalp and pin your curl standing up. You can lay your pin curls down flat, too, securing with a prong clip or bobby pin, to get a softer finish. Be sure to tuck your ends in.
Flat pin curls will give you a softer finish, whereas standing pin curls will give you more volume.
Continue Around the Head
Once your top section is finished and curled from one side of your parting to the other, make your way down in horizontal sections. (The number of sections you have will likely depend on how much hair you have.) The important thing to remember is that each time you level down a section, be sure to alternate the direction of your pin curls. Continue down the head until you've reached the bottom section, near the nape of your neck.
Finish Your Style
After your pin curls have been set, let them sit for at least 15-20 minutes so the hair has had time to cool into its new shape. Once the hair is cool, you can unravel your curls, and wear your style in a multitude of ways. For a classic, retro look, brush the hair out with your boar bristle brush, using a little hair spray on the brush to help tame frizz and lock in the new shape.
Or, as Page shows us here, you can pin your curls down flat to accentuate an easy-to-achieve, modern updo. No matter how you wear your style, you can't go wrong.