Pin Curls 101


pin curls 101 basic easy pin curl tutorial from va voom vintage

I did a pin curl basics tutorial but I know that people are still having trouble with them so I really wanted to break it down, take it slow and easy and give some hints and tricks that I've learned over the past few years of pin curling.

 Since not everyone has the same hair type I hope to get some helpers in the near future so I can show you guys how to deal with different lengths and textures.

Wet or Dry Hair?
Hair can be wet or dry when pin curling. Try out both methods on your hair and see which turns out the best. I prefer wet hair because it gives a tighter curl. When wetting your hair, it doesn't need to be completely drenched. Towel dried hair or hair spritzed with a water bottle works best for me. If its too wet, my sets are harder to brush out and end up kinda wild.

What is setting lotion, Where do I buy it and How do I use it?
Setting lotion doesn't look like "lotion" at all. It's a watery substance applied before setting your hair to help it hold its shape and provide a nice texture. Many vintage ladies use Lotta Body. It's very inexpensive and a bottle lasts forever! Unless the bottle says "ready to use",  using setting lotion straight from the bottle will result in crispy hair so it needs to be diluted. I fill a spray bottle half way with water and half with setting lotion. If that mixture seems too much for your hair, you can dilute it further.

Spray it all over your hair and comb it through. Again, it doesn't need to be dripping wet, just a good once over will do.

setting lotion to use for a pin curl set

Should I use bobby pins or pin curl clips? What's the Difference?
You can use pins or pronged clips, both work great! I prefer pins because they are more comfortable to sleep in. If I pin curl in the morning and style in the evening, I may use clips instead. I most often use clips when doing stand-up pin curls.

How big should my pin curl sections be?
It depends on your hair thickness and what you want your hair to look like when it's finished. If you want tight curls, use smaller sections. For loose curls or loose waves, use larger sections. For my pin curl sets, I  use a 1 to 2 inch square section of hair. Anything smaller results in tight clown-like hair and anything larger tends to not dry all the way because my hair takes an eternity to dry. Again, experiment with your hair and see what works for you. It may help to take notes of your trials so you remember what turned out nicely and what didn't.

How to pin curl
I've taken pictures of the process in my previous post but this time I thought a video would help so you can see the exact movements up close. It's important to not twist the hair as you roll it.  This is pretty quick....

Pin Curl Placement
This is a very important step in pin curling. The wrong placement may result in a hot mess. My golden rule of pin curling is, unless you're doing fancy rolls or fringe, try to keep all of your pin curls at or below ear level. Once I figured that out, I was in a whole new pin curl world. I wish someone would have told me this when I started! If you are doing a Lucy style poodle fringe, front or side rolls, of course, you will pin curl that section but unless you're aiming for a Clara Bow look (which I do love) keep the rest way down low. In this photo, you can see that I have curls above ear level on the front and sides but the back is at ear level.

If you're not following a specific diagram, think about which way you want your hair to curl when it's finished. For a pageboy, curl under. For a flip, curl up. For a lovely set of soft, fluffy 40's-50's style curls, try doing them randomly up, down, this side and that side. My daily pin curl set is always pretty random but if you keep those curls at or below ear level and use a medium sized section of hair, it should turn out pretty nice.

Here are some of my tutorials using specific sets:
Rita Hayworth Pin Curl Waves (has a very long video on the brush-out also)
Marilyn Monroe Pin Curl Set

How long does it take to dry?
If you have thick and very wet hair, it may take longer to dry than someone with shorter or thinner hair. Mine takes about 4 hours to fully dry if I do it on towel dried hair but I generally pin curl at night and brush out in the morning to early afternoon. If you roll your curls very tight or use large sections of hair, that may also add to drying time.

Why do my pin curls sets always look messy when I take the pins out?

A pin curl set isn't finished when the pins or clips are removed. It still needs to be brushed out. I use both a plastic vented brush and a boar bristle to do my brush outs. A brush with nylon and boar bristle like this one smoothes frizzies and brings out a lot of shine.  See the video to watch the brush-out in action. Brush outs are one of the most important parts of achieving a perfect pin curl set....and don't worry! If you pin curled on damp hair and its thoroughly dry, brushing out should not make you lose all of that curl. Please pardon my lack of makeup and pink fuzzy robe- it was early!

Why doesn't my hair look like the vintage diagrams?
Most of those old pin curl sets are written for a specific vintage hair cut and unless the wearer's hair is cut to those lengths, it probably won't turn out looking exactly like the picture. That's okay, though! You can still use those old diagrams and tailor the sets to suit your cut and you'll end up with something fantastic. As far as hair cuts go, I really do recommend getting a little layering if you plan to do authentic styles all the time. My hair was the same length when I first started pin curling and it always seemed bushy. Even if you don't want an authentic cut, a few layers makes all the difference in the world!

Before I end, I want to give a shout out to Tickey Boo Tupney, who posted a really fantasic pin curl set for long hair yesterday. I love her hair, it always looks so perfect and so authentic! 

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how to do pin curls


  1. It should be noted that the LottaBody in the pink bottle from Wal-Mart is already diluted. A big difference to those of us that need to have a more lotion than water ratio. I found that out the hard way when I bought the Wal-Mart version and used it on my hair and had a set fail. It's meant to be used straight out of the bottle which may not give some ladies a strong enough hold. The concentrated version is a much better investment for those that need to experiment to find the perfect ratio, but it also may not "last forever" depending on how much water you need, how long/thick your hair is, and how often you set it.

    1. Yes, the one with the purple lid says "original formula ready to use" and the frosted one says "concentrated formula" on the front of the bottle

    2. Thank you! I just bought some at 'Wally World' and didn't catch onto that either.

  2. Thanks so much for this Brittany! I will be following this next time I use pin curls - thank you!


  3. Great tutorial. This is one area I need some major practice in.

  4. Oh thank you for this!! Found this on Pinterest, and have been in need of good instructions, for my hair can be very tricky at times! Will be trying this tonight!! :) xoxo, Jess

  5. YAY! I love pin curl posts! I've read a million and always come out with something really helpful!!! Thanks for this!

  6. Wonderful tips, insights, and images. Your hair always (always!) looks like a million bucks!

    ♥ Jessica


    When I first started doing pin curls, I used to sometimes use perm papers to help prevent the dreaded kinks in the finished curl that can arise when some types of pins and clips are used. Over the years, as I gained more experience with pin curls though, I stopped doing this (because I usually didn't get those dents in my curls any more), but totally recommend it to anyone who may be getting kinks in their finished curls.

  7. Beautiful tutorial! Videos really do make a world of difference :)

  8. I just want to thank you for your lovely tutorials - you're the best!

  9. Great tutorial as always, my dear! It took me a while to get pin curling right on my own hair (for others, it just never seemed to go wrong - which is always good for my clients to see! LOL), and after a few months of try, try again - I finally know what works best for me. My hair is very thick, so I need to blow it dry with some curling mousse first, THEN section/spray on setting lotion/pin curl. I know it probably sounds like a horrid, long, and arduous process, but my hair likes to have things be that way so I've come to finally accept it LOL. That saying "you can't fight city hall" is actually more true in respect to our own natural hair, since fighting Mother Nature is even more impossible than city hall!

    I only use a boar bristle brush, as that yields the best result for me personally. It's so odd yet so interesting how so many women have so many different ways of achieving the same end result just due to their hair's texture/thickness/length/style ability! Your post is certainly a wonderful foundation for lots of ladies to experiment as to what works for their own hair.

    And BTW, I absolutely ADORE you as a brunette with that particular colour! It makes your eyes stand out so much more and makes your skin tone look glorious. The bleach blonde washed you out just a tad bit, as it tends to do on us paler, fairer-toned ladies. Some people loved when I was bleach blonde (for all of a month - bleaching with a 40 vol developer twice in the span of two hours? Yeah, my hair was falling out in clumps! It took me well over a year to get rid of all of that damage, and my hair grows fairly speedily!) but I knew that brunette, in as dark a shade as possible, was my right colour. And the colour you have now is what I believe just looks so fetching on you, truly :-)


    Veronica Vintage

  10. AT OR BELOW THE EAR!!!!!! OF COURSE!!!!! Gah! This tip, I am sure, shall open a whole new pin-curling world to me too! thank you!! x

  11. At or below the ear! Wish I'd known of your blog before I first tried this a couple weeks ago - it would've saved me a few moments panic with clown hair :-) Thanks, will try again.

  12. Hah! And to think that I was twisting my individual curls. At or below the ear, that should also save some time. Thanks so much! Trying it tonight. :D

    1. Good luck and if you have any problems/questions don't hesitate to email me! Or leave a comment and I'll respond :)

    2. I did it! This made a world of difference. :) It didn't quite turn out as poofy as it should have, but that was my fault. For one thing, I used a DIY setting lotion and also, I put my pin curls in too late at night and some of them were still slightly damp the next day. However, I do have a lovely 40s pageboy. :) Thanks!

    3. horray!! I'm SO glad it worked for you!! After a few tries, you'll find what wetness and pin curl size works best for your hair. I think everyone is a little different :) SO glad to hear that your pin curls were a success!! x

  13. My Grandma taught me to roll/wrap mine starting at the scalp... this way seems hard to me. I guess its all in what you are used to doing.

    1. That's interesting, I've never seen anyone start at the scalp. Every vintage beauty book, magazine and cosmetology book that Ive seen instructs you to begin at the bottom so that you can roll the ends in with the curl and not have any poking out. Also, if you begin at the bottom, you have more control of direction and placement

  14. Hello! I found you via a shared Facebook post. I related it on my own Facebook page them came to visit :) I tried the pin curls a few years ago but didn't keep it up. My hair was fairly long. I just got my hair layered and cut shorter. I believe this would look really cute now! If I cant find that setting lotion do you have any substitutes? Does mouse or gel work?

  15. Yes, you can use gel or mousse if you like. I know for sure that Sally Beauty carries setting lotion but I often skip it completely and just curl freshly washed wet hair and it works great!! Let me know if you have any other questions!!


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