Tutorial: Basic Pin Curls


UPDATE: for more details on pincurls and how to brush out your set, see my post Pincurls 101

I don't claim to be a pin curl expert. With every pin curl set, I learn more about what not to do. It looks so simple but there is a science to it. There are so many ways that a simple pin curl set can go wrong but with lots of patience and practice, we can all have perfect pin curls.

My hair will not curl. That's just the way it is! My mom and sister both have beautiful, thick curly hair but I have perfect straight-as-spaghetti hair. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? It's been permed, curled with an iron, hot rollers, etc. So far, the only way to curl my hair has been through rag curls or pin curls.

Being in Missouri, the weather here is always VERY humid, which doesn't help the no-curl factor. Summers are as sticky as a rain forest and winters are wet and slushy. My tried and true method for stay-put curls are with pin curls!

This tutorial is a very basic how to pin curl. Nearly every vintage hairstyle that you see and fall in love with is done with a pin curl set. By rolling the curls in a certain direction and placing the in a certain spot on your head, you can get the same style. So, here's how its done....

1.You will need bobby pins or pin curl clips, a rat tail comb and setting lotion. Begin with wet hair. I like mine somewhere in between soaked and towel dried, if that makes sense! Part your hair however you like and put some setting lotion in.

I use Lottabody, which can be found at any beauty supply store. Pin curls can also be done on completely dry hair but you will have a lose curl and it will take much longer to set.

2. To make a pin curl, section off a bit of hair, about 1 inch by one inch square. If your hair is thicker, you may want to try smaller sections. If it's thinner, try slightly larger sections.

3.) Make a loop at the end and wind it around your finger.

4.) Roll the hair all the way up to the top. Do not twist the hair or you will end up with a wonky curl. Use your finger tips to grasp the hair and roll it flat in a saucer shape, keeping the end inside the curl. If the end sticks out when you pin it, it will also turn out wonky.

 If you have problems getting the ends to stay in the curl, you can use end papers available at your local beauty supply store. You can also hold the hair up above your head and roll it down to the scalp. This will give more volume at the root.

5.) When the curl is in place at the scalp, pin it! Many people pin in an "X" shape but I tend to use only one pin. You can also use pin curl clips. If you plan on sleeping on your curls, I suggest pins instead of clips.

6.) Let your hair set for several hours. Make sure the hair is completely dry before removing the clips/pins. If you are sleeping on the set, tie a scarf around your hair to protect it while you sleep. For this set, I let my hair dry for 3 1/2 hours.

7.) Remove all clips and pins and gently unroll each curl. Using a boar bristle or plastic vented brush (depending on hair type and personal preference) brush out the pin curl set. This is the most important part of the process! As you brush, use your fingers to shape the curls. If you want thick, chunky curls, brush large chunks of hair.

 If you want tighter ringlets, brush each curl individually. Lisa Freemont Street says that if your hair is frizzy, use a boar bristle brush and brush the hair against your hand. Take your time brushing the pin curl set. Really work with the shape of the curl and shape it to your liking. As you brush, the hair will "lengthen" as the curl softens so, if you're going for that pin-up pageboy look, you will want to brush the back more than the sides and front.

8.) When it's all brushed out and you love it, finish off with hairspray!
For this pin curl set, I went for the Betty Draper/Grace Kelly soft, side parted curls. Want to learn how it's done? I'll have a tutorial for that style posted later this week!!

A Few Tips and Tricks (and what I learned from doing it the wrong way :)

*If your hair comes out and its still straight, you may have used too much hair or you may have not let it dry completely.

*If your hair is frizzy, you may have used too little hair or may not have brushed it out enough.

*If your hair looks like a clown wig, you may have rolled the hair too high on your head. Next time, roll the curls along the bottom of your scalp and leave the crown open.

*If your hair is crispy, you may have used too much setting lotion. Dilute the setting lotion with a bit more water and try again.

*For tight curls, use smaller sections, for larger curls or more of a wave, use bigger sections. Be careful, too big may not curl at all and too small will be frizzy.

* Plan how you want your style to look in the end. This way, you can decide which direction to roll your pin curls. If you want a pageboy, roll the curls under. If you want a flippy 60's do, roll it up. If you have problems with victory rolls, pin curl the hair (in the direction of the roll), let it set, then roll.

*For more volume at the root, use stand-up pin curls. Stand-up curls are achieved in the same fashion, just slide a pin or two in the curl so it stands up off the top of your scalp.

I'm sure that there are lots of pin curl experts out there. If you have any good tips, tricks or advice, please leave it in a comment below! I always need help with my pin curls!! :)


  1. woops! I forgot to mention that you can find lots of wonderful pin curl diagrams at Beauty is a Thing of the Past

  2. wow, thanks for this. as you know, I struggle to create any type of curl in my hair and I've managed to mess up pincurls in the past. hopefully this will do the trick

  3. i love love love the last picture with the red lips.
    so pretty :)

  4. I love how it looks without brushing your hair!! I've tryed that but I didn't let my hair dry completly and the result was not very good, I guess all I need is to practice. Thanks for the tutorial.

  5. The soft curls look lovely. My hair is pin straight also and Ive all but given up on curls and styles. I think my hair may be too long also.

  6. this looks amazingly easy. i'm going to have to try it! your hair looks beautiful.

  7. just going to add one comment to girls with thick hair, it will never set from wet, I speak from 20+ years of experience, dry set everytime and go to bed like that, it works a dream! Hope you don't mind me adding that! Love your tutorial though!

  8. 40% of the time I end up with the clown wig look! LOL Thank goodness for bandanas!

  9. Thanks for the tip about the thick hair!! My hair is on the thin side, so I have NO experience with thick hair. Much appreciated!!! :)

  10. While I don't wear vintage i do love the hair styles, I use pin curls to give myself lots of body and great style. I learned how to do it from Brit and I too use only one pin. I also use the bendy barettes to hold the curls at the back of my head down and make it more comfortbale to sleep in. I usually have slightly damp hair with some spray gel, i have never used a setting lotion. But hey, if you want to experiment on thick hair you have my head at your disposal Brittany!

  11. Thanks, Nell! I'd love to play with thick hair. My sister has really thick hair but she never lets me do anything with it because she has to re-straighten it! :(

  12. If you're able to get access to a soft or hard hood dryer (I got mine via ebay for less than $5), heat really helps set the curl. Even if you sleep on your setting curls, giving them a quick blast before bed or in the morning will extend the life of the curl. As another ridiculously thick haired girl, it also aids with the "never drying" issue.


  13. I'm going to attempt pin curls this weekend, you've inspired me! I've been having trouble with hot rollers and want to try something different.

    Thanks for being my 10th follower too!

    Miss P xx

  14. Love this- as I love all your tips and tutorials. I have been lurking and following your blog for a while now and have just started up my own!

    You really do look great in your photos- and may finally inspire me to learn to sew!

    FF xo

  15. How fun! What a great post! Beautiful result!

  16. thanks for the wonderful post! I went ahead and attempted to do pincurls per your tutorial.

    I'm pretty sure I'm in a state of pincurl crisis.

  17. Hi! So I'm new to pin curling and was wondering if you could tell me about Lottabody. Do you use the regular or olive oil fortified treatment? Does the lotion make your hair a bit crispy? You have the best techniques and I'm eager to achieve them, so anything about this product you could forward on would be great. LOVE the blog!


  18. Every time i brush out curls...they dissapear. I've learned that all I need to do is let them fall out naturally to get a wavy effect that will last erm...a few hours max. the best way of curling my hair i've found is a 18th century technique involving tissuepaper and a hot iron (streighteners) its called papillote curling. Basically to pin curl but instead of pinning it you wrap in triangle of paper and heat it with your strighteners. Leave to cool (I pin in place and leave overnight usually). When taken out you get really stable ringlets and curls. Mine lasted a whole weekend and would have lasted longer as I had to wash them out. (I just used mouse and hairspray no setting lotion)

    1. Setting lotion will really help! Then you can do pin curls. Setting lotion is a gift from God for hair that won't hold a curl!

  19. I have this wonderful dress that I bought and shoes to match, but I couldn't figure out how to do my hair with it. It's one of those vintage, skulls and hearts and Marilyn Monroe dresses that's 'retro', and the model wearing the dress online has a victory curl(except instead of being in the front, it runs from the front to the back on top of her head) with lots of gorgeous pin curls. I just couldn't figure out how in the world to do them! This has helped so much! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  20. Thank you so much! I tried it and it worked! I have never been able to get my pin curls to do what I want. I love the way it turned out! Now, let's hope it outlasts the rain.

  21. I started pin-curling recently and I have thick but fine hair.

    I've found two things: 1) Holy cow, my arms!! My biceps get so tired, especially if my hair is being troublesome!

    and 2) If I've got the weekend to play with my hair, a wet set works great. But if I'm pinning it and have to work in the morning, it is easier to curl and pin it dry (which I can do in the living room instead of staking out the bathroom), then give it a spritz of water to dampen it. It helps the hair take the shape, but dries faster - I've had a few sets (pin and foam rollers) where even with eight hours to dry, the curls are still damp in the morning if I do a wet set before bed :(

    I'm still figuring out how to finesse the curls, though - my rolling technique isn't quite right, I don't think, since they never brush out like it seems they should. Or maybe my brush out skills need work? And in any case, I cannot for the life of me get my hair to smooth - fly away city! I think it's my weird half straight/half curly/wavy hair type. Oh well - can't do much about that part!

  22. Thank you so much for this post! I am growing out a pixie cut and needed help through the dreaded "mullet stage". I have very fine, straight hair and have attempted pin curls in the past that just ended up looking like little twisted strings of greasy hair. Your tips were just what I needed to get a look I never thought possible.

    I didn't have setting lotion so used a little bit of my son's hair gel. Used one pin. The brushing out is the key! I thought it would just straighten the curl but, no!, it gave my little curls a smooth bounce. Today is the cutest my hair has looked...ever! Thank you again!

  23. ok so i am curious, ive never heard of pin curling before today. Ive done wet set rag rolls as a kiddo and i ended up with shirly temple curls that stayed in for ever with no product! Now a days when i try to curl my hair it will stay for erm maybe an hour if im lucky. nothing seems to hold it well. Ive not tried rag rolling since i was a child as i have alot of really fine hair (each strand is really fine but there are a butt tone of them so my pony tails are like an inch in diameter) so i have no clue if wet setting would be needed or if i could do a dry set. Also i do not have any setting lotion, is there anything that i could use as a substitue for the time being? i have some gel and mousse. I live in a really tiny town and i cant get beauty products easily, id have to drive an hour and a half away to get any. Thank you in advance for your time and help and if i can get this to work i'll deffinatelly post pics. i have hair that comes down to my bra strap on my back so it will be interesting to see what it looks like when its curled.


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