How to Do Pin-Up Curls Without Heat

Finish your retro pin-up style with perfect curls.
... Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images

Creating retro pin-up curls doesn't have to damage your hair. The bombshells of the 1940s and 1950s didn't have easy access to quick-heating curling irons. They relied on pin curls, set on damp hair, to achieve their girl-next-door curls or glamorous Hollywood waves. This classic method of creating no-heat waves, volume and curl is easy to master, saves time in the morning, and works for any length hair.

Mist your hair lightly and evenly with water before bed. It should be slightly damp, but not wet.

Separate a 2-inch to 3-inch section at the nape of the neck from the rest of your hair. Gather the front, sides and crown in a large clip to hold them out of the way.

Roll a 1-inch by 1-inch section of hair from ends to roots, forming a flat curl against your scalp. Clip into place with a double prong curl clip, available at any beauty supply shop. Keep the clips flat against the head to reduce discomfort while you sleep. You may find that larger pin curls do best with two clips, one inserted from each open end of the pin curl. Continue until you've rolled the entire back section into pin curls.

Release the rest of your hair from the large clip. Repeat the previous step to set the sides and crown into pin curls. If you have bangs, finish by pinning those as well.

Sleep in your pin curls. You can wrap a smooth silk or satin scarf around your hair to help keep your curls in place. Fold a square scarf into a triangle, arranging it with the long side at the nape of your neck. Bring the three ends of the scarf together at the front hairline and knot together. If you'd prefer not to wrap your curls, a satin pillowcase will reduce discomfort and keep them smooth. In the morning, gently remove the clips and shake out the curls.

Brush through your curls for a classic retro pin-up style or finger comb for a more relaxed, modern look.

  • You can use bobby pins in place of curl clips; however, these will leave a dent or impression in your curls.
  • For more volume on top, roll the hair at the crown to form an upright curl.
  • Larger sections of hair will produce waves, rather than curls. Pinning smaller sections will produce tighter curls.

With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.