How to Do Finger Waves & vintage hair setting recipes

Please excuse my sweaty face, I live in Georgia and it’s July. Also I was not wearing any makeup, thought just a little lipstick would do it. It didn’t.

Finger waves are probably my favorite vintage hairstyle.  I like mine 1920’s style, tight to the head and stiff which incidentally is the perfect hairstyle for coolest hat ever the cloche. I’m also In reading the vintage beauty blogs and site I’ve seen how a lot of girls seem to have more trouble with them than any other style with the possible exception of pin curls.  The act of winding hair into a curl is more familiar to modern women  than forming deep waves with a comb.  A pin curl set also leaves more room for error.

I learned to do both finger waves and pincurls in a vocational high school cosmetology program in the eighties. . Two ladies in their sixties ran the program and taught very old school. I believe the first styling method taught was finger waves as it teaches hair movement and dexterity. We used a “waving lotion” which came as a dry powder that we added water to. I’m not sure but I believe it was gelatin based. Jello is an old school setting lotion as well as flax seed. Lots of ladies use the flax seed recipe which is :

Flax Seed Setting Lotion

1 cup water

1 TABLESPOON whole flax seeds

Bring both to a boil. Cover and simmer about 15 minutes. Strain out the seeds(as many as possible)IMMEDIATELY or they’ll be nearly impossible to get out. Shelf life is about a week out, two if you refrigerate

Optional add-ins are essential oil for fragrance, aloe and/or  glycerin for added moisture. For super hold add a tsp of sugar to the boil.

Another authentic hair setting(and I swear I believe this was the powder we used in cosmetology) is unflavored unsweetened gelatin). We mixed with very hot water and were told by the instructors to water to a consistency we liked.  The basic formula started at one teaspoon to one cup. We shook up in applicator bottles with the pointed tips. If working on a more dry, coarse texture conditioner is mixed 50/50 with water to make up the cup needed.  Again you may want to add essential oils for fragrance and will last about a week.  Jello and kool-aid are both used as temporary color rinses so if you want to use a flavored packet go ahead. The sugar would only increase holding. I don’t know how strong the color would be as when used for dye the powder is mixed straight into conditioner and left on overnight. But it’s safe and temporary so you may want to try.  Vegan gelatin mix may also be used.

Okay so I know they’re are plenty of  message boards, site with instructions and certainly pdf files and books to purchase. Maybe one more is not needed.  But I look at it this way. How many times have you been told how to do something, been struggling, then another person explains it to you differently and you get it?  Hopefully it helps someone.

First off you should start with clean hair. Now I usually only shampoo(washing if for dishes as my instructors taught me) once a week.  My hair always looks better dirty and dirty hair works better for dry or heat styling, styles better as well. But for wet sets, I believe you need to completely break the bonds of your hair for best results. Don’t condition. Some of you may be freaking out thinking your hair will be out of control. It won’t. The point is to have your hair accept as much styling product as possible. You may use a moisturizing shampoo if you think you need it, some good, affordable options  are in the “ethnic” hair section. Try creme de nature by Revlon. Great Stuff. Since I only wash once a week and wear pomade I use a deep cleansing shampoo.  If you don’t want to switch shampoos, and think your hair needs more,and you’re using a store bought gel and not one above with added moisture,   use one formulated to be extra moisturizing. Again the best are in the ethnic section.

If you’re going after soft, fluffy waves and are using setting lotion(lottabody) instead of gel, you may need hair clips.  A lot of girls use wave clamps which crimp the hair, not a true finger wave.  What you need are duck bill clips, sold at any beauty supply. These are just the long straight tapered end metal clips.

Your hair must be wet, Not damp, WET. You may want to have spray bottle with water nearby if you’re hair drys quickly.  Comb thoroughly with coarse end of a comb( standard styling comb) From scalp to ends, dragging the comb over the contours of  your scalp all around your head.

Make your side part deciding remembering you need to connect the first wave on the small side all the way around your head to the second wave on the big side. If you’re doing this in a mirror, the part should be shorter than you’re used to. See my picture above.

If  using a setting lotion saturate hair. Seriously saturate it. I think this is the biggest mistake women today make.  Todays products and styles usually demand for “a quarter or dime  size dallop” but finger waves require a lot of product. I use Queen Helen styling gel in the big tub and I just dip my comb right into the jar. Then I comb into the area I’m working on. Be generous with the gel, repeat to yourself, be generous with the gel.

Place your index finger right next to the part.Insert the comb coarse side into your hair directly below pressing the comb to your finger. Drag the hair forward about 1/2 inch on your forehead. Don’t lift the comb, but turn it down until flat. Without moving your index finger lay your middle on the comb. Press both fingers against your scalp, while combing the hair below back without dragging. . The purpose is too build up a ridge.  Now you should have a ridge and a c shaped section.

Now dip comb in gel again or apply more lotion. Place index finger at the bottom of the ridge and repeat the process in the opposite direction. This ridge should go up around your part continuing on to the small side of your hair to be ended pushed 1/2 on your face. Repeat the process remembering to add more product with each section As you are  going around your head  keep in mind that may have to adjust(lower) where you place your finger so that the waves look horizontal on your head. When I first learned I made that mistake. I would place my finger right below each ridge all the way around and all my waves were curved upwards. And I had way more than needed.

Continue all around the head. Gel, drag,press, comb back and down,repeat. Don’t be afraid of the curls, you are molding the hair, if a ridge looks to flat in a spot, push it up a bit. You will know if you need to insert the duck bill clips or not. I never need to because my hair is short, but for really long or fine hair they may be needed.

For the hair above your ear I like it  forward with a spit curl. If longer you may want to wind forward into a pin curl flat on face.

If working with long hair traditionally pin curls were set on the nape of neck. Remember to follow your pattern when deciding which way to wind. You could also set in rollers, braid hair in several braids to set in waves. Or tie in a loose scrunchy until waves are dry and then do in a bun.

If you want to keep your waves stiff and tight , spray with hair spay.  Sitting under a dryer is best, but if you can’t do that look over to see where you may need additional clips. Try to let the waves dry with out disturbing at all. Once set they will last several days if you use a mesh velcro hair wrap(sold in beauty supply stores) or tie a scarf on your head and of course the old standard sleep on  a silk pillowcase.

Freshen up with a spritz of water and comb lightly back in place. I always lift the wave on my forehead to wash my face too high and disturb it. I can comb it right back with a spritz of water, sometimes a dab of gel is needed. Light mist of hairspray and you’re looking swell, gal!

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Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. [...] and easy is hair.  Of course with my hair length I’m doing fingerwaves. You could also buy the cheap generic “flapper” costume wig. Not all women, not all [...]


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