Learning How To Do Finger Waves

Of all the vintage hairstyles I have attempted and practised, finger waves are by far (in my opinion) the most difficult. Having said that, ALL vintage hairstyles seem difficult at first, I remember years ago struggling with victory rolls (backcombing and hairspray helps), and in recent years feeling frustrated by pincurl sets. But, as with all things, practise makes perfect.

I have been wanting to master finger waves for a good year now, but having recently had my hair bobbed, I felt like now was the time to really go for it, and practise over and over until I had got it right.. or at least satisfactory with the view to working on perfecting it in later attempts.

My vintage wave clips with modern day pincurl clips. The pincurl clips are helpful in holding down any sections of hair that want to spring-up whilst styling the finger waves.

In order to do a job properly, one must first equip oneself with the correct equipment and materials. I have found original vintage wave clips to be perfect in creating finger wave ridges, as that was indeed what they were created for. A word of caution though – do not be tempted into buying modern day reproductions. In my experience, I have found them to be poor quality, often with teeth not even meeting, the metal bends and twists, and frankly, they are a waste of money. However, the plastic ones can be useful if used in conjunction with vintage ones if you do not have enough.

An excellent book that I have recently acquired is – Daniela Turudich’s ‘Art Deco Hair’.

This book is absolutely marvellous! I highly, highly recommend it. Sadly, (but understandably)due to the copyright rules, I am unable to reproduce any of the content here and can only show you the front and back covers. The book covers not only hairstyles, but cutting diagrams of authentic haircuts from the 1920s-1930s, setting patterns for curling the hair, popular hairstyles of the period, how to finger wave the hair, and my personal favourite – ‘The Oddest Styles of the 1920s’ and ‘The Oddest Styles of the 1930s’! There is so much information in this book, accompanied by illustrations and original photographs from the period. It is an absolute must-buy for anyone interested in the Art Deco period.

In my quest to learn the art of the ‘perfect finger wave’; I of course also took to Youtube to watch oodles of tutorials. Whilst I liked Riikka and Jirina’s ‘Fabulous Finger Waves’ video, I actually found this one by LBCC Historical the most useful and informative:

This is because it shows you how to create the waves on yourself, not either getting someone to do them for you, or you doing them on someone else. So, now that I had the correct wave clips, reading material and had watched endless Youtube tutorials, I yet again set about practising my finger waves.

Things I Have Learnt & Tips

  • You are not going to master this overnight. Or indeed over many nights. It will take a while. But that’s ok, chalk-up each attempt as a lesson learned, and you will know what to do better next time.
  • It may take you a while to amass enough vintage wave clips in order to be able to do this style. It has taken me about a year to slowly scavenge enough wave clips, from vintage fairs, Etsy and Ebay.
  • The golden ingredient (for me) is without a doubt – hair gel. And lots of it. I start with my hair having been washed 2 days previously, so it has a bit of ‘grip’ to it. I then spray my mixture of 70% setting lotion, 30% water onto my hair and comb through. THEN – I apply lots and lots of hair gel and comb through. Yes, it makes your hair feel pretty horrid, but it really works. Now that my hair is slightly damp and covered in hair gel, it is the perfect base to start creating the waves with my comb.
  • I use a fine comb to create the waves, hold the ridge in place with my fingers (hence – ‘fingerwaves’), then use a wave clip to clamp the ridge into place.
  • Once I have created all of the waves, I then mooch about with about 12 wave clips in my hair for 30-60 minutes. This is to ensure my hair is completely dry, and that the gel has ‘set’.
  • I carefully remove the clips, smooth any odd bits down, spray with hairspray to finish.

I know some people like a less ‘helmet like’ look, so you can GENTLY brush the waves to make them softer. This to me is utter madness, as I know my hair type – and I know that as soon as I take a brush to it, any wave that was there will promptly disappear. So, for the finger waves  I am happy to settle for a more ‘solid’ look if it means it will last the day. And yes, dear readers, with the use of the hair gel, this style can last me TWO FULL DAYS!

In these pictures, I continued the finger waves around my head, across the back. But somehow, I wasn’t entirely pleased with it, hence the beret hat. For the back, there are a few different options:

  • Continue the finger waves around the head, matching up the position of the ridges. Difficult, but not impossible.
  • Or, having previously curled or set your hair, simply ‘merge’ the finger waves into the curls at the back of the head.
  • Whilst creating the finger waves, pincurl the ends of the hair at the same time to create neat little curls at the base of the neck
  • If all else fails – wear a hat!

Finger waves are such a well-loved hairstyle by movie starlets of times gone by, and modern day vintage lovers alike. Here I present to you just a small snippet of a blog post on the subject, there are lots of resources and informative articles online just  waiting for you to find!

Until next time dears!


12 thoughts on “Learning How To Do Finger Waves

  1. Stephanie says:

    Love it! I haven’t done much with finger waves but I don’t have any good waving clips either. Might have to track some down. And that book looks amazing! I’ve seen her 1940s book but I didn’t know there was a 1920s/1930s one. Must find a copy!

  2. Jessica Cangiano says:

    Fantastic tips! I’ve never tried finger waves, in no small part because I’ve never had short hair (real or wig) – not that they’re strictly the domain of such, of course. I think they’re thoroughly beautiful though and am always drawn to them when I see fellow bloggers sporting these early 20th century classics – perhaps one day I’ll given ’em a go myself, too. Thank you very much for sharing your great advice on finger waves with us, dear gal.

  3. Jenny Frances says:

    Jessica, I’m so glad you liked my post! I know there are bloggers out there (like Marianne from Fintage – soo admire her style!) who can do finger waves perfectly, but I’m at least on the right road to being able to do a half-decent attempt 🙂 It’s such a tricky hairstyle, I’m sure it really helps to have someone do the back for you! (note to self – might have to rope Kieren in to do that next time..) 🙂 xx

  4. Bianca Esposito says:

    Great finger waves! They are just so much harder to do than is reasonable, I wish there were such things as gently curved combs to make it a bit easier. My hair is so thick that I have stopped trying to do finger waves the traditional way and have switched to special clips from the 30’s that give the same look without the effort. I can get finger waves to work on the thinner side of my part, so I really think it’s just that my hair is too thick on the other side. Your hair looks great, and I really like your glasses, they are such a fun shape!

  5. Carla says:

    oh they look marvelous!! My mom did finger waves when I was a little girl and I remember being so curious to the clips and such on her dresser.
    If I ever get a short hair cut (and maybe chemically treated hair, as its naturally coarse) I think I’ll give fingerwaves a try! Thanks for sharing.

  6. brigidboyer says:

    I have wanted to try finger waves ever since discovering my love of the 1930s. It is a nice plus that I already have a natural finger-wave pattern to my hair that just needs a bit of help to get it in order and proper looking. So thanks for these tips Jenny! I will keep them in mind when I finally take the plunge to try the look myself.

  7. iluvvintage says:

    I must be honest I gave up trying to do the finger waves in my hair but I took a video and picture to my hairdresser and I was so pleased with the results that I think I will try again. You clear instructions might help, although i am a bit of a klutz when trying to do my hair. I do a lot of antique and vintage faires so going to look out for the clips. Thanks for all the information.

  8. Ashleigh Popp says:

    Hello Jenny,
    Thank you for sharing
    “How to do Fingerwaves”,
    For the Hair Gel and Setting Lotion are there particular brands you would recommend?

    Thank You

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