Women's hairstyles in the 1930s

Written by nancy hayden
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Women's hairstyles in the 1930s
Curly hairstyles were all the rage in the 1930s. (George Marks/Retrofile/Getty Images)

Women took a stance of independence in the 1920s that had a permanent effect on fashion and hairstyles. The beginning of the 1930s followed a time when many women had bobbed their hair short. While this show of freedom continued, the 1930s also marked a return to softer, more feminine styles. With the Great Depression consuming the decade, many women based their hairstyles on glamorous movie stars to escape everyday realities.

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Waved Hairstyles

Women passed over the sleek, pin-straight look of the bob from the 1920s in favour of waved hairstyles in the 1930s. Most women who lived during the Great Depression did not have means or opportunity to frequent a salon. This forced them to style their own hair at home, and finger waves were simple enough for most women to accomplish. While hair was wet, women would either braid it or place large, thick hair clips in it, leaving it to dry overnight. When they removed the braid or hair clips, the hair would hold the indentation of softly patterned waves framing the face.

Formal Updos

The return to more feminine hairstyles in the 1930s saw a resurgence of the updo for dressy occasions. Many women based their formal hairstyles on Hollywood movie queens like Greta Garbo. Women pinned their hair up on top of their head, with a heavy concentration of tighter curls at the front of the head. Women visited the salon for the one extravagance of a perm of tight curls for only the hair framing the face. They left the rest of their hair without a perm and wore it wavy, leaving it longer to be able to put it up easily.

Casual Updos

It was uncommon in the 1930s for most women to have occasion to dress up. The effects of the Great Depression made dressy outings sparse or non-existent. Many women still opted to wear their hair up for ease and convenience, but the daily updo was less complicated than the formal updo. As women grew their hair longer than the bob style of the 1920s, they wore it in a basic loose chignon bun at the base of the neck. For a little more style with that look, a woman would place finger waves on the sides of her hair, complementing the chignon bun.

Return to Length

Femininity in hairstyles continued throughout the 1930s. As hair became longer, hairstyles became more complicated. Curls were still common, and it only made sense that with more hair to style women would sport larger curls. Barrel curls came into fashion during the late 1930s. Hollywood actresses such as Joan Crawford often wore this hairstyle. Women used large rollers to curl the hair and did not comb out or soften the curls when the removed the rollers. They would often place these curls around the neck at the bottom of a wavy hairstyle, and pull up the sides with one large barrel curl right in front.

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