Hairstyles from the 1940s-1950s

Updated March 29, 2017

The 1940s and 1950s are synonymous with old school Hollywood glamour and iconic hair to match. Stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Ava Gardner and Veronica Lake set the trend that ordinary women spent a great deal of time, energy and effort replicating. Often referred to as vintage and pin-up styles today, modern day celebrities such as Dita Von Teese and Katy Perry have made the retro hairstyles fashionable once more. Whether searching for a glamorous prom style, or chic daytime look, the styles of the 1940s and 1950s can provide a great source of inspiration.

Pin Curls

One of the most iconic looks of the 1940s was pin-curled set hair. This style worked particularly well on women with mid-length to short hair. As no heated hair tools such as hairdryers or curling irons were available at the time, creating the look was laborious and time consuming. Pin curls were achieved by wrapping 1-inch sections of damp hair around the finger and pinning it into position to create a curl. This process was repeated throughout the entire hair and then left to set. Once the hair was completely dry, the pins were removed to create the famous pin-curl style.


The do-rag look originally began when women who had wet hair in rollers absolutely needed to leave the house. The rags were tied around the rollers to form a bow at the front. As women began to enter the workforce, the rags became essential at keeping women's hair away from the machinery. The do-rag look has become a style in its own right and can be spotted on women today accompanied with a sleek updo or flowing locks. The style was equally popular for women with short hair or long hair, as many women had in the 1940s.

Partial Updos

Shorter fringe and partial updos may conjure up images of a style your mom did for you when you were too young to protest, but it was particularly fashionable in the 1940s and 1950s. Bangs were placed in rollers to be super-short and neatly curled to emphasise the facial features. The remaining hair was set in large curls and partially pinned back to create a half-up, half-down hairstyle. The long, loose hair acted as a stark contrast to the super short fringe.

Top Reverse Roll

The top reverse roll was a one of the simpler updos of the time. Although the style works on any hair length, it is easier to achieve on those with mid- to longer-length hair. The hair at either side of the head was set in rollers that were angled away from the face. The rollers could be large or small depending upon the preference of the woman and what suited her face shape. The remaining hair was curled and pinned under with well-concealed hair clips.

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About the Author

Based in Manchester, U.K., Natalie Baker has been a freelance beauty and fashion writer since 2009. Her work appears in the beauty pages of "The Detour Magazine" and online at Just Makeup Artists. Baker is experienced in both television and print journalism, and holds a Bachelor of Arts broadcast journalism from Salford University.