Vintage Styles for Short Hair

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

“My friend/I have quite short hair, will I be able to do anything with it?”

That’s one of the most common questions I get asked when at events like Great Yarmouth library, or at the Historical Sauces hair workshops. So I have decided it’s time for a blog to answer that question once and for all and show you how to create some vintage styles for short hair.

Audrey Hepburn Short Hair

If you’ve cut your hair into a gamine Audrey Hepburn-esque crop then you need to be realistic, probably the most you can hope for is to comb it a different way, get a bit of bounce in it and learn to tie a headscarf. What most people actually mean when they say this though is that they have a short bob, sometimes asymmetric with heavy layers. If you have any kind of length around your face it’s always possible to do something with your hair to get a “vintage” style. I think anything from around jaw length should have no problem at all, even cheek length is still workable, depending on your style.

Actually, when you look at old photographs, shorter hair was popular for large parts of the 20th century. Bobbed hair was extremely popular in the 20s, 30s and 60s, and in the 50s women often wore their hair very short and set.

So, here are 3 ways to get vintage styles for short hair. Whether you’re going for authentic or cheesecake pinup is up to you, and some of these ideas will work for a more “authentic” look than others. How to do them is a whole other post on it’s own, so if you’d like to see more on this then do let me know!

Setting it

Pin Curls are the way to go for short hair, rather than curlers. When my hair is freshly cut into a bob I can’t get rollers in the shortest bits at the back, so I literally just bend them round into a small curl and secure with a grip to get a bit of bounce and curl.

You’ll find lots of setting patterns for different looks, but the smaller the roller the tighter the curl. On short hair a larger roller or stand up pin curl will give smooth bounce, a smaller roller or tighter flat pin curl can give a mass of curls. Experiment with what works for you, and don’t forget the importance of brushing out in the finished style. You can get a very 20s or 30s look by tightly setting bobbed hair and experimenting with finger waves, or a more 50s style with a looser set and more volume.

Finger Waves Short Hair

50s Short Hairstyle



If you have enough length at the front of your hair to play around with twists and rolls, then you can always cheat at the back. Many modern asymmetric bobs are very short at the back of the head with a lot more length at the front. Sometimes layers might make it more tricky, but you can still create fringe rolls like this one, or twists like these, or even create more elaborate styles if you have more length at the front and top of your head. At the back of your head, where the hair is shorter you can use a selection of hair flowers to decorate at the nape of the neck or wear a headscarf bandana or “rosie the riveter” style.

Hair Flowers vintage hair

Short Hair Rockabilly Bandana

Pin Curls or Kiss Curls

No setting required. If you have a bit of length around your face you can twist it into kiss curls using wax or pomade and pin in place.

I often use 2 or 3 on the larger side of my parting and sort of layer them over each other. You can combine this with a wet set at the back of your head to add a bit of wave if you chose. You can make them very tight and smooth and flat to your face, as in the original vintage picture below, or sat slightly looser, like in the picture of me, will still give a 30s bobbed look.

This video will give you an idea on how to create those pin curls.

1920s Short Hair Kiss Curls

Modern Vintage Hair Pin Curls


So that’s 3 quick ideas to play around with. Do you have any more tips for styling shorter hair?

Quick ideas for a vintage look on short hair

5 Responses
  • Nazneen
    February 6, 2013

    My sister would have appreciated these tips at my vintage themed hen do as she has a crop and the pincurls the hairstylist did made her look like an old lady!

    What advice would you give to those of us with longer hair? I always have the impression that mid-length/shoulder length hair is best for vintage styles, but I have long hair and am always stumped. I sometimes put it in a Sandra Dee-style high pony tail with ribbons, but other than that I’m at a loss! Was long hair not worn at all?

    • Sarah
      February 6, 2013

      I agree, what about longer hair as well? But I’m also known to chop my hair off pretty randomly, and I’d love to see some more on finger waves!!

  • Perdita
    February 7, 2013

    I find that, as you say, genuine ‘everyday’ old photos tend to show short, practical hair (maybe with a bit of a set) was often the norm. I seem to remember my gran had her short hair set weekly, and it looked smart with no rolling or styling, just brushing out. ‘Smart’ rather than OTT was often the thing for busy career-women or at-home-mums without all our gadgets now!
    What I tend to do if I want a more glamourous-retro look is to either quiff the fringe and scarf the back, or curl the front and flick out all round the bottom of the bob (giving a young clean-living late 50s bobby-socks kind of look. False advertising haha). I use tongs as curlers on the bottom of a bob can be fiddly.
    Or I just wear either beatnik, mod or 70s housewife clothes and leave it as is (by ‘or’ I mean 90% of the time).

  • Helen
    February 7, 2013

    I quite often do a sort of beehive with my hair. I’ve been doing it for awhile now, last year I had elbow length hair so instead of backcombing I just piled it on top of my head, now my hairs a sort of scruffy bob, it requires more back combing but less grips!

  • Ruth
    February 12, 2013

    My hair is short but resolutely straight., and attempts at curling always fails! Are there any vintage hairdressers in London or Surrey/Sussex borders who could give me some help with styles? Any more detail on the first style would be appreciated, even if it’s simply a link to an earlier post, and from a very beginner point of view! Thanks you!