Get the Look: Retro Jessica Rabbit Waves

Few wedding hairstyles can compete with the glamor of old Hollywood waves, those sleek, retro curls that were made famous by movie stars like Veronica Lake and Rita Hayworth in the 1940s, and are regularly donned by modern stars like Blake Lively, Lana Del Rey and Jessica Chastain, as well as lots of brides, and the ultimate fictional sexpot, Jessica Rabbit! This is a style that can be loose and pretty or sleekly defined, making it perfect for a classic wedding look, engagement party, hen partyor any kind of glamorous celebration. In this post we’re showing you how to create retro wavesso you can live your red carpet fantasy, regardless of what you’ve got planned!

Photo by Makeup by Vincent

The difference between this look and your standard curly blow dry is that the waves run in one continuous line, creating a groomed and outrageously sexy effect. Because the curls are so precise, it’s actually pretty tricky to create, but well worth learning how to do at home. If you’re thinking about retro waves for your wedding day, it’s best to leave it to the professionals – one of our recommended hairstylists should be able to create the look for you!

Photo by Nicola Dixon Photography via One fab Day

At home, there are two methods to create the look – the pin curl method and the styling tool method. The main difference is that one was used by millions of ordinary women between the 1920s and 1950s to create everyday hairstyles, and the other was invented by stylists specifically for shoots and red carpet events. This means that the results from the first method are more robust and will last longer. If you chose the second method, you’ll need to take care to preserve the look – ideally, you’ll be traveling straight from home or the salon to the bash, with little time outside!

The Pin Curl Method

This old school method is our favorite way to create old Hollywood retro waves, simply because they hold their shape longer, and they can last for up to seven days! This method is a little more time-consuming and takes a few tries to get the hang of, but once you’ve mastered it, you can use it to create a multitude of retro styles. The results will be really robust and surprisingly wearable.

What you need: A comb with a pin tail end for parting the hair, a spray bottle, prong clips, a wide paddle brush, hairspray, a smoothing or finishing serum

Best for: Thick hair, full hair, afro hair, hair that can go a few days without washing

Pros: Lasts longer, gives a more authentic, retro curl

Cons: Involves a lot of brushing, so it’s harsh on the hair, but console yourself with the fact that it doesn’t require any heat to be applied

Time commitment: One hour, roughly a day where you don’t have to do anything, and another half hour

How To Do the Pin Curl Method

Step 2. Dry your hair a little, so that it’s no longer soaking wet, and brush through with a comb. Fill a spray bottle with water, grab your pins and set yourself up in front of the mirror.

Step 3: Part your hair to one side in a precise parting.

Step 4: Start your pin curls! You’ll be working in rows of about an inch in width, which run the length of your parting. There are two types of pin curls, one that is pinned flat, so that it’s flush with the head like a flapper’s hairstyle, and one that stands out from the head, calling to mind a 1950s housewife. We like to use a combination of the two, starting with a few rows of stand-out curls at the top of the head and moving onto flat pin curls as you move further down the head. You can also leave the crown of your head uncurled if you’d prefer your waves to begin around the cheekbone or jawline.

Photo by Sun & Beau Photography via One Fab Day

Step 5: Starting your rows at the largest section of hair on the top of your head, take a one-inch section of hair, ensuring it’s damp, spraying with water if not. Smooth it down and curl into a neat circle about an inch in diameter. When you’re happy with your curl, pin it flat to your head or, if you’re doing stand-out curls, at the base. Complete the row. When you move onto row two, do the same thing but curl the hair in the opposite direction. If the first row is clockwise, the second row must be anti-clockwise, the third row clockwise, and so on. This is how the wave is created so it’s very important. When you get to the hair around your cheek and jaw, switch to half-inch sections.

Step 6: When you’ve completed the pin curls, spray liberally with hairspray.

Step 7: Wait! How long will depend on your hair and how long it takes to dry fully. Sleeping in pin curls is uncomfortable, but not unbearable. Still, you can also do your pinning early in the morning on the day of a big event and avoid it entirely. You can always cover it with a headscarf if you’ve got to go out during the day.

Veronica Lake | Photo via John Irving

Step 8: When the hair is fully dry, remove the pin curls, carefully preserving your side parting. At this point you’ll look not unlike an electrified poodle. DON’T PANIC. You will soon morph into Veronica Lake!

Step 9. Brush your hair using a wide paddle brush. You’ll need to brush for much longer than you expect. Keep brushing and you will see the sleek waves start to appear. Use your hands to mold the waves into the shape you want, but if one or two of them is really off-kilter, it’s best to just go with it, rather than fight it.

Step 10. Apply a smoothing or finishing serum to complete the look. If you’ve got things to do before your event, hold off on the serum and hold the waves in place for the time being using pins. It’s also a good idea to pop a hairnet on.

Need more help? Click here for a helpful video tutorial on retro waves!

The Styling Tool Method

If you’ve seen a bride or a celebrity rocking retro Hollywood waves, it’s almost certain that a hot styling tool was used. This is a relatively easy method, but it’s much simpler if you can recruit the help of a pal. The downside is that your waves will look their best for just a few hours, and that’s only if you keep them well protected from the elements. This is not a hairstyle to attempt if you expect to be waiting at the bus stop en route to your party or if you’re expecting a rainy wedding day.

What you need: A hairdryer, a comb with a pin tail end for parting the hair, heat-protecting serum, prong clips, a half-inch to one-inch curling tong, or both, a wide-set comb, finishing or smoothing serum, hairspray

Best for: Thin hair, textured hair, hair that requires frequent washing

Pros: Quick to do, gives a professional, red carpet-ready finish

Cons: Waves have a tenancy to fall out or lose shape after a few hours and can’t stand the elements, requires the application of heat to the hair

Time commitment: One hour to one-and-a-half hours

How To Do the Styling Tool Method

Step 1: Wash and roughly dry hair

Step 2: Apply heat protection serum

Step 3: Divide hair into sections, beginning with a clean line from ear to ear. Secure the rest with clips. Take a half-inch section of hair, and wrap it around a straightener or tongs. Hold it in place for the amount of time specified by the manufacturer, usually around five or 10 seconds. Release. You should have a tight ringlet. Using a wide-set comb, brush the front of the hair in a downward motion and tease the back to bring the shape of the curl back into the hair. Complete the section, create a second section above the first, and carry on. Be sure to curl everything in the same direction. Less is more when combing the hair – it’s shockingly easy to brush out your waves completely!

Step 4: When you get to the top section of hair, make a clean parting on one side. Switch to one-inch sections (and/or tongs) and keep creating, brushing and teasing your waves.

Step 6: When the whole head is done, apply a finishing or smoothing serum and spray with hairspray to set. If you’ve got things to do before your event, hold the waves in place using pins.

Need more help? Click here or here for helpful video tutorials on retro waves!
Looking for timeless hair inspiration? We’ve rounded up 21 gorgeous retro-inspired hairstyles here!

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