’40s Hairstyles: A Look Into the Fascinating World of Vintage Hair

Eunice Lucero | 22 September 2016

Can you recreate them? Yes, you can!

Very few decades are as iconic as the 1940s when it came to hairdressing. The 1940s were a quirky, acute case of having function directly impact fashion: Everything was directly influenced by the era’s current political climate, particularly World War II. The ’40s hairstyles we see now were propagated from an immediate need. To wit: Certain products were in limited supply, thus making it crucial for women to improvise at home. To fill the void left by men who were drafted to serve, women also started entering the workforce, and even the armed forces.

This created a spike in hairstyles that left their collars free for safety regulations. In particular, they needed to be short enough to not get caught in machinery—hence, the sudden popularization of rolls, curls, hairnets, turbans and snoods.

Function Meets Film: The Evolution of ’40s Hairstyles

40s hairstyles red bandana
We totes get you now, Rosie the Riveter: Fashion meets function during the super-functional ’40s.

The Hollywood Effect

The silver screen offered an exciting, inspiring escape from the everyday drudgeries of that war-laden time. Much like today, people took major cues from celebrities in terms of setting the current trend. A famous movie actress renowned for her long, luxurious blonde waves was allegedly asked to cut her hair, to inspire her working-class female fans to wear shorter—and safer—lengths for the factories (What a trooper: She said yes!).

Something to look forward to

To boost morale and distract from the anxieties of having their men at war, women not only ached for these cosmetic luxuries, they embraced and enhanced their femininity any way they could. This may help explain the prevalence of the romantic, womanly beauty aesthetic of that time, a trend seen ever so clearly in their choice of hairdos. They could be toiling away in a dreary factory or tilling thanklessly at the farms, but underneath that government-issued scarf was a head full of gorgeous, movie-star ringlets just waiting to be enjoyed.

Some of the most popular ’40s hairstyles were borne from these lifestyle realities. Read on to see which of these you recognize from your moms, grandmothers, other vintage stars or even Instagram:

40s hairstyles pin curls dark hair
Women used their fingers to create pin-curls, which resulted in a softer but shinier ringlet.


Considered one of the most fashionable ways to wear your hair in the 1940s, the pin-curl was the basis for mostly all other more complicated styles thereafter. Its popularity came from not having to need styling products save for some bobby pins—or even some fabric rags cut into strips, when actual pins were scarce due to rationing. The style didn’t need setting lotion, since that was also restricted, so most women used household items such as beer or even water mixed with sugar. (Due to modern technology we now have styling sprays, mousses and gels to better maintain this style. Thank you, world peace!)

The look of pin-curls consisted of sectioning hair and twisting each into a little curl, pinning them to your head. A middle part has a more retro vibe. After the whole head was finished, it was customary to cover your hair with a turban or scarf while at work or at bed to set the style.

Ed’s note: For a vintage-inspired yet modern-day look, spread a dollop of mousse, such as TRESemmé Flawless Curls Mousse, evenly throughout your hair. This can provide structure and hold to your pin-curls without the crunch.

40s hairstyles victory rolls
Part-rockabilly, part retro, victory rolls are making a major comeback with new, updated lengths.

Regular Rolls

No, this doesn’t mean a smaller piece of bread at the bakeshop. Rolls were the hallmark hairdo of the 1940s, a favorite way for women to spruce up their curls in as glamorous a way as possible. Using a head of set pin-curls to start, they would position rolls on the crown of their head or at the sides. It was a feminine way for them to keep their hair away from their faces for practical, work-related reasons, and they took styling these rolls very seriously.

Victory Rolls

Nicknamed after the corkscrews pilots would take after shooting down an enemy airplane, victory rolls consisted of curling the bottoms of hair upward—much like creating a 1960s flip—and have both parts at the hairline curled toward each other. To achieve this ultra-femme look, women would use old stockings as headbands and hair rollers. This style, as most ’40s hairstyles, also had a practical application: It kept women’s hair away from their shoulders and faces while at work.

Modern-day enthusiasts of this look benefit from a good hairspray. A strong-hold variant such as Dove Style+Care Extra-Hold Hairspray helps keep your rolls’ shape intact (and adds a ladylike sheen!), while adding extra body and volume.

40s hairstyles pageboy
Inspired by the medieval hairstyle of knight’s pages and reborn in the ’40s, the hairstyle is made even more current with a full, swingy fringe.


The opposite of a victory roll, a pageboy was when hair was uniformly short and curled under all the way through. Film stars would style their silken locks with a long version of a pageboy and a side part, leaving their features open for some well-arched brows and dark lipstick. And how to emulate that pristine undercurl? Look no further than a blowdry primer, such as Suave Professionals Luxe Style Infusion Volumizing Weightless Blowdry Spray, for a gleaming and controlled finish.

Which of these modern takes on vintage ’40s hairstyles can you incorporate into your current hairdo?