1940s Hairstyles: A Look Into the Fascinating World of Vintage Hair

Can you recreate them? Yes, you can!

Very few decades are as iconic as the 1940s when it comes to hairdressing. The 40s 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 1940s hairstyles we see now were propagated from a direct need: 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 for the war, women also started entering the workforce, particularly in factories. This created a spike in hairstyles that were meant to leave their collars free and clear, 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:

1940s hairstyles red bandana
Fashion meets function during the super-saturated 1940s.

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 trend in 1940s hairstyles. 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 (Spoiler: She did!).

Also, to boost morale and distract from the anxieties of having their men at war, women not only ached for these cosmetic luxuries, but they also embraced and enhanced their femininity any way they could. This may help explain the prevalence of the romantic, glamorous, classically dolled-up 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, film-star ringlets just waiting to be enjoyed.

Some of the most popular 1940s 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 the new wave of fans of retro 1940s hairstyles on Instagram:

1. Pin Curls

1940s 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 1940s hairstyles, the pin curl was the basis for most all other more complicated styles thereafter. Its popularity came from not having to need styling products save for some bobby pins or some fabric rags cut into strips when pins were scarce. 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 in bed to set the style. Modern-day girls can use TRESemmé Flawless Curls Extra Hold Mousse to give their curls even more definition.

2. Regular Rolls

1940s hairstyles
Part rockabilly, part retro, victory rolls are making a major comeback with new, updated lengths.

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.

3. Victory Rolls

1940s hairstyle victory rolls
A staple hairstyles for the women of the 40s.

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 1940s hairstyles, also had a practical application. It kept women’s hair away from their shoulders and faces while at work.

4. Pageboy

1940s hairstyles pageboy
We love this full, swingy fringe.

The opposite of a victory roll, a pageboy was when hair was uniformly short and curled under. Film stars would style their silken locks with a long version of a pageboy and a side part. This left their features open for some well-arched brows and dark lipstick.

5. Sideswept Pin Curls

1940s hairstyles sideswept curls
The most versatile curls of them all.

Pin curls are debatably one of the most versatile of the top 1940s hairstyles. They can be worn in a number of ways for a range of occasions. Section your hair off into a deep side part and pull all of your pin curls over one shoulder. This style will show off your bright lips and your curls at the very same time.

6. Victory Roll Updo

1940s hairstyles roll updo
How to make victory rolls even fancier.

Chaos ensued when all the men were called off to the frontlines, and when the soldiers eventually came home on leave, everyone made time to celebrate: There were parties, dancing, and celebrations long into the night. A victory roll updo is an ideal style for the dance floor: When held in place with a combination of bobby pins and setting spray, it stays put through all the dips and twirls. We suggest Dove Style + Care Extra Hold Hair Spray!

7. Evening-Ready

1940s hairstyles pinned curl updo
Pin your curls up for a chic, evening-ready style.

In the name of doing just about anything to boost morale, parties and celebrations weren’t completely out of the question. And with many couples choosing to tie the knot before the groom was sent off to war, there were countless opportunities to attend weddings. This evening-ready pinned curl updo is the ideal 1940s hairstyle for a wedding guest or even for the bride herself.

8. Voluminous Bob

1940s hairstyles curled bob red
All about body and flare.

Creating this style is as simple as combing through your pin curls with your fingers. Then using a comb to tease the roots. This 1940s hairstyle is all about body and flare and adding some volume to an otherwise simple style.

9. The 1940s Bride

1940s hairstyles brunette updo
The chicest of them all.

Whether she was planning a last minute wedding before sending her soon-to-be husband off to war or taking months to plan the perfect party, the 1940s bride loved a subtle curl. This low updo was chic, timeless and tasteful: Could she ask for more?

10. Combed-Through Curls

1940s hairstyles side part pin curls
Combed-through curls are the quintessential 1940s style.

When in doubt, a head full of combed-through curls was an on-trend and wearable way to wear your hair. Taking care to start the curl up by your hairline and to carefully brush through before setting the style with hairspray will help you create the perfect 1940s hairstyles.