Monday, July 20, 2009

A Basic Wet-Set for Vintage Hairdos by Pete

Today I am so thrilled to introduce a guest contributor! Pete from Incurlers is going to help us ladies, (well, I'm the one that needs help but I'm willing to share!) achieve vintage hairstyles with some amazing tips! Please post comments below to let us know what you think of this first collaboration and what you'd like to see in future installments!
Okay, on to our first lesson. Take it away, Pete!

A Basic Wet-Set for Vintage Hairdos

Wet-sets with curlers were the way to do hair in the 50s and 60s. Even today with curling irons and hot rollers, a wet set is still a good way to do many vintage styles if you want to wear them for more than just a few hours, and is also a great way to style your hair with minimal damage. If you not sure what a wet-set is, its actually quite simple: you wind wet hair on curlers (or in pincurls, but thats another topic) and then let it dry. The water and tension on the hair causes the very weakest chemical bonds in the hair to break and reform as the hair drys, resulting in the hair retaining its new shape. Unlike perms ( which reform stronger and more permanent disulfide bonds), exposing hair to water undoes the set, so don't get your finished hairdo wet!
Before you set our hair, you will need a few things, the most obvious being rollers (also called curlers, no difference). Use curlers that you are familiar with. If you have never set your hair before, try some sort of brush or mesh rollers – they are easiest to roll which can be tricky the first time you do it. Magnetic (smooth plastic) are the hardest to use, but also produce the most well defined curls. Velcros and sponge rollers are somewhere in between. Choose the size of the roller to match your hair length: hair should be able to wind around the roller two to three times. Depending on the roller type, you will need piks (long plastic pins) or clips to hold the roller in place. If you not sure which to use, ask at the store which is the best for the rollers you are buying. If you are using brush or mesh rollers, piks are usually the easiest. You may also want to pick up a net to help hold your rollers in place, and some setting lotion or gel if you want more well defined curls.
The best way to do a wet-set is wash you hair first, preferably with a shampoo like Infusium, and then use that product's conditioner. Put a towel over your shoulders and leave your hair wet. Sit in front of a mirror and have everything you need within easy reach. This includes curlers, piks or clips, and setting lotion or gel. If you use gel, put a nice big blob of it on a saucer so its is easily accessible. The best hairdos are from neatly done wetsets, so following the setting diagram below for curler placement:

[Over 200 New Hair Setting Patterns,1969 ]

Comb your hair from the forehead back, and and left and right as shown below:

[ Hairdo, May 1961]
Now comb a neat section of hair about as wide as your roller forwards, and grasp it between your fingers and hold it up and a little forwards.

[ Hairdo, May 1961]

With your other hand, smear some gel onto it, then hold the end of the hair to the curlers, and roll it back keeping firm tension on the hair till it touches your scalp. The hair should neatly wind on the roller as shown below:

[ Hairdo, May 1961]

If it isn't neat, try again. It is tricky looking into a mirror In fact, it can be easier if you don't look. If roller wind looks messy, try a few more times. If you have plastic brush rollers, you can use the roller itself as a comb which makes winding a little easier:

[Wil-Hold Hair Roller package from the 60s]

Don't get discouraged – it does take practice. After a few tries, even if it isn't perfect, secure with a pik as below (Note that this picture is for a narrower roller, but pik placement is the same):
[Hairdo, May 1961]

Be careful how you place the pik. It should be pushed through the roller at an angle so the end touches your scalp. If your roller is nice an secure you have it right. If not, you probably have the pick in the wrong direction or at an angle, so take it out and try again. You may have to try a few times until it is both secure and comfortable. There should be even gentle tension on the hair. Too loose and the roller fall out, too tight and it will feel unpleasant. A good rule of thumb is just tight enough that you can feel it, but just barely. You will have to get to know what is best for your hair.
And now repeat going back towards your neck. Now you can also make securing your rollers easier by place the pick so it goes into the previous roller. If course this only works of the rollers are close together which they should be. Half way done and your set should look something like this:

[Hairdo, January 1963]

Depending on your hair length, you may need smaller rollers on front and at the back close to your neck. Now do the same for the left and right rows. This is where the mirror really makes things tricky until you have quite a bit of practice. Again, don't try and roll while watching – the mirror makes you want to move in the wrong direction, so wind a roller, then look, then pin with a pik, then look. Now fill in the back with as many rollers as you can. Don't worry at this stage if they are little messy.
Once you have set your hair, you may with to add a few more piks in places where the rollers look or feel like they may be on the verge of falling out. And if you notice an uncomfortably tight roller, remove its pik and re-insert the pik in a slightly different place.
With a bit of luck and some practice, your set should look like this:

[Woman's Day, 1975]

Of course, if you have a friend who can set you hair, its much easier than doing it in a mirror.. Either way, if you have have arrived at this point, you should be nicely set in curlers.
Now its time to dry, and there are a number of options. The simplest method is to air dry, but it also takes longest, either spending all day or all night in rollers. I certainly wouldn't recommend wearing curlers overnight until you have had a number of wet-sets and gotten used to being in curlers. You certainly do get used to being set, but it may be quite a few times until you are really comfortable wearing them.
The quicker way to dry a wet-set is with a bonnet dryer, either hard bonnet similar to a salon dryer, or a soft bonnet similar to a shower cap. Both work well and area easily available. If you use a dryer, stay away from super hot temperatures – not only is it uncomfortable, but will not be great for the health of your hair.
The best compromise is to use a dryer till your hair is almost dry, then air dry to finish it.
Only remove the rollers when you hair is completely dry and has cooled down, or setting your hair will have been for nothing. If in doubt, stay in rollers for another half hour or go under the dryer a bit more.
Unwind you rollers in the opposite order in which your wound them. This will keep them from getting tangled, particularly if your hair is longer. Of a roller does get tangled, go on to the ones beside it and then once they are loose, it will be easier to unwind. Once your rollers are out, you have a wide range of options. Use your fingers or the narrow handle of a comb to adjust your curls. If you like it, spray with hairspray and your done. If not keep try actually combing and then brushing your hair. This will remove well formed curls and create wavy hair, and if you continue, straighter hair with volume. You can also tease it (another topic) for bouffant styles.
So those are the basics. Changing size and placement of rollers will produce different hairdos, as will the type of hair you have, roller style, and the use of gel or setting lotion. Wet-sets can – and were - used to create virtually every type of hairdo, from curly, to wavy, to straight. You will have to experiment to see what is best for you, and don't give up it things didn't work out great the first time.
A few additional thoughts: don't set your hair the very first time just hours before some important event. Instead, plan to try a number of wet-sets when you have some spare time to see what works best for your hair and get some practice. The good thing is that in spite of the holding power of a wet-set, washing your hair will remove the style so you don't have to worry when you are experimenting. Similarly, if you decide to try setting your hair overnight, don't try it for the first time if you have have something important the next morning – sleeping in curlers does take some getting used to, and you may not sleep well the first few nights. Also, be aware that if you are unlucky enough it have an exceptionally sensitive scalp, roller sets may not be for you. If that is the case, concentrate you efforts on pincurls, and/or curling irons. Either way, enjoy your new hairstyles!


Rochelle said...

I really liked this guest article! I usually do a wet-set for my hair but I picked up a few useful tips. Very comprehensive.

Erin said...

Loved it!

Jess Snell said...

This is fabulous! I do a wet-set on myself using pincurls from time to time for a lovely 40s look, and I've managed to collect several vintage wet-setting manuals from that era. HOWEVER - I've never been able to find a suitable tutorial on curlers, so this is seriously awesome. Thanks so much Pete for sharing! Love it!

Unknown said...

Thanks ladies! I would love to see and post pics of readers in their wetsets, and the styles produced after! If you'd like to participate email me your photos!

femmefatalevintage at gmail dot com

Anonymous said...

I am a strait male who has been getting a regular roller set at a beauty parlor by me for 11 years now and it's been fantastic.When my original curly hair 'fizzled out',I went for a perm and it was a disaster.i never even got skin tested.I had a bad reaction to the lotions and I had actually had a bad section on my scalp.It was suggested that I just get roller set.I started setting my own hair in those C-clamp curlers for a time and got really good at it(and a great hair-do at that),but it got to be alot of work,and sleeping in curlers IS NOT FUN(I have no idea how women say they do it every week.Well,I just went to a beauty parlor by me that does roller sets and was welcomed with open arms.Gone are the days that I would spend hours in the bathroom setting up the mirrors,the curlers and the lotions.The myth is gone.ROLLER SETS ARE NOT JUST FOR WOMEN ANYMORE -- Joseph

Anonymous said...

I love curlers! That's right,they're not just for women anymore.It's such a joy for a male to just walk into a beauty parlor and sit down and have the beautician set the hair.I started having my hair professionally set 12years ago and I love it.It's also right that sleeping with your hair in curlers is NOT fun.For a man to have the simple treat of just walking into a beauty parlor and get washed and set in curlers by a woman shows that times have changed--THERE'S NO TABOO NOW.It's so nice to have simple conversations when we're all under the dryers together--AND YOU REALLY GET RESPECT FOR THE WOMEN IN WHAT THEY HAD TTO GO THROUGH FOR A GREAT HAIRDO.--JOSH

Anonymous said...

I just came from the beauty parlor for my weekly wash and set and my hairdo is fabulous.I'm a strait male who has had 12+ years of great sets and fantastic looks from people on how great my hairdo is.
The use of regular hair curlers is a great way to get my hair done.For those of us who can't handle a perm,and don't want a "dry set"(using a curling iron),being set in regular curlers is a really relaxing thing.In my first place,Anna(now retired from the craft due to health) would set me about 500 TIMES,I would sit in the chair and hand her the rollers and clips while she set me and it went so fast.The drying time (45 minutes) sometimes would go so well that I'd actually fall asleep!!
Yes,curlers are getting a comeback,the one great thing is that I nolonger have to try to sleep in them!!----Joseph

Anonymous said...

Another male comment but love to dress also. I absolutely love putting curlers in my hair, pink of course. The rituals that women have are wonderful, this was one of them. Thank for the informative article regarding setting my hair and also telling me that is is very difficult using a mirror, thought i was the only one that struggled with that. smile steph