How To Style Hair Like It’s The 1940s

The ’20s had its iconic Gatsby-esque finger waves, the ’80s was a sea of perms, and the noughties loved a good hair straightener. Hairstyles can speak volumes about an era, and the ’40s in particular was home to some of the most fascinating, timeless hair looks.

When we combine the strict rationing of the time with the lack of hair curlers or any modern tools, styles of the 1940s become even more remarkable. We’ve collated our favourite iconic styles, with a few modern tips for trying them out yourself!


Early ’40s

1940s hairstyles- Double Victory roll with ethnic hair


One of the most well-known ’40s looks was, ironically enough, actually not worn all that often. During the early to mid ’40s, victory rolls were created by wrapping the hair into a tunnel shape, and pinning it high on the head. It looks and sounds easy, but getting this style to hold all day without drooping into a cylindrical mess was a challenge.

To help bulk up the rolls, ‘rats’ were used. We know you’re picturing a lady placing some vermin in her hair, but a rat was infact a soft cylinder (usually made from stuffed stockings) that was pinned inside the roll to keep its shape. The rest of the hair fell naturally, and was – of course – curled.

Did You Know?

During the war, women who couldn’t afford hairdressers had to find ways to curl hair themselves. This usually meant using anything in the house – rags, stockings rolled up, even torn paper – to wrap the hair around and let it set into a curl.

How To Do It Today:

Modern styling tools make this a cinch to achieve on your own hair. Modern ‘rats’ are available from most beauty stores – nowadays they look like foam sausages that can be pinned into place. One roll on each upper side of the head is wonderfully flattering for almost all face shapes. Curling the rest of the hair is a cinch with a curling iron or setting it while damp.


Mid ’40s

Image result for Donna Reed 1945


When the middle of the ’40s rolled around, Victory Rolls and their many variations vanished. Hair came off the top of the head, into a less practical style given that the war was over. The new quintessential look was an ultra-deep side part, paired with a flat top and flowy pincurls. To really accentuate this look, many women asked their hairdressers to cut their hair into a “U” or “horseshoe” shape, where it was longer at the back and shorter at the ears.

Did You Know?

This was a time when curling irons weren’t prevalent, but did exist in a primitive form. It’s just as terrifying as you’d expect – heating up an iron in a fireplace and taking it to your hair. Needless to say, the method of setting it while damp (more on that below!) was preferred.

How To Do It Today:

To save spending an hour in front of the mirror with a curling iron, the easiest way to copy this look is to do it the old-fashioned way with a ‘wetset’. Damp hair can be wrapped around soft rollers or rolled and pinned against the head. Then it’s just a matter of getting yourself some beauty sleep, and taking a brush to it in the morning. Want to go all-in on this style? Ask a trusted hairdresser (or visit a specialised vintage salon) for a horseshoe cut!


Late ’40s

Image result for hair ribbon late 1940s


With the decade coming to a close, WWII was well and truly over and the fashion industry was starting to have fun once again. This naturally flowed on into hairstyles, where hair no longer had to just be hair. Bows, ribbons, and even braids made of fake strands were all made popular, usually in interesting patterns and colours. Colourful pins and grips could be used to push a fringe away from the face, and hair in general was looking towards a trend of being up and off the neck.

How To Do It Today:

Colourful bows, faux braids, headscarves – there’s so much fun to be had from this era! Almost all of it can be worked into modern hair. Pop over to a site like Etsy to find original vintage accessories you can pair with your modern wardrobe, or make simple fabric bows and scarves yourself if you’re feeling crafty.


Want to discover more about vintage life? Check out our discussion on retro fashion trends, slang in the mid-century, and bizarre names for old items!



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *