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1920s Hair for the Modern Gal

Shay is a beauty blogger with a mass of Iranian hair and endless patience for product testing. She specializes in acne skincare.

1920s Hair for the Modern Gal

1920s Hair for the Modern Gal

What's Old Is New Again

The closely styled crops, boyish looks, and Gatsby-inspired hair of the 1920s are adorable, but sometimes an overly retro look can be intimidating. I wrote this article to give you all some inspiration from the past and help you create a look that is fresh, unique, and entirely your own.

So if you feel like you're in a rut with your current style and are looking for something that is both cutting edge and classically chic, take a gander. I hope that my own search for '20s inspired hair might give you a fresh take on your own 'do.

Fashion Is Cyclical

The popularity of the Leonardo DiCaprio/Carey Mulligan/Tobey McGuire flick The Great Gatsby, HBO's Boardwalk Empire, and the BBC runaway hit Downton Abbey has certainly brought the '20s back, front and center. Before these programs made their mark, however, the styles of the '90s were already coming back into vogue.

What do the 1920s and 1990s have in common? More than you might think, dah-ling. The following styles saw a big comeback in the '90s:

  • Short boyish haircuts (think the Vidal Sassoon or Linda Evangelista look)
  • Feminine clothing (with a menswear edge)
  • Red and dark red lips (with an emphasis on matte or no-shine lips)

Fashion experts agree that fashion is cyclical; styles tend to come back every 20 years. This puts us in a prime place for a '90s comeback. Every fashion decade will have its own quirks, many of which are drawn from classics of other decades. Given our current pop culture fascination with the 1920s, I predict our current '90s trend will see a big hit from the speakeasy era of the 1920s.

The Super Short, Straight Bob

Perhaps the most iconic and easily identified style of the era, the short bob was made famous by starlets Louise Brookes and Clara Bow. This style is an above-the-chin boyish bob. A variation of this, the Eton crop, was worn slicked against the head.

While the look works for some, it's probably best for the rest of us if an Eton-inspired crop is worn with a tad less gel. They can be cut with a more A-line (longer in the front than in the back) style, and also work very well with a subtle undercut in the back.

A very wearable variation of it, made popular by Vidal Sassoon and supermodel Linda Evangelista, made a big comeback in the '90s and is coming back in style today.

Short Wavy Hair

Finger Waves and Pin Curls

Short wavy and curly hair is the bread and butter of the 1920s. Finger waves were one of the most popular styles of the time. The style was traditionally done on short hair and was very close to the head.

The style is very pretty, but maybe not so practical for everyday wear. An excellent alternative involves the use of a waver, 3-barrel curling iron, or even a regular curling iron for carefully placed waves. Pin curls are easy and fantastic (woo you can sleep in them!) and work very well on hair that already has some body.

What's a Waver?

A waver is a specific type of curling iron that is made for creating waves in the hair, rather than curls. They are pretty inexpensive and can create a range of styles, from a messy beach look to glossy/smooth waves.

An Easier Finger Wave Method

When done the traditional way with the fingers (go figure), finger waves are one of the most notoriously difficult styles to master. Since we are busy ladies and some of us busy ladies have uncoordinated fingers, I've included a video below for a finger wave method that involves much easier to work with clips.

Boyish Hairstyles

Bowl Cuts and Page Boy Hair

Boyish hairstyles are lovely, and the '20s serve as a fantastic source of inspiration. I think they are an unexpected look on a woman, and help to reinforce self-confidence by flying in the face of gender norms.

Ah, who am I kidding. I just think they look adorable! Gamine? Yes please!

While I think the boyish hairstyles of the '20s have held up pretty darn well over the last century, I have two easy peasy ways to modernize a boyish cut. You can mess it up real good with a little pomade for a "bead head" look or go for an edgy undercut.

An undercut (which can be seen on Tilda Swindon and Milla Jovovich in the gallery below) is a hairstyle of any length that has a section (or sections) shaved or trimmed very very short on the sides or back, so that the longer hair lies over the top. Don't worry, it sounds scarier than it is! If you have shorter hair, an undercut poses minimal risk as it will grow out lickety-split. In the hands of a skilled stylist, a boyish undercut hairstyle can be oh-so-chic.

Mary Pickford with a boyish haircut.

Mary Pickford with a boyish haircut.


20s Styles for Long Hair

In the 1920s, a woman's hair is almost always up off the shoulders as long hair was usually only seen on young girls. If your hair is long, your best bet for '20s style hair is to pin it up into a low bun or faux bob at the base of the neck. Loose waves and curls are best, and because you ain't got time for that, messy is a-okay.

If you have naturally wavy or curly hair, embrace it! Otherwise, some soft curlers, pin curls, or a waver iron can do wonders!

A Super Easy Vintage Inspired Updo Tutorial

This tutorial works well for long hair and gives you a 20s style look that doesn't look too retro. The gal doing the video recommends curling your hair first (or using a diffuser if your hair already has a wave or curl to it), but I could see how the step could be skipped in a pinch.

1920s Hair Inspiration from Movies not Made in the 20s

I find myself in the habit of scanning movies for cute haircuts. The following 3 movies all feature 20s styles with a modern edge:

  1. Amelie - Amelie is one of my all time favorite movies. It's a French film (with English subtitles) and it's so quirky and cute, it makes Zooey Deschanel look like a lame-o.
  2. Tron Legacy - In the new Tron, which is as stylistically stunning as the original, Olivia Wilde has a super cute hair cut. She also makes me weep for not being born with her face.
  3. Boys on the Side - Seriously, Drew's hair is so freakin' cute throughout the whole movie, don't be surprised if you have the sudden urge to curl yours and stick flowers in it while watching.

1920s Poll!


Johanna Eisler on December 24, 2013:

Cute! I love the Vintage Bohemian updo video! The finished style looks like it was way more complicated to create than it was!

Takkhis on June 07, 2013:

Currently my gf likes short hairstyles :)

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on May 12, 2013:

Wonderful to remember those curls and the many hours to get them.