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What is a Pin Curl?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 21, 2024
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A pin curl is a curl that has been produced by being wound and pinned directly against the head, rather than using a roller or other device. The hair is pinned while damp and the pins are typically left in overnight, although blow drying is often used to speed up the process.

Despite being called pin curls, the pins used to create the curls are seldom left in the hair when going out in public. A pin curl is thought to last longer and be less damaging to hair than other methods, such as perms or hot irons, though these methods have progressed significantly since the pin curl was most popular. This type of curl was a particularly popular hairstyle in the early- to mid-20th century, particularly in the 1940s and 1950s.

There are relatively few tools used to make pin curls. The curls are wrapped around a finger and held in place only with pins. Hair that is extremely fine may require a hair setting lotion, but most medium to coarse hair will hold the curls using only water. A comb or brush is also useful when making pin curls, since the hair needs to be divided into sections to curl.

The process for making pin curls is time consuming but relatively simple to learn. First, hair is divided into small sections, the size of each section differing depending on the desired size of the curl. Smaller sections will make neat, shiny curls that do not need to be further divided when unwound. Larger sections may make a more voluminous hairstyle, but will appear wavy when brushed out.

Next, the sectioned hair is wound. This is accomplished by wrapping a section of hair around a finger held close to the scalp. The resulting single pin curl is then slipped off the finger and arranged flat against the head. It is typically held in position by bobby pins, but other clips may be used. Using two bobby pins to form an X shape over the pin curl holds the curl most firmly, which is particularly important if the curl will be worn overnight.

Once this process has been repeated for the entire section of hair to be curled or the entire head, the curls must be allowed to dry in order to hold their shape. One method is to blow dry the hair and then remove the pins. The other, more common method is to cover the hair with a scarf or other soft piece of fabric and sleep with the pins in. This allows the pin curls to dry and set without damaging from heat. When the hair is dry, the pins are removed and curls are finished.

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