Best Curling Irons for Vintage Styles
Dec 11, 2023

Best Curling Irons for Vintage Styles

Best Curling Irons for Vintage Styles

So, you may have landed on this blog post because you want to experiment with vintage curl sets and the good ol' curling iron is your first tool of choice. Perhaps you have already tried and are frustrated that the curls just drop out too quickly or have more of a modern and not quite a vintage look. Well, you have come to the right place! A heated curling iron was the first tool I used to create vintage pin curls and believe me when I say that there was lots of trial and error. A heated pin curl set is also my method of choice for my clients. 

After many years of creating vintage curls in my hair of all lengths (short and long) and conditions (dyed and natural), in addition to creating hundreds of classic pinup and vintage hairstyles for my clients, I have tried a many curling irons of all shapes and sizes and experimented with pretty much every setting pattern and curling method you could think of. So today, I am giving you the low down of what to consider when purchasing or using a curling iron to create vintage curls. 

Types of heated curling irons

Do a quick online search and you will find an abundance of heated curling irons and appliances available. But are they all created equal? Do they all use the same techniques? The simple answer is no. While any appliance you choose may create a very beautiful curl in your hair, not all will create the style which is synonymous with vintage silhouettes. To rule out all the 'air-wraps' and 'rollers', let's focus on the two main types of curling irons: wand and tong. 

Curling Wand

A curling wand will be a singular heated stick from which you wrap a section of hair around to heat through. These usually require a heat proof glove or very heat tough finger tips in order to prevent burns while wrapping the hair. Spoiler alert! This style is not your friend if you want to create an easy vintage curl on your own hair.

heated curling wand

(Curling wand example. Credit: Canva Stock Gallery)

Curling Tong

A curling tong is the same design as the above wand, however, it includes an additional tong/prong attachment at the base of the heated shaft which you use to clamp the section of hair and work the hair securely around to create a curl. Using this type of curling iron allows for more control of your curl and also heats up the ends the best as they are tucked into the barrel easily using the tong - resulting in a more uniform curl which is essential to vintage styles. 

curling tong

(Curling tong example. Credit: Canva Stock Gallery)

Drop or pin?

Now, once you have the hair heated up and in a curl formation - do not drop the curl out of the iron and simply admire the spirals. The curl needs to be kept in the coiled pin curl formation until it completely cools. You can carefully release the section from the iron and secure the heated pin curl with a pin curl clip (but a bobby pin is ok if that is all you have on hand). Keeping the hair in the pin curl until it completely cools makes for a longer lasting curling and one that can handle a little bit of manipulating as vintage curl sets require the curls to be brush together. 

(Pinning curls in a heated curl set. Credit: Lisa J Photography)

Different shapes and sizes

On your search you may have also come across some different shapes and sizes of curling irons. I love this photo reference from Mane Addicts as it clearly demonstrates the different types of curls that each shape will create.

(Types of curling wands and their resulting curls. Credit: Mane Addicts)

The Vintage Pin Curl

When I talk about creating a vintage pin curl, I mean replicating the pin curls which were generally done via a wet set (if you struggle with heat retaining curl in your hair I highly recommend experimenting with dry and wet pin curls!). The size of these curls were determined by wrapping the section of hair around two to three of your fingers. Therefore, I generally say that the best size pin curl for a vintage set is around 2 cm (~ 3/4 inch). And size does matter. The resulting curl can differ depending on the thickness of your hair section, the diametre of the pin curl and even the method and position from which you create your curl. I go deep into all of this in my online vintage curl sets course. There is also a detailed set and brush out tutorial for heated pin curls within the online course.

Related: How to Find Your Perfect Curling Method

So, now that you should be able to sift through all the options out there. What are the best curling irons for vintage styles? In my tool kit are 10 mm, 19 mm and 32 mm curling tongs. I'll walk you through what I use to create classic pinup and vintage hairstyles at the Sunshine Coast Pinup School. 

19 mm Curling Tong

This is my go-to size for an array of vintage curl styles. It is adaptable to many hair styles and I can control the curl style by taking larger or smaller sections of hair. I personally use the Silver Bullet brand as I love how I can adjust the temperature to match my clients hair type. This size will create a stunning curl which will brush out into a classic silhouette on most hair lengths. 

19 mm vintage curl styles

(19 mm vintage curl sets on long, short and medium hair lengths. Credit left top and bottom: Sunshine Coast Pinup School, top right: Razzamadazzle, bottom right: Mark Greenmantle Photography)

10 mm Curling Tong

I was introduced to this size when I started experimenting with Hollywood waves. This technique requires the curl to be tightly coiled around the curling iron (essentially using it like a wand) and then rigorously brushed out into deep classic waves - which take on their own unique form depending on how the hair responds to the heated curls. This is also a technique which is pretty much impossible to do on your own hair as all of the sections need to be of the exact same size and coiled in the exact same angle and direction. 

10 mm vintage hollywood waves

(Hollywood waves created with 10 mm spiral set. Credit (all): Sunshine Coast Pinup School)

Of course I got one with a prong attachment as this size is also great to create tighter 1940's curl sets with much smaller heated pin curls. 

1940s tight curl set

(1940's vintage curl set with 10 mm heated pin curls. Credit: Sunshine Coast Pinup School) 

The smaller size also lends itself to being able to add a curl to very short hair lengths and to heat style short fringe and bangs (I can create the above 1940's curled front look using the 10 mm curling tong with my Bettie Bangs!)

I have also used a combination of both of these sized curling irons, using the smaller 10 mm on the front fringe section and the regular 19 mm size on the remainder of the hair. Using the smaller size creates more volume and definition in the front whereas this section is more likely to flatten out quicker in long hair due to gravity. 

combined curl size set

(Combined vintage set using both 10 mm and 19 mm curling wands. Credit: Sunshine Coast Pinup School)

32 mm Curling Tong

Using a larger size yet again, you can create softer more casual vintage waves on longer hair. This is the largest size I tend to go, as an iron of this width will only add a slight bend to shorter hair lengths (very Grace Kelly if that is what you are going for) - and therefore not versatile enough for me to use often. I find I can get a similar curl by simply using a larger section with the 19 mm curling tong and securing the big pin curls with wave clips

larger vintage curl set long hair

(Larger 32 mm vintage curl set on long hair. Credit: Korsos Photography)

How do I know the right size to use for my hair?

If you are experimenting with heated vintage curl sets and don't yet know the best size for your hair and the style you want to achieve. Or you want the flexibility to create a multitude of styles without over ruling your dresser with a pile of curling irons and power leads. Then I highly suggest looking into a multi-attachment curling iron set. These sets include a selection of sizes and shapes which can be easily interchangeable with the one main curling iron base. 

You never know until you try

The only way to know which size curl you like in your hair is to experiment. You can check out my 3 basic fringe setting patterns or download the free vintage curl set resources which you can keep track of and document your curl setting experiments. When you are ready to dive deep into the world of vintage curl sets, Your Perfect Curl, the online vintage curl sets course is available for you to complete in your own time, anywhere, with lifetime access and support. 

Let me know if you have experimented with heated curl sets and which size curling iron you love best. 

Renae xo


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