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What is a Finger Wave?

Sheri Cyprus
Sheri Cyprus

The finger wave is a wavy hairstyle curling method achieved by wrapping sections of wet hair around and between the fingers and a comb. It first became popular in 1920s fashion and remained an appealing style throughout the 1930s. Finger wave hair made a fashion comeback in the 1990s. Although finger waving can be done in long hair, short hairstyles with soft curls around the face are the most classic looks for this style.

The 1920s flapper girls who popularized the finger wave typically had short hair. Finger waved hair was also worn in the 1930s by many Hollywood movie actresses, such as Greta Garbo who had a medium length hairstyle. In the late 1990s, finger waving became trendy in Hollywood and actresses such as Kate Bosworth, who had a short hair cut at the time, wore the style.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Curly hair often has to be straightened before finger waving it, as straight hairstyles tend to hold the look best. Using a setting gel or lotion on wet hair before adding the finger waves is necessary to help set each ridge-like wave. A comb as well as the fingers are used to create a finger waved head of hair. After the hair is washed and setting lotion or gel is rubbed into it, sections are wrapped around a finger while the side of a comb is used to press each section together. The pressing of the comb in the wet hair helps mold, rather than just curl, the hair to make the textured rippled waves.

The soft, face-framing curls that are often seen in the black and white photographs of actresses wearing the finger wave style in the 1920s and 1930s are made by the pin curl method. Small sections of wet hair are coated with a setting solution before being spiraled upward with the fingers and then held to the scalp with a metal clip. Hair clips used for pin curls have a spring mechanism; they may have square or pointed ends. The round, springy pin curls make an interesting contrast to the more angular, rippled finger waves.

A finger wave hair set doesn't typically stay waved as long as styles made with a heated curling iron or hot rollers. The result depends on a person's hair type and the strength of the setting product used. Except for fashion trends, finger waves for hairstyles were mostly replaced by the early 1960s inventions of manual plastic rollers, curling irons and hot electric roller sets.

Discussion Comments


I have never made a finger wave curl the old fashioned way, and don't know if I would have the patience to do that for every curl. I had a friend who wore a short finger wave hair style, but it is much easier to create today than it was back in the 1920's.

We have so many electric curling irons with special features that will create the look without all the painstaking time it used to take. I think it is a very feminine look and one that looks very nice for special occasions.

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