Have modern hairdressers forgotten how to curl?

I had a bad experience at my hairdresser tonight and cried on the way home – I’m very loyal when it comes to hairdressers, as I rarely feel as vulnerable as I do sitting in their chair with my glasses off and all my flaws on show.

Better than myself, they know my natural hair colour and exactly how much of it has faded to grey – I dislike the amount of time it takes whilst I sit there reading magazines or mentally writing “to do” lists. Decidedly not one for the “pampering” culture, I can’t help but think how much I could be doing elsewhere whilst my hair “cooks”.

On Sunday I’m helping out at the Lindy Charm School for Girls at Como House for their Mother’s Day vintage hair and make up demonstration – so I needed to get my hair recoloured first, so hence the last minute appointment. My usual hairdresser was busy but that’s okay, because they’re all nice there.

Except…except that the rules have changed and they wanted to charge me an extra $30 to dry my hair. On top of the $120 for touching up my regrowth. Suddenly my hair colour seemed like an indulgence I could no longer afford – and to make matters worse, I always have to restyle my hair when I go home because their carefully produced curls with hair straighteners and product fall straight out.

You’ve probably noticed the flaw in that idea: using hair straighteners to put curls in? Maybe it works for others but it doesn’t work for me. Over the past few years whilst straight hair has been in fashion, they’ve tried all kinds of tricks and it’s all to the same result – I come out with curls but within an hour or two I’m looking like a ’70s throwback with Marcia Brady hair.

Now in case you’re thinking my hair is difficult, I’d like to assure you otherwise – my hair has sufficient natural wave that it takes very little coaxing to either straighten or curl. I’m baffled at how my hairdresser can fail to get it to perform so when they said the blowdry would be extra, I just replied that’s fine – I’ll let it air dry and style at home as per normal.

I was surprised that they were happy to let me leave with dripping long wet hair, and happy for me to leave unhappy, but the alternative they offered me was a bit of “moisture removal” whatever that is, and mentioned something about a diffuser (which summoned dreadful ’80s memories) so I declined. Bizarrely though, my receipt still included a blow dry. I suspect I’ll be looking for a less expensive hair dresser, maybe even an old fashioned one who knows how to set hair.

Meanwhile, in my vintage-flavoured world, curls are all the rage – here are some pics from a workshop Candice DeVille did on my hair a while ago – a nice and old fashioned set complete with big rollers. The result is the user pic you can see over on the right —->

All photos courtesy Candice DeVille. I love it and wish my hair could look like this all the time!

Incidentally, Candice has some great hair tutorials over at youtube, and is also available by appointment for hair and make up styling or workshops (including bridal). Additionally, if you’d like to recreate this particular style it came from an easy to use book called “Vintage Hairstyling”.

Meanwhile, over at Esme and the Laneway, Marianne gives terrific instructions on rag rolls – my mum used to give me ringlets as a child using this method and I’d lost the knack. Thanks to Marianne rediscovering it, I might give it a go. My hair’s grown quite a bit since Candice styled it and it’s too long to hold hot roller curls now, but shorter than Marianne’s so I think it will work.

Our grandmothers would be proud of us! I love it when old fashioned methods work best, and better still, you don’t need any high tech products to get the effect – hairspray, water, setting lotion, bobby pins do the job.


  1. Hi Nicole, I’ve been having exactly the same bad experiences with hair straighteners and blank looks in the salons up here in Sydney – including having to go to a ball with my hair looking like rats tails after a failed attempt to describe classic “waves”. It cost alot too! I am now on the hunt for a good old-fashioned hair-setting salon here in Sydney. Wish we had Brisbane’s “The Pink Salon”, which specialises in classic cuts and vintage up-dos… sigh…

  2. I wish I had the patience and inclination to do something with my hair these days. It’s either a ponytail or an alice band at the moment, depending on how badly in need of a wash it is.

    I think hairdressers are trained with the misconception that we all secretly want to look ‘fashionable’ regardless of what we say to them and they think it is their duty to make our hair fit the current style. Like hairdressers who wont cut my fringe any shorter when I keep telling them it’s too long. I don’t know if they actually realise that if they don’t cut it shorter I’m going to go home and hack it off myself anyway.

  3. I still don’t understand why people use straighteners to curl hair. It works if hair is super short, but not for mid-long hair. I was horrified to see a so-called vintage hair stylist use a straightener on clients – the finished product was less than desirable.

  4. I agree – so many hairdressers have no idea about how to set hair properly! I’m in Sydney and there’s maybe a handful of hair stylists I have found that know how to do a proper victory roll or marcel wave! I get it, it’s a specialty thing, but vintage looks have been in fashion for so long, you think they would have at least learnt the basics.

  5. I hate the hairdresser too. I hate having to sit in front of that mirror for an hour or however long it takes. I also think it’s rather cheeky of your hairdresser to impose new charges on an old client – they should grandfather older clients and keep them on the old rates *nod*

    I have no loyalty anymore. I’ve been subsisting on $50 deal-of-the-day cut and colour vouchers from any hairdresser that isn’t too far from me. My next appointment will be at the city’s largest alt/ goth hairdresser and I’m actually quite excited. I think they might finally understand that when I say inverted bob, I mean dramatic lines, not a softened out layered thing.

  6. Helen – I’m really baffled by the straightener to curl thing. The first time I thought “okay, I’ll give it a shot” and it did result in a nice ’60s kind of flippy bob – but then the flip fell out and it was just Marcia again.

    Clare – do you mean Wildilocks? Cass is a friend and I really should try them out next. Also, I approve of their rates chart which is by the hour – that makes sense to me and means that I probably won’t pay $100 to have an inch taken off my long locks.

  7. Highway robbery! Most places which have ‘regulars’ account for a period of interchange, where they can inform people of the price increase while still charging them at their old rate. Then they can decide if they want to book another appointment at the increased price, or find somewhere else! My local el cheapo hairdressers are actually pretty good, and get genuinely excited to try something different since most customers want ‘just a trim’ and a blow-wave. I do wish I could find a ‘silent’ hairdresser though – I hate the forced nature of the chatter there. Maybe some people want to share every detail of their lives with their hairdressers, but I don’t :/

  8. Other than having a colour done my 24 yo daughter does her own vintage hair styles. Up in the morning and patiently does the hair and full makeup before she heads off to work looking like she stepped out of a 50’s magazine, Her patience astounds me. I loved her heading out to a friends house on Friday night to get ready for a function, with hair rollers in and a scarf over her hair. I told her all she needed was the dressing gown and she would remind me of my Mother.

  9. I’m very very wary of hairdressers – I always ended up paying a premium for disappointing results. They always want to put a million layers in my hair – when I come home, I feel as if all the body has been sheared out of it, and its all weighed down and limp with some sticky ‘shine spray’ (or whatever it is). I end up washing it and bending over with the hairdryer in an effort to return some life to it. As a result, I never go to the hairdressers for anything except a trim, and I cut my own fringe, because like Karen said, if I leave it up to them, it’s always hanging over my eyebrows 🙁 If I wasn’t growing my hair out of a bob, I probably wouldn’t bother going to the hairdressers at all. My Mum used to do a fantastic job of trimming it when it was down to my butt 😉

  10. Wow,.. thanks for teaching me this right hairdresser curl. You did a great job and your article is very informative. Thanks for posting this and if it is possible for you to share me more about it that would be great.

  11. As a Hairdresser that has been in the trade for more years than I care to mention and been doing real vintage hair, for longer than most of you have been alive, I can answer some of your points – I must firstly say that to do curls with a ghd or flat iron is not a good move for vintage styles (its fine for looser messy, modern looks )
    But also modern hot rollers are not a good idea due to the fact that they do not get hot enough to allow you to brush the set out. (if you can find an old 1960’s set they are better)a hot barrel iron set or a wet set is the only way to get a good true vintage look .

    When hot setting the most important thing is getting the set really hot (use of a heat protector is paramount) but it is more important to let the hair cool down fully before brushing. brushing is where the skill comes in as you can see in the set above that has not been brushed out (not that im knocking that set by any means it looks fine)if it was brushed out it would be much softer and the curls would not be so seperate,and there for be more vintage and less retro.

    A true vintage 50s set should be soft and bouncey, not a bunch of barrel curls..

    Victory Rolls mmm, dont get me started.
    A victory roll was a hair-do that was devised by the landgirls in England in the second World War, they used to watch the RAF fly over the fields they were working in, and as the planes went over they would do a roll which the pilots called a Victory Roll, in turn the girls tried to emulate this shape in their hair.

    A victory roll is meant to be a soft movement away form the face that curves and rolls on to the top of the head to one side (you should not beable to see right through this roll) , the opposite side can be offset it should still be soft – it should not be big round roll on top of your head that looks like Mickey Mouse ears unless of course that is the look you are going for (which is not vintage but infact retro )more on vintage setting to get a true vintage set you need a vintage cut , a bubble cut , shingle , page boy , or rocker bob are all shapes that set well ….to answer the comment about mirrors the mirror is not there for you to look at your self for 45 mins ( which is what we allow for a full set and brush out)it is for your hairdresser so he or she can balance the hair for you. now to answer your comments on cost, i can only comment on sydney but the avarage shop cost over $1000 a week to rent where back in 1950 it was around 8 pounds ,setting lotion cost less than a penny today its around $30, the average wage in 1950 was 15pounds a week today it is $650 you do the maths and you can see the percentages of cost are much higher…now the comment on why cant all hair dressers do vintage, think about it, you dont go to target to buy a great vintage dress, you go to shops like cica , or coco repose in sydney and be prepaired to pay the price for the quality of the product you are buying , its the same with hair go to a expert and be prepaird to pay for there expertise .. the elcheapo down the rd may like to experiment on you thats great but dont complain when it is not great vintage look. lastly and the biggest problem with the vintage hair scene is there are lots of girls and guy barbers who are setting up at markets and even opening shops, after watching a few clips on youtube and charging people for substandard work not only is this a rip off but it is illegal for a none trade hairdresser to charge you for you your hair if they burn you or damage your hair they are not covered by any kind of insurance. i hope this has filled in some of the blanks for you.

  12. one more thing the comment on i wish hairdressers wouldnt talk to me … well most hairdressers that are any good would do around 10/14 haircut set etc in a day . we have to talk to people and listen to them all day (it is part of our job ?!) i for one love it when a client picks up a mag and starts to read it . it allows me to do my real job

  13. Really educational post. Thank you for taking the time to talk about your look at with us.

  14. Hi Nicole l was hoping if you could help me. I am looking for a hairdresser that would do my hair. I live in Albion Vic and would love to have my hair done vintage or retro for my nephews wedding are they expensive to have done?

  15. Hi Angela, I recommend Wildilocks in Victoria St: link in the post above. They’ve done a great job with my hair over many years. The cost I imagine, depends on the style you want, and the time it takes to style it. Good luck!

  16. Hi Nicole, how lovely it is to see so many women actually loving to set there hair in rollers. It brings back beautiful childhood memories for me.
    I am a closet crossdresser and have longish hair and I find norhing more relaxing than sitting openly under a dryer with my hair in rollers

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