Vintage Roller Sets - Some Basic Patterns

I have completely fallen in love with Vintage Hair Styles. I like a lot of current ones too, but I love the 1940's, 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's. I guess I was born in the wrong era. It's proven difficult to get information about how they created these hairstyles. There are a few books, which help and even more helpful are a group of people I've met who are trying to save the knowledge of the hair styling of the past from disappearing. These people are trying to locate old hairstyling magazines (the main source of information back then) and save them. Big shoutout to Pete, which is a boy name but belongs to a very nice cis-gender lady from Canada who has been incredibly helpful to me in this quest.

If you have never done a roller set, I highly recommend that you read Creating the Marilyn Wig, at least the first part. That was an early effort, and I would probably do it a lot differently today, but the first part of the article, about how to put on rollers, steam wigs, and the rest I believe is correct and I still do it that way today. If you want to style synthetic hair wigs, then start there and come back here after you've read that.

A Few Basic Roller Sets

Here are a few of the easier basic roller sets of the past which I like. These are pretty easy to do. I suggest taking these as starting points and experiment with different roller angles, brush outs and patterns.

The whole idea of a roller set is for the hair to retain some of the shape given to it by the curlers. The roller setting pattern does affect the finished hairstyle, but it is not as much as you might think. Fore sure it's not as much as I thought. Take heart if you are a beginner because this means even if you suck at roller sets (as I did and maybe still do) and don't do an immaculate job of it, you can still end up with a nice or even a great result.

A quick review

  • Large curlers give volume but minimal curl.
  • Small curlers give curl but minimal volume.
  • Use on-base sets for the most of either curl or volume.
  • Don't put too much hair on each roller: use the roller to set the base length and width.
  • Use papers to keep the ends nice. If you can't use papers, make sure to tuck the ends of the hair nicely underneath the rest of the hair on the roller, or you will get crazy ends!
  • Don't be afraid to experiment.

Pattern Number 1.

This is probably the most common roller setting pattern and it is very easy to do. The pattern and finished photo is from the magazine Set'n Style from 1976. This was the most popular hair styling magazine for the 1970's:

Model with Pattern No. 1 roller set. Pattern Number 1 diagram.

To set your hair this way, section out a roller sized section of hair from your forehead and comb it back. Then take roller sized sections on each side of that and comb towards each ear. Start with the roller at your forehead and add one after another until you reach the back of your crown. You can also just keep going until you run out of hair at the base of your neck. Set all rollers on base for the most curl.

Now do the left and right sections and finish by filling in the empty spaces in the back with curlers, as shown. Steam and let it sit until dry. Once it is dry, you can use it as a foundation for any hairdo with a lot of volume on top and a little flip on either side. To get the style in the photo, comb it back and a little sideways.


Change the size of the rollers and the direction. For example, instead of going straight back along the center of the head, start over one eye and go diagonally across the head. You can get a more curly and tousled look by using smaller curlers but roll them in alternate directions. There are lots of fun things to do with this simple but beautiful set.

Pattern Number 2, the "Halo"

As you can see from the diagram, this is called the "halo" because the front curlers form a halo around your face:

Model with halo hair set. Halo roller diagram.

Choose the location for your part, then wind the curlers left and right towards your ears from where you want the part to be. Fill in the back with nice, tidy rows. This set lends itself to beautiful, gently flowing waves combed left and right (as you can see in the photograph). If you forget to wind the curlers left and right from the part, you will end up fighting the hair when you try to comb it out. This is another article from Set'n Style, winter edition 1982.


One interesting variation is to set the back with vertical rollers, instead of horizontal ones. This interesting modern variation on this style gives a long, flowing curve.

Pattern Number 3, The "Brick"

This is harder to do and a word of warning: Depending on your wig, it might not even be possible. It depends partly on how much hair is in your wig, and partly on how it is laid out. It is called "the Brick" because you are supposed to make an effort to offset each row by one-half of a roller, so it looks like the side of a brick house. The idea is to minimze any danger of "rows". This is from American Hairdresser, July 1971.

Model with hair set with brick pattern. Model with rollers on showing how to do it.

The brick pattern applies mostly to the back, the setting for the front uses triangular sections and pivots around the crown. This technique for setting the front is beautiful, but I have found it quite challenging, so allow yourself plenty of time if you try it.

Once you have the pivot around the top, you can set the rest, starting with a tidy ring of rollers around the ones you have set, then work back row by row. It gets harder as you get towards the back, especially if your wig doesn't have a lot of hair back there, but it is less critical in the back. You can comb this out in many different ways. To get the style shown in the picture, you want to comb upwards and use a fair amount of back combing as well.

Pattern Number 4, "Random"

Model with 'random' hair set style.

This is from the book Over 200 New Hair Setting Patterns, published in 1969. It is basically just random rollers, which is easy. This is a great style for "mussed up" waves or curls. Use small rollers for curls (as in the photo) and larger ones for waves. Don't set them in any particular order, but do make sure all the hair is in curlers. Try to keep the curlers all the same size or close to it.

Another variation

Here's a variation on one of the earlier patterns from the magazine Set'n Style, Winter 1982. Notice how the two angles on the forehead adds some curl to the part. I think this looks great, but personally I would want more of a "glam" look. Still very interesting to study:

Model with hair styled from variation. Roller set diagram for variation

That's it for now!

I hope you have some fun and success with this. If there's enough interest, I will write more as I make more discoveries and find more styling mags.Thanks for reading and if you have something nice to say or a good idea or suggestion, feel free to