How to Create Finger Waves

Finger Waves Hairstyle
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A Vintage Hair Trend Returns

Finger waves.
Photos by Kendra Aarhus

The finger-waved hairstyle was made popular in the 1920's as a fancy way to style the very modern and wildly popular bob hairstyle of the era.

Back in the 1920s hair styling tools weren't exactly what we know today--women basically worked with wet hair, a load of hair gel and their fingers. You can still create finger waves that way if you have a good amount of skill, the better part of a day, and double-jointed shoulders.

Today modern finger waves are worn for weddings and other special occasions, and they make a great addition to a Halloween costume (a 1920's flapper or Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby).

The great thing about modern finger waves is that you create them with a curling iron instead of your fingers. They will take some time, however, and a few practice runs before a big event will go a long way.

Here's what you need create your very own finger waved hair:

  • Comb: any comb will work, but I prefer a tail comb as it's nice for making neat and even sections. You'll be making a lot of sections.
  • Duck Bill Clips or any small clips to hold your sections in place.
  • Hair Spray: I used two types of hair spray. A lighter holding "setting spray" (like CHI Ionic Infra Texture) and a harder holding hair spray.
  • Small Curling Iron (or curling wand): your curling iron should be no bigger than 3/4" in diameter. I used a very small (just under 1/2") curling iron in this demonstration. Larger sized curling irons can be used in longer hair, but less wave will be the result.
  • Hair Brush

The first time I tried this method, it took well over 90 minutes. Take your time, because the more detailed you are, the more impressive your finger waves will look.

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Finger Wave Sectioning

How to section hair for finger waves.
Section your hair. Photos by Kendra Aarhus

You can create your finger waves on clean or dirty hair. If your hair is freshly shampooed, add some mousse or gel prior to blow drying to help your curls hold, and part your hair where you want it before you blow dry.

The first step is making sections that you will later curl methodically. Use the numbered photos above and the descriptions below to get your sectioning perfect.

  1. Part your hair. Place your part deep to one side, typically a little deeper than you normally would. Your part should be very straight and go all the way back to the crown of your head.
  2. Create your first section by making a line with your tail comb approximately 1- 1.5" parallel from your part. If your hair is very thick, you'll want smaller sections. Use a duckbill clip to secure your section down.
  3. Create another section, just like the first, approximately 1 - 1.5" away from the previous section. Secure with a clip.
  4. Continue to create sections until you are near your ear. You will likely have four to six sections, depending on your hair's thickness.
  5. Create the same sectioning on the other side

What do you do with the back of your hair? For now, nothing. You can secure the back with a hair tie or let it hang.

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Curling Your Hair for Finger Waves

How to curl hair for finger waves.
Curl your hair. Photos by Kendra Aarhus

Next, curl your hair in very small, very tedious sections. This is the part that takes the most time. Do not try to cheat by curling larger sections; it simply will not work. Take your time. Again, using the photo above as a guide, follow these directions:

  1. Spray the first section of hair with your setting hair spray. If you don't have a setting hairspray, any hair spray will do. Give it a good spray, and then comb your hair neatly. Starting with the section nearest your ear and just behind your ear, create a small subsection to curl. This subsection should be no wider than your curling iron.
  2. Curl the subsection (I always curl away from my face), then make a second sub section just in front of the first. Curl each sub section in the exact same direction as the first. Continue making subsections until your first row of curls is completed.
  3. Unclip the uncurled section of hair above the section that you just curled and give it a good spray with your curling iron. Repeat curling very small sections of hair, in the exact same direction as the previous section. All curls for the duration of this hair style should be curled in the same direction.
  4. Unclip the uncurled section of hair above the section that you just curled and repeat the process. Spray, create small subsections, curl.
  5. When you have completed all the sections of hair you will have yourself a mess of curls that would make Shirley Temple proud.
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Curling Your Hair for Finger Waves

Curling the second section for finger waves.
Curl the other side. Photos by Kendra Aarhus

After you've curled the first large section of hair, go to the other side and repeat the process. Continue making small sections, even though at this point you will be really tired of curling your hair. It's all worth it.

After all of your sectioned hair is curled, you can section the back off in horizontal sections and curl them in tiny little curls like you did the sides. However, I usually curl the back in larger sections and call it a day. You can later pull the back up into an updo or let it hang. You probably want some kind of wave back there, but the finger wave style is really more focused on the sides and top sections of your hair.

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Brushing Your Hair Into Finger Waves

Brushing hair into finger waves
Brushing curled hair into finger waves. Photos by Kendra Aarhus

After you've curled your hair into tiny sections, make sure that your hair is allowed to cool completely before you touch it. If you're unsure if your hair has cooled enough, let it cool some more.

  1. Using your fingers, comb through your curls to separate them.
  2. Next, brush through your curls very well. If you've placed your curls appropriately, you won't have to worry about your curls coming undone.
  3. Brush your hair every which direction, adding a firm holding hairspray occasionally, where needed until finger waves begin to form. This process will take some time and a little creativity. I timed myself and it took around 13 minutes to get them brushed out and formed exactly how I wanted them. Here's a video of how it works here.
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Finish Your Finger Waves

Halloween Finger Waves. Photo by Kendra Aarhus

After you've brushed and your finger waves magically appear, spray generously with a firm holding hairspray.  Well-secured finger waves can be worn for several days.

The photo above shows the results of using the same process, but I used a 1/2" curling wand instead. You can see the waves are a little larger. The sectioning and process were the exact same, however. The only difference was the size of the styling tool.

Disclaimer: This photo was taken for a Halloween costume. I promise the blood is completely fake!