Get the Look: Retro Finger Waves

by Hayley Mason

Get the Look: Retro Finger Waves

Months after the premiere of “The Great Gatsby,” the retro style is still going strong. I’ve bought my embellished dresses, my long strings of pearls, and my bold crimson lipsticks, but I’m still coveting one retro look I just can’t grasp on my own: finger waves. Julia Papworth, makeup artist and hair stylist to the stars, gave me the low-down on how to get this Daisy Buchanan-worthy style.


I love this style because whether you have short sassy hair ala Halle Berry, or a longer length like Charlize Theron sported at the AFI Fest in 2009, you can rock this simple and gorgeous retro hairstyle. Although the look is easier to do with short hair, you can simply pull longer hair into a bun or updo and create waves in a small section toward the front.


Tools You Need:


Finger Waves for Damp Hair
“I love this retro look, because it’s so different,” says Julia. “It seems like every woman wants to rock sexy Victoria’s Secret waves and curls for a night out, but retro styles are unique. It’s refreshing to see a different style!”


  1. Start by creating a deep side part and working a generous amount of mousse of or gel through the hair. Julia prefers Bumble and Bumble Full Form Mousse or Aveda Flax Seed Aloe Strong Hold Sculpturing Gel.
  2. Comb the hair product through the hair to make sure it’s evenly distributed. “The product is going to help volumize and inflate the hair, and it adds great texture to help with the finger waves,” says Julia.
  3. Section off a 2-inch section of hair parallel to the part. Using a tail comb, pull the section of hair forward toward your face and start shaping the finger waves in an ‘S’ shape.
  4. Progress down the head using the tail comb to direct the hair back and forth into finger waves. You want to alternate pushing the hair up or down to create the rows of waves, using a curl clip to secure each row using one of the curl clips before shaping the next wave in the opposite direction.
  5. Allow your hair to air dry before removing the curl clips and finish with a hard hold hairspray.


Finger Waves for Dry Hair
“Remember that finger waves don’t always need to be wet sets,” says Julia. “I personally prefer to style the hair dry. It allows me more options for styling and the ability to tweak mid-style if I see fit.”


  1. Separate the hair into three sections—two from ear to ear and one in the back. As in the wet finger waves, keep a deep side part and start with a 2-inch section of hair parallel to the part.
  2. Use a small or medium sized curling iron to curl under and then over, creating the ‘S’ shape of the wave.
  3. Continue making the ‘S’ shape section by section, using the curl clips to set the peak of each wave.
  4. Set the waves with a flexible hold hairspray like Oribe Superfine Hairspray. “This one has a fantastic hold that is also brushable,” says Julia. “With the back section I suggest loose curls or a messy bun—anything hip and modern will play nicely with the retro style of the finger waves.