Isabelle Sudron
Updated on August 10, 2021

The finger waves are defined ‘S’ shaped waves that are often worn flat against the head. The style first popped up in the 1920s as a way to spice up the strict bob of fun-loving flappers. Then, it reemerged in the 90’s as a popular style for black hair. Now, finger waves are back again, for short and long hair, in more ways than we can wrap our heads around!

After finger waves were seen on the runway at Marc Jacobs, Gucci, Stella McCartney, Jason Wu, Salvatore Ferragamo, and then on the red carpet and in Solange’s video Don’t Touch My Hair, the retro hairstyle has really become very popular again. The good news is modern iterations of the finger waves can still look very feminine, but also absolutely contemporary, even futuristic.

Modern Takes on Finger Waves

Today we mainly don’t do finger waves all over the head, however you can go with this idea too, while upgrading it with a modern color. Think pastel or neon. Finger waves only along the hairline and natural curly or straight texture in the back are a more popular choice of today.

Products and Tools for Finger Waves

If you want to create real glossy finger waves, not the Marcel waves, you are going to work without any hot styling tools, but only with your fingers and a comb. So, you are going to need a small tooth comb and a strong sculpting gel, like Pantene or Redken Hardwear 16 super-strong sculpting gel.

Besides the classic finger wave technique we describe below, some variations of finger waves can be done with the use of secure sectioning clips. This is when you pinch the ridge not with your fingers but with a clip for more pronounced, dimensional waves.

There are also dry waves that resemble finger waves. These are done with a straightener. See the figer wave styles gallery below.

How to Do Finger Waves

The 20’s and 30’s finger waves were styled with the help of a fine-toothed comb and hairdresser’s fingers who pressed and molded gelled hair into the curvy S-shaped sleek waves. Today this technique is also used, preferably on shorter or thinner hair, along with other methods applied for longer lengths and thicker manes.

Finger waves with a curling iron or a straightener are quite easy to master, and you can vary the size and smoothness of your waves using this technique. You can even roller set your hair and then style the desired waves using hair clips and wave clamps.

Experiment with smoother flowing dry waves and wet, sexy ridged ones, incorporate them into your updos or dress up your short haircut for a special occasion. These vintage finger waves can do it all and more than you can imagine!

The step-by-step guide how to do this retro style:

  1. The style is done on wet hair. Apply some setting lotion for sleekness and hold or use a strong hold gel.
  2. Comb hair back. Start at the hairline.
  3. Work from right to left. Go with your comb from the hairline towards the back for a few inches, stop holding the comb with teeth in the hair, put your middle finger in front of the comb and press the hair. Slide the comb to the right side for an inch and lay it down. Now you’ve got the ridge between the comb and your middle finger. Pinch the ridge with your index finger. Holding the ridge, comb the hair under the pinched section to the tips.
  4. Move to the left and do the same to add to the wave across the head you are working on.
  5. Now go a bit down to mold the second row. Work from left to right. Press hair with your middle finger right below the first row of the wave. With a comb in your hair, slide it to the left for an inch and lay it down. Pinch the ridge with your index finger and comb the hair under the pinched ridge to the tips. Go on like this working to the right and adding to the wave across the head.

Watch an easy finger waves tutorial:

1. Formal Finger Wave Updo

You don’t have to sport a cropped bob and gelled locks to pull off finger wave hairstyles. This beautiful formal updo combines a killer beehive and loose finger waves. Creating this style at home will take plenty of time and patience though, as it requires styling both a beehive at the back and the waves to cover this elevated updo.

The beehive is created with backcombing and plenty of hairspray. Then, the waves on top are sculpted one-by-one, draped delicately over the beehive and carefully pinned. It goes without saying, this style is not for ladies in a rush and those without any hairstyling skills, but it’s a nice idea of a formal updo to recreate with your stylist when you need a special look for a special occasion.

2. Natural Hair Finger Wave Pixie

One or two eye-catching statement waves are the best for ladies who don’t have time to create a full head of finger waves. Not only will it give your haircut a completely new look, it can also make a casual hairdo look formal.

African American Finger Waves Short Hair

Instagram / @ohdiane_hair

3. Long Luscious Retro Waves

These long finger waves completely repurpose the old-school technique with gel and fingers. It’s a modern long look done on dry hair with a curling iron. The larger the barrel of your iron, the larger the waves.

Clip a section of hair into the iron (the barrel is under the hair) and turn it about a half turn towards the head, pulling the freely hanging ends coming out of the iron to the right with a comb. This is necessary for forming the “S” shape of your wave. Hold for a few seconds.

Now work on the same section right under the turn you’ve just shaped. Clip the section (the barrel is on the hair) and turn your curling iron about a half turn away from the head (the opposite way), pulling the freely hanging ends to the left. Continue working down on the same section shaping as many waves as you wish.

Finger Waves For Long Hair

Instagram / @mellose_se

4. Finger Waves with Bangs

One large wave for your bangs is an easy and showy way to rock finger waves. By making just a few turns with your curling iron, you can create a stunning vintage style. Alternatively, roller set the section you want the wave on.

When the hair is set and dry, brush it and then press it with your hand and push a bit up against your head to see the “S” shape of the wave. Put a clip inside the “S” to shape the finger wave. Trace the curve of the wave and spot the next point where you can put a clip in the opposite direction. Let the wave set using a blow-dryer and add enough hairspray to make your wave hold longer.

Bob With Finger Wave Bangs

Instagram / @emchenhair

5. Modern Finger Wave Mohawk

If you have an impression that there’s only one style you can do with a mohawk, we’re here to prove you wrong. This unique mohawk uses a couple of pin curls at the top that blend into finger waves at the back. What a beautiful mix of colors and textures! Bright and showy, yet classy and on-point.

Funky Finger Wave Mohawk

Instagram / @kiastylez

6. Cherry-Colored Finger Wave Hair

Slightly messy finger waves, rather than the usual neat rows, are the ultimate volumized style for short hair. These lush cherry-colored waves alternate in direction and size to add a fun edge to the look, as well as plenty of texture. Not adding a parting to this style, also creates a much more modern twist on the classic finger waves.

Short Burgundy Finger Waves Hairstyle

Instagram / @artistry4gg

7. Pinched Neon Pink Waves

Curls don’t come any cuter than these. These pinched finger waves look perfectly molded, with not a hair out of place, whereas the bright pink and bleached blonde color make the vintage wave modern, fun and youthful.

Apply enough gel and use a fine-toothed comb when working on this style. Begin styling from the side part. Clip a section you are working on an inch away from the part. Put a comb inside your hair a few inches away from your clip and pull it towards the part and your clip, shaping a wave that elevates between the clip and the comb. Pinch the elevated piece with a wave clamp to define the ridge of your wave. Now add the next clip and continue working on your waves as described.

Short Pink And Blonde Finger Waves

Instagram / @salonchristol

8. Finger Waves on Black Hair

Finger waves can look just as good when combined with shorter curls as they do on longer hair, especially when they are done on African-American black hair. In this case, the sculpted waves on the sides of the head create a great contrast with the full curls on top. Add curlers to the top section of the hair and set the whole style under a dryer.

Black Curly Pixie Hairstyle

Instagram / @nikki_h_stylist

9. Over-Sized Formal Updo

This glorious updo for long hair is not only a work of art in itself, it’s also a perfect look for any formal event. However, this style isn’t the one that can be put-together in front of your bathroom mirror, you’ll need to book an appointment with a skilled stylist.

Wavy Chignon Updo With A Flower

Instagram / @mustafaavci

10. Super Short Waves

Short finger wave hair, don’t care! These are much less catchy, but no less fashionable… Take a lock from above your forehead and rub some gel into it. Use a comb to press it flat along your hairline, then curve it out onto your forehead and back into your hairline. Take another lock of hair near from where your last wave ends and do the same. This clever technique gives the impression of one long finger wave, but it’s actually a number of shorter finger curls framing the face.

Finger Waves For Black Pixie

Instagram / @niksbeautystudio

11. Inspiring Finger Waves Bob

Just like the original 1920s style, these easy finger waves are featured on the timeless bob. Grab a wide straightener – yes, straightener, you’ve read that right. If you are doing finger waves on longer thicker hair, these are going to be dry push waves with a straightener or a curling iron.

Gray Bob With Finger Waves

Instagram / @minthairstudio

12. Cute Finger Wave Prom Hairstyle

If you fancy a unique style that combines not one but two decades, try pairing 20’s finger waves with 40’s victory rolls. This style will require some professional help, so book an appointment with your stylist. They will likely pop your bangs into curlers, brush the hair out once it has set and then mold the curls into waves. Even with the combination of two different styling techniques, this is a timeless look perfect for evening, formal and prom hairstyles.

13. Long Zig-Zag Sew In

Finger waves are normally recognized by their flat wavy nature, but not all finger waves are created equal! These loose zig-zag waves are full of life and volume. Although you wouldn’t know it, this hairstyle is actually a sew in. For ladies who regularly wear a wig or a weave, this is a great alternative to your regular hairstyle with no extra hassle.

Long Black Finger Waves Hairstyle

Instagram / @the_rose_affect

If these amazing hairdos don’t inspire you to try finger waves, we don’t know what will! Each and every style uses the traditional styling technique and spices it up in an innovative way. So, even if you are not quite impressed with the looks we’ve shared, you can always experiment with your own finger wave-inspired style!

Beehive Updo With Finger Waves African American Finger Waves Short Hair Finger Waves For Long Hair Bob With Finger Wave Bangs Funky Finger Wave Mohawk Short Burgundy Finger Waves Hairstyle Short Pink And Blonde Finger Waves Black Curly Pixie Hairstyle Wavy Chignon Updo With A Flower Finger Waves For Black Pixie Gray Bob With Finger Waves Wavy Updo With Victory Rolls Long Black Finger Waves Hairstyle