Glam finger waves made their debut in the 1920s, but this retro style is back with a vintage vengeance a full century later in the 2020s. See 15 examples of finger waves and what we’re borrowing from the past and present for this classic look.
You’ll love how finger waves are being reshaped into a modern style that celebrities and influencers are enamored with all over again.
Learn what finger waves are, who can rock this look, and see photo examples of modern-day twists on the style in our guide. Then, learn how to style finger waves yourself and get tips on making these structured waves!
What Are Finger Waves?
Finger waves are a structured wavy hairstyle that first became popular in the 1920s.
Featuring sleek waves that typically lie flat against the head in a defined S-shape, finger waves (sometimes called marcel waves, which uses a different styling method) are a classic look that’s ultra-feminine with sexy, vintage vibes.
Finger waves bring to mind sultry jazz singers crooning into a microphone, flappers dancing in secretive speakeasies, and the understated beauty looks of the Roaring 20s.
Today, this retro look is popping up again at celebrity red carpet events and trending on social media. Everything old becomes new again at some point in the beauty world, and it’s so good to see this feminine, historic style making a proud comeback.
We’re seeing uniquely modern twists on this classic style, with three-dimensional raised finger waves becoming a popular way to rock the look. Celebrities like Beyoncé are pairing microbraids with the waves for a truly unique and cutting edge style.
Who Can Wear Finger Waves?
One of the best things about vintage finger waves coming back into style is how accessible this look is. Anyone can wear finger waves! It doesn’t matter how short or long your hair is, what your hair texture and type is, or how thick or thin your mane is.
For medium and long hair, finger waves are often combined with a chignon or bun to gather and bind the majority of the hair while the waves are concentrated in the front sections. It’s a look that works on all hair types as well, from pin-straight strands to ultra-coily locks.
Because the style depends on gel for hold, finger waves can be molded into any hair type with ease and stay put for days.
While coarse hair textures may hold the style better (if you plan to wear them for a few days), even baby fine hair can support finger waves. Hair density from thin to thick is great for finger ways as well.
Since this style molds prominent waves sleekly against the head, it’s actually great for covering up thin or sparse areas around the temples or sides.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, thick hair is a good match for finger waves as well. You’ll just have to work a little harder to comb and mold the waves in place without flyaways!
Read Next: Is My Hair Thick or Thin? Quiz
11 Examples of Retro Finger Waves
See gorgeous examples of this retro style below. From classic looks that appear straight out of the 1920s to updated twists on the vintage style, we found 15 examples of finger wave styles that you’ll want to try.
There are a few celebrities who’ve been spotted rocking the look as well, like Beyonce and Zendaya! See the many ways to style and wear classic finger waves below.
1. Classic Sleek Finger Waves With Low Bun
Does it get any better than this? Classic finger waves with a sleek and shiny texture perfectly frame her face. The curves of the waves highlight and direct attention to her cheekbones.
The low bun gathers the rest of the hair to keep all the attention on the structured waves around the face.
2. Middle Parted Finger Waves
You rarely see finger waves paired with a middle part, but we really like this simple twist on the look! Symmetrical waves run along each side to give the style a really balanced appearance that side-parted finger waves miss out on.
3. Finger Waves With Face-Framing Tendrils
Wearing finger waves doesn’t mean you have to have your hair severely slicked back with nothing to frame your face.
As this example shows, you can leave a few face-framing tendrils out and curl them to add a little interest to the front of the style. In the back, a low bun or chignon completes the look.
4. Retro Finger Waves Formal Updo
We love this pearl-studded look for a wedding or special event! Marcel waves perfectly shape the style and add flair to an otherwise simple hairstyle. Add pearl pins throughout to deck out the look, or leave them bare to let the structured waves speak for themselves.
5. Jazz Age Finger Waves
The Jazz Age of the 1920s and 30s brought us new sounds and styles, including these glamorous and understated finger waves.
The waves here are deeply channeled with an elongated S-shape that screams retro. Rock this look at any formal event to have the best style in the room.
6. Hollywood Glam Finger Waves With Side Chignon
Structured finger waves add interest and vintage vibes to a basic side chignon placed low. Only the front sections are waved.
This makes the style a little easier to complete and less time-consuming. This look is formal and best worn with an off-shoulder or strapless dress to draw the eye upward.
7. High-Ridged Finger Waves
Finger waves typically lie flat against the head, with the S-shape of the waves being the only real structure to the style.
This version adds height to the ridges of the waves for a 3D effect that really brings the waves to life. It’s perfect for round faces or anyone who wants to add extra volume to the top of the style for a more flattering look.
8. Face-Framing Finger Waves
Finger or marcel waves don’t have to be your primary style – you can use these structured waves to frame your face to keep the look easy. Try pulling your hair into a smooth low chignon and create finger waves only around the face for a simple look that takes less time to style.
9. High Chignon With Finger Waved Bangs
Here’s a unique twist on the vintage look – keep the finger waves to your bangs only, and style the rest of the hair into a high chignon.
The medium-length bangs take on the classic structured wave shape while the high chignon adds height and volume to the crown. This is a great look for round and oval faces.
10. Retro Finger Wave Bob
This is a gorgeous formal style for a short chin-length bob when you want to go retro. Channel your inner flapper while sporting sleek finger waves that structure the front of the style along with a side part.
The back is tightly curled to keep all the focus on the eye-catching waves in front. Don a string of pearls to complete the look.
11. Unique 3D Finger Waves With Wrapped Chignon
As we saw above, finger waves don’t have to be flat and sleek to channel that 1920s vintage style. Deep wave channels are created with strands that sit above the rest of the style.
These then curve downward and rise up to add volume and height to the style. The loose strands are wrapped around the base of a low chignon for a finished look that’s red carpet ready.
Finger Wave Styling Tips
If you’re going to try finger waves yourself, you need to know all the tips and tricks to make the style work! Here’s what you should know about styling finger waves and little tricks to help them stay put.
- Gather the tools and products you’ll need. A fine-toothed comb, strong hold gel, curling mousse, and medium to strong hold hairspray are the tools and products you’ll need for finger waves. You’ll also be using your fingers to create the style, but considering the name, that’s no surprise!
- Start with damp, clean hair and add products. After showering, add your mousse first, then layer with strong hold gel to create a sturdy base for your waves. If your hair is very fine or straight, you may only need to add mousse to achieve this look. Use your best judgment here.
- Create your part. Create your part where you want it using your comb. Most finger wave looks feature a side part, but we’ve seen really nice and symmetrical results with a center part as well. Use the tip of your comb to draw your part line where you want it and comb the hair on either side to smooth it out.
- Press and comb a “C” shape. Start on one side of your part and press your middle finger against your head parallel to the part. Holding it in place, use your comb to curve the hair under your finger backward to create the curve of the “C” shape. Then, lower your index finger and hold the newly curved section down. Take your comb and comb the hair forward to complete the “C” to start the S-shaped waves.
- Complete the S-shaped wave. Lift your fingers without disturbing the molded wave you’ve created. Shift downward directly under the wave to complete the S-shape. This time, you’re doing the same motions – press with your middle finger, comb under it, lower your index finger, comb under it – but in the opposite directions. This will give the wave the full S-shape when you started with a simple C-shape. Repeat this method anywhere you want waves to complete the look.
- Let it dry and mist with hair spray. You can use a hair dryer on the lowest setting for quicker results, but you may end up with flyaways with this method. Allow your hair to air dry for the best results, or use a bonnet dryer to avoid messing up the style while it sets. Mist all over with hair spray once it’s dry to really hold the waves in place.
- Start with finger waving the front only. Finger waving is very easy to do, but it does take practice to get the hang of the process. We recommend starting by waving the front sections only, especially since it can be difficult to wave the back of your head. You’ll get a sense of how the process works and can easily finish the style with a low bun or chignon for an easy, formal look!
- Keep a spray bottle handy to keep your hair damp. While you work, your hair may begin to dry if it’s taking you a while to create the waves. Keep a spray bottle around to lightly mist your hair while you work to keep it easy to mold and shape.
- Practice on a friend. When you’re first learning how to finger wave, enlist the help of a friend to get familiar with the process. It’s a lot easier to do finger waves on someone else! Once you learn the technique, you’ll find it a lot easier to do these waves on your own hair.
- Finger waves can last 4-5 days with proper care. A product with strong hold and workable hairspray with a medium to strong hold are the keys to long-lasting finger waves you can rock for days. If you properly style and care for the look in the days to come, finger waves can last 4-5 days without budging. Sleep with a satin bonnet and avoid getting your hair wet to help them stay put.
Will You Be Rocking Finger Waves?
What are your thoughts on finger waves – is this a style you can see yourself wearing for a formal event, like a wedding or special party? It’s a great look for themed occasions as well, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t try this look along with a 1920s Halloween costume to really wow the crowd!
Finger waves work for all hair types, textures, and lengths. They’re pretty simple to do, especially if you’ve been able to practice on someone else or by doing the front of your hair.
As long as you’ve got the right mousse, gel, hair spray, and comb, you’ll find it’s easy and fun to make these retro waves with your fingers!
With a classic and glamorous look, this retro style will give off sultry, feminine vibes when you wear it. Who knows? Finger waves could become your new signature, unique look!
Be one of the first in your crew to rock this retro aesthetic and see how many compliments you get. It might not be the 1920s anymore, but it’s the 2020s and as we’ve learned, anything goes!
You may as well have fun with your hair and try unique styles that make you happy. Check out other vintage cool hairstyles next to rock a unique look with elements of the past and present!