'60s-Style Hair Setting (And The Perfect Playlist To Accompany It)

Back in the day, hair was styled once per week and maintained with a full can of hairspray.
Publish date:
March 3, 2014
music, foam rollers, 1960s, rollers, curlers

Roller-setting hair was once a weekly occurrence for the well-coiffed. Rollers, pin curls, rods, and even soda cans can be used to either stretch out curls or create them, depending on the size, and in the 1960s, women were still practicing the old-fashioned technique of wet setting their hair once a week.

A visit to the smoky and chemical-scented hair salon used to produce a mid-length head of smooth body with curls at the ends. This style is harder to achieve than it appears, and it had to last a whole week! Stylist and patron would use a full can of hairspray to maintain such looks.

This dilemma is actually one of the catalysts for the foundation of modern hairstyling. Historical accounts recall Greek and Roman civilization’s elite maintaining elaborate hairstyles. Up until the 1960s, hair was styled once per week and maintained. Hair did not flow or sit smooth on the head.

The rise of hairstyling legend Vidal Sassoon’s career in the ‘60s is what killed the wash and set. His styles performed based on the geometry of the head, using the natural fall of the hair to determine the parameters for the cut.

To accompany the topic, I put together a playlist with my resident photographer, (literally, he is a resident in my apartment) Darnell, to show you some of our favorite songs from the ‘60s. The agency that Darn works for made an awesome playlist to celebrate Black History Month last month, and we have been rocking a lot more funk and soul around the house ever since.

Our playlist definitely has a ska and rocksteady bend to it, since we are such huge punk and hip-hop fans; we have to pay homage to the genre that started it all, the precursor to reggae. We chose “Wear You to the Ball” by The Paragons as the theme song of this playlist, because it is a sweet tune about showing off your lady, and we want you all to feel special.


The traditional method of setting hair in rollers involves setting soaking-wet and combed-smooth sections of hair onto hard plastic rollers usually no larger than one inch. This size will create a tight curl on anyone, especially when left to set from wet to fully dry under a bonnet dryer.

Other types of rollers in use today are Velcro rollers and hot rollers, which are only to be used on dry hair and generally used for volume, wave, and smoothness rather than curl.

One very flexible option and a cheaper, more versatile investment is foam rollers of a large size. They are squishy and forgiving, and can be used on dry hair or wet hair. The large size allows you to wrap dry hair loosely for body, or to wrap wet hair more tightly for more curl when you allow it to dry fully.

A general rule: the bigger the roller, the looser the curl. Some large-size rollers are used to set curly hair straight and prepare it for detailing with hot tools or a blowdryer. This also gives away the secret of the sectioning: the bigger the roller, the bigger the section! If you have thick hair, you may need to use smaller sections, and thinner hair will require bigger sections.

It is a good guideline to use the size of the roller to determine the size of the section you are wrapping around it. As a general rule, I no longer use straight lines for sectioning roller sets, it creates dents and causes the hair to flow in that direction, which can be a bit of a pain to undo or fix later, especially when hidden in the back of your head. When you use a rattail comb to section the hair, run it along the scalp making a little zig zag motion, this creates an imperfect parting, allowing the hair to blend back into place easier later.

Roller sets don’t have to be complicated, though doing your own wet-to-dry at home is really tricky to do properly. I always recommend sticking to either Velcro rollers or foam rollers at home. When used correctly they pose the least risk to your hair as well as create a soft and polished effect. You can certainly create tight uniform curls with rollers at home--you just have to set the hair meticulously. Using larger rollers is more forgiving, with the vintage feel of going about your business with rollers in your hair. It does make one feel special, and is a great styling tool for a date night or occasion.

To take down the set, simply remove all rollers, spritz with hairspray and shake out with your fingers, but JUST ONCE! Too much manipulation will undo all of your hard work, so hands off! Let gravity do its job and stretch out the curls a bit before you reach your destination. Hair will be bouncy and carefree!


The ‘60s were really a tumultuous time in American history as well as abroad. War, dissent and tensions around the world caused protests and clashes at home. The African-American community and gay community were fighting for progress here at home and in New York, and the Berlin Wall went up in Europe. One cannot sum up "The Sixties" without knowing the music. There is so much more than The Beatles, more than what went down at Woodstock.

One of the most powerful things from the ‘60s was the decolonization of over 32 nations from their colonial rulers. This includes a large swath of Caribbean nations, and their music scenes were catapulted into fame as the world began to take interest. Latin American soul music came to maturity in the later part of the decade, but Jamaican ska was flourishing through the early portion. Ska was born of an interpretation of American blues and R&B, and as radios began to be an affordable household item, people began to consume and interpret the music for their own audiences. If ska had never been developed, reggae would have never come about, which eventually evolved into hip-hop and punk rock.

Basically if music, hair, and politics didn’t go through the changes that it did in the 1960s, I would be listening to Justin Bieber while getting my hair set, backcombed, and sprayed into submission on a weekly basis. So big ups to Vidal Sassoon, Prince Buster and Edward Seaga, for being pioneers. You don’t have to be afraid to visit the golden oldies when you want to feel extra primped for a big outing.