3 Slightly Retro (and Easy) Hairstyles Using Side Combs

Yes, they still exist, and yes, they can be used to make the process of growing out hair less boring.
Publish date:
August 1, 2013
How-To, retro, hair accessories, hairstyles, side combs

I am a special kind of nerd who knows all the words to all the songs in the musical Hair. It is a bootless idiosyncrasy; it has no practical use other than throwing quotes into an article about hair, or talking to other Hair nerds. (I know of zero other Hair nerds).

Give me a head with hair

Long, beautiful hair

Shining, streaming, gleaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down-to-there hair

shoulder-length or longer

Here, baby, there, mama

Everywhere, daddy daddy

You’re running out to purchase a copy right now, I know, right? Do yourself a favor: Get the original Broadway cast recording.

I learned about Hair from a fellow camper at a summer program for overachievers. I can’t remember what it was called, obviously, but it was one of those things where seventh-graders spend a week on a college campus taking enrichment courses instead of going to the beach or learning how to French kiss or whatever the cool kids were doing.

Coincidentally, this was the summer I was growing out a nasty perm. (It was 1991. We were still trying to recover from the late ‘80s.) It’s a coincidence because we’re about to be talking hair strategy, but it's not a surprise, really, because I am always in some stage of dealing with a poorly advised hair decision.

I am currently on a four-year cycle of hair regret. I’ll grow my hair down to the middle of my back, get headaches from the weight of it, and lament the fact that I only wear it pulled back in a ponytail. Then I’ll chop it off to mini-pixie cut length and about six months in wish-oh-wish I could pull it back into a ponytail. I am not really wishy-washy or noncommittal or mood-swingy in my day-to-day life, but this hair is like a chapter out of I Hate You, Don’t Leave Me.

I last chopped my hair about 18 months ago, following the birth of my son, when my hormones had turned my usually very thick hair into some sort of part-Golden Retriever monstrosity complete with multiple shedding undercoats and a super curly layer of dreadlocks. It is now almost a bob, but the top layers are still a bit short, and due to the thickness and volume of my hair, it often takes turn towards newbie newscaster territory. A friend recently commented on one of my Facebook photos, “Hello, Senator.”

So yeah, that kind of haircut.

In this most recent cycle, I began experimenting with different hair accessories, mostly found at local drugstores, and different techniques to subdue that unruly, mullet-y top layer. I stumbled across a pack of Scunci Effortless Beauty Side Combs and was struck with nostalgia. I called my mother for some tips on how to use them.

“Oh, Beth, I have no idea how to use those!”

“Uh, you used to have a drawer full of them!”

“Ha ha, I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

The woman owned them. I should know. I spent many, many days after elementary school snooping through her cabinets and sneaking peeks at her Our Bodies, Oursevles. She had them.

Anyway, left on my own, I had to rely on my instincts and street smarts.


My instincts told me to push the comb into my hair front to back, with the teeth facing the crown of my head. My instincts were incorrect. Thankfully, I eventually came to understand the combs.

The beauty of the comb, and the main reason I now use them instead of barrettes, is that they really grip into the hair and don’t slide out if inserted correctly. (True story, I once put my hair up in combs and went for a four-mile run; the combs did not move.)

Begin by sectioning off the amount of hair you want to pull back. You’ll find that this varies depending on the thickness of your hair and the size of your comb.

Hold the comb so that it curves like a U, or a smiley face.

Comb into the hair that you want to secure.

When just past the point where you want the comb to sit, flip the comb so it is curving down, frown-style.

Push the comb forward towards your scalp. Wiggle the comb gently until it is secure.

I recommend practicing, as it might take some tweaking to perfect how much hair the comb will hold, and you might want to play around with trying sleek styles or adding volume.

Real talk: I played with these so much that my scalp started bleeding (augh, help!) so be mindful of your tender head as you wiggle them into place.


This look is straight Side Comb 101. Using the basic technique described above, secure one side of your hair back.

I throw my hair back like this when I’m feeling a little Debbie Harry. My hair is (obviously) unstyled, un-product-ed, and so what!

But, but, my pets! This style could easily be modified into a sleek red-carpet inspired look or a va-va-voom Lana Del Rey

(I don’t know who that is!) cascade with the right heat-styling tools and maybe even a sparkly comb. Get crazy and put both sides back. You could slap on gel and make a faux undercut. The possibilities are endless.


This style came to me in a vision of late ‘60s/early ‘70s classic collegiate simplicity. Think Ali McGraw’s sleek middle part in Love Story. Think braless t-shirts and belled denim. Car coats in camel and tweed. Think Hilary Rodham Clinton at Yale.

My hair is so thick and heavy that it will not keep a middle part unless I part it when it is wet. However it dries, it stays. In hindsight, I should have started by wetting my hair, because I had to fight it into this part.

Once you’ve given yourself a middle part (hopefully in a more skilled manner than I did) section off the front of your hair.

I basically sectioned off my growing-out bangs and just a touch of the side. Again, my hair is thick.

Insert the comb using the basic technique, but focus on keeping the hair taut when you wiggle the comb into place. We’re going for sleek.

I have to say it. I think there are better-quality combs out there. These are a bit stiff and the tines are quick to catch hair and make a style look frizzy. However, for the price, they are perfect with which to practice. Then decide if you want to invest in nicer combs. Caveat: these are the only combs I could find in a drugstore. A desire for better quality would take you to the Interwebz.

Dicey combs aside, I like the look.

With this style, modifications are possible, too! Think Guinevere waves or something with hippie edge. (Are hippies edgy?)


I maintain that these looks are merely vaguely retro. Depending on the size and height of your twist, you can evoke different periods. Bigger rolls could take on a Crawfordesqe tone, while smaller waves could be Eisenhower-conservative. Shoot, with the right smoothing and tucking, you could become a 1930’s starlet with this twist.

I simply began by twisting my bangs backward, tucking ends in as I rolled. You’ll use the basic technique to secure your hair, but this time you’ll insert the comb at the back of the of the twist. Essentially, you’re pushing the comb towards your forehead from behind the finished twist.

I’m currently experimenting with French twists and other updos using my combs. It’s time to graduate to bigger, better quality combs, because I am not fooling anyone with my 80lbs of hair. Perhaps I’ll keep you updated.

Here’s to getting through the awkward stage of growing out a haircut!