Call The Midwife: Retro Beauty Inspiration From My Current TV Obsession

Classic makeup and a pin-curled faux bob to channel the gorgeous '50s nurse in you.
Publish date:
September 9, 2013
bobby pins, red lips, bobs, TV, curls, retro beauty, pin curls, 1950s, beauty muses, BBC, call the midwife, I love tv so much

Do you guys ever just get so obsessed with a TV show that it starts to affect your life?

That’s how I feel about Call the Midwife right now.

If you guys aren’t watching it, get to Netflix right this second and start. You won’t regret it, because it’s incredibly wonderful.

Per Wikipedia:

“The plot follows newly qualified midwife Jenny Lee and the work of midwives and the nuns of Nonnatus House, a nursing convent, coping with the medical problems in the deprived Poplar district of East London in the 1950s. The Sisters and midwives carry out many nursing duties across the community. However, with between 80 and 100 babies being born each month in Poplar alone, the primary work is to help bring safe childbirth to women in the area and to look after their countless newborns.”

Don’t go into this show expecting it to be all sunny '50s charm, cute babies and happy endings. It’s a lot harder than that; in fact, it’s often freaking TERRIFYING. For instance, an episode in season 2 deals with contraception and back-alley abortion. I watched it last week and I STILL can't get it out of my head.

But there are also hilarious, compassionate nuns, women doing their best for one another in times of trial, happy endings to go along with the sad, and more emotional moments than you can count. I’m not a super-emotional person, but this is the cryingest show I’ve ever watched.

And I love it.

The other thing I love? The style. Jenny Lee and Trixie especially are basically beauty icons in every way.

The hair! The simple but beautiful makeup! I love it.

So I’m going to show you how to do a look inspired by these two characters. I took aspects from both for something that doesn’t feel like it would be out of place for one of these ladies in 1958.


The nurses of Nonnatus House are not big on makeup while they’re working, so I kept this very simple: beautiful skin, subtle blush, red matte lips and a little mascara.

I skipped foundation because I wanted my natural skin to be the star here. I covered up any zits that I had with my MAC Mineralize concealer, and ran some Touche Eclat under my eyes. I set everything with Laura Mercier Setting Powder so that my skin was matte, but not cakey.

I used a pale pink blush (MAC, Pink Swoon) and a light hand on the apples of my cheeks to give me that 22-year-old-fresh-from-the-country glow.

I had planned to cover my eyebrows and re-draw them in a thin, high style like Trixie’s, but when I tested it out the night before, it looked HORRIFYING on me. Instead I enhanced my natural arch a little with brown matte eyeshadow and shortened the length of my brows for a look more reminiscent of Jenny.

I applied the thinnest possible line of my favourite black liquid eyeliner along my top lashline to make my eyelashes look especially full and pretty. I didn’t curl my eyelashes (who has the time when you’re hiding cakes from Sister Monica Joan?) and applied two coats of black mascara to my top lashes only.

I put on a light warm-red lipstick (Dior Addict, Firework) and made it matte by lightly brushing some more of the finishing powder over it.

And here’s the finished look. Simple, elegant, no-nonsense. A classic.

I’m ready to put on my maroon cardigan and head off on my bike!


As with most of my looks, I’m going with a style that is inspired by the characters and the time period, rather than being a straight up imitation. My biggest stumbling block here was that my hair is long, and all the ladies in the show have short, usually curled hair.

So I decided to do what Edwardian daughters did when their parents wouldn’t let them cut their hair short, and pin it up into a fake bob.

I realised pretty quickly that I could not rely on the old “Twist your hair into a loose bun and let your layers cover it!” fake-bob trick. I don’t have short layers in my hair, so I had to come up with something different... and inspired by my many, many years of putting pin curls in my hair, I did!

Shorter haired ladies--you’re in luck! You’ll still be able to do this style, but you get to skip a big chunk of this.

Let's get cracking.

Step 1: Gather your materials.

You’ll need bobby pins in a similar colour to your hair (as many as you can find), a small curling iron (mine is a 1” barrel from Hot Tools, but yours can be smaller than that), a fine-tooth comb, some clips and some hairspray (Hard Head, as always). Also, patience. Retro styles are time-consuming when you’re learning them.

Start by parting your hair off to the side. Make the part deep (that means as far off center as possible), then brush out any knots.

Step 2: Curling and pinning.

This part can be kind of tricky to explain.

Starting underneath, split your hair horizontally into a section about two to three inches wide. Then split that in half so that you have two sections of hair draped over each shoulder. Pull everything else up on top of your head and use the clips to hold it out of your way.

Split each half into two or three even smaller sections, depending on the thickness of your hair. These little sections--which you’re going to curl--should be about an inch to an inch and a half across. Curl your hair with the iron, wrapping it so that the curls go away from your face.

Once you’ve dropped the curl from the iron and it’s cooled a few seconds, grab it and loop the middle of the curl around your fingers so that it makes a little circle with a curly tail. The “tail” is going to be the length of your fake-bob, so make it as long or as short as you like.

Now take the loop and pin it down so that it’s flat against your head, with the loop “pointing” towards your ear. You can use a couple of pins if it makes you feel more secure.

Congratulations, you have now pinned your first curl. Repeat this until the entire layer of your hair is curled and pinned, checking in the mirror to make sure your “tails” are all the same length. It gets easy very quickly, I promise.

Spray it with your hairspray. Tah dah! First layer done!

(I waited to break up my curls until they were mostly all pinned up, but I think I should have done this as I went for a more voluminous, less perfect bob. Oh well. It still looked good, but brushing the curls out as you go might be easier and look better.)

Step 3: Repeat.

Pull down another two- to three-inch section of hair, split it in half and do it again. Like before, the little pieces you’re curling should be about an inch wide if you’re looking for tight spirals, and a little wider if you’re looking for looser, danglier curls.

The “tails” of these curls should cover the pinned loops of the ones below. Again--you can break up the curls with your fingers as you go, if you like.

You should now have curled and pinned all the hair from about the tops of your ears down to the nape of your neck.

Step 4: Separate.

Starting from the fronts of your ears, separate a chunk of hair at the front of your head and pull it forward. Don’t mess with this yet; we’re going to do something different with it later. Twist it up and clip it on top of your head so it isn’t in your way.

Step 5: Guess what? More curling and pinning!

Continue separating two- to three-inch sections of your hair, splitting them into smaller parts, curling and pinning them. You’ll have to do more rows on whichever side of your head has the “big” bit of hair beside the part. Try to keep the tails of the curls the same length as the ones you’ve already pinned so that your faux-bob is a little graduated in length.

When you get to the very top layer--the hair that will be the most visible--you can either curl it, brush out the curls with your fingers and leave it down (if you have shorter layers and it falls to the right length by itself) OR keep curling and pinning. It just depends on what kind of haircut you have.

If you curl and pin the top layer, make sure you don’t pin the loops up too close to the crown of your head, because there’s nothing to cover it up! And don’t be afraid to move loops and curls around if it’s not looking how you want it. I did, a lot, because I’m a perfectionist like that.

After I had them all placed more or less where I wanted them, I started breaking up my curls with my fingers. My hair got pretty big and Trixie-ish. It was awesome.

And this is how it looked at this stage.

I didn't love how this was looking, so I pulled out a few of the loops that were up too high and loosened some curls. Like I said, no shame in makin’ changes!

Phew! My arms are getting a good workout. We’re in the home stretch, guys!

Step 6: Front pieces.

Unclip the bits of hair that have been biding their time ever so nicely atop your noggin. Part it into three sections: one one either side of your head by your ears, and one in front (for me, this is my bangs--it may be different for you).

Take the front section and clip it away (or just ignore it if it’s your bangs). We’ll deal with that later.

Separate your side pieces into little sections--you will be so good at this by now!--and curl each one. Brush out these curls with your fingers. DON’T pin it yet!

Jenny wears her hair pulled back at either side, and since that’s a style that is universally flattering, it’s what I’m going to do!

Take each side and loosely pull the curls back. I say “loosely” because we still want to be able to see the bump that this makes from the front. Use a couple bobby pins to pin it to the side--or one big one if you have thick hair.

Spray the sides with some hairspray (Hard Head is, as always, my true love) and gently smooth down any flyaways. The pulled-pack parts will hide the loops and pins, and generally make things look awesome.

Step 8: Front.

I really love that the actress who plays Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine) has a high forehead, because I do, too, and I feel a little weird about it sometimes without my bangs. Anyway.

Bring your front piece forward. We’re going to tease it for some height, then flop it to the side. I hope you’re excited.

If your front piece of hair is long (ie: if you don’t have bangs), curl it first. You’ll be pinning it by your ear, so make sure the curls still go away from your face. I kept a tiny piece of long hair in this section so I can show you what I mean.

Tease your front section near the roots a little at a time for some height, using a bit of hairspray for hold and stickiness. My part is deep and my bangs are short, but that was nothing some hairspray and a fine-tooth comb couldn’t fix!

Smooth it on top and at the front with a fine-tooth comb or your fingers to keep it from looking ratty. Sister Evangelina would never approve of ratty hair.

The teasing gave my bangs some height and volume, which is what we want. Now flop your front piece over to the side and pin it down so that it forms a “bump.” Hit it with some hairspray and smooth with your fingers if you have flyaways or short bits that won’t stay put.

If your hair is longer here, you’ll probably want to pin it behind the bump (as shown in the picture above), then again back near where you’ve collected the curls on the side of your head. Finish with hairspray and smooth down any flyaways.

Congratulations! Your hair is done and looks magnificent.

Here is how mine looks from the sides and the back.

Pretty fantastic!

I am the first to admit that there’s a bit of a learning curve to this hairstyle. The good news is, you get better at it VERY QUICKLY. The first time I tried this, I had no clue what I was doing and I messed everything up and it took forever. The second time I tried it, it was done in half an hour and looked amazing. So please don’t be put off if you aren’t picture-perfect on your first attempt. It takes time to learn new stuff.

Oh, and maybe the best thing about this hair: When you unpin everything and brush it out with just a paddle brush…

You become Veronica Lake. Crazy, guys! That is literally all I did to it!

Do you watch Call the Midwife? Are you going to start, so that we can talk about it and literally never stop, especially about how Chummy is the GREATEST CHARACTER EVER? But back on topic, how did I do on this hair? Have you ever tried to make long hair short without scissors? How much do you love it when one hairstyle becomes another with minimal effort?