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'Marcel waving' at home
in the 1920s and 1930s

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Woman with hair set in Marcel Waves

Hair set in Marcel waves.

There were ways of curling or setting hair in the first half of the 20th century that produced more dramatic results than the overnight curlers described on a separate page. They tended to be used in the daytime, either with friends helping one another or with visits to a hairdresser.

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Marcel waving

In the late 1920s and into the 1930s it was fashionable for young women to wear their hair close to their heads in tight waves. This is clearly shown in the photo on the right. My mother always referred to the waves as Marcel Waving, although I understand that, strictly speaking, Marcel Waving had to be produced by a particular method.

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Hair clamps for 'Marcel' style waving at home

My mother told me that her friends of the time all achieved the waves at home using special clamps. These remained in her possession long after the fashion ended. So I have been able to photograph them.

Old hair clamps for holding hair in place as it dried, suitable for Marcel waving

Hair clamps

The first stage of making a Marcel wave

Making the wave.

A stage in producing Marcel style waves with hair clamps

A wave held in a clamp while the next wave is being produced.

The first photo shows the clamps, and the other photos show how they were used.

The waves were pressed in place with the fingers onto wet hair, and the 'peaks' of the waves were gripped with the clamps while the hair dried.

Sugar water was often used to hold the set. The sugar and water were heated until the sugar dissolved, and then left to cool.

My trials for taking the photos showed that a strong hair net or scarf would have been required to hold the clamps in position as they were rather top heavy.

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Curling tongs for 'Marcel' style waving at home

Curling tongs could also be used on dry hair to make these waves - but they needed expert handling - for reasons explained on the curling tongs page.

As fingers and comb created a wave, its peak was crimped with the curling tongs.

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Marcel look-alike hairstyles for older women in the 1950s

Common older woman's hairstyles in the 1950s clearly based on the Marcel waving of their youth

I have always noticed how women, as they get older, tend to retain something of the fashions of their younger years.

The pictures on the right show typical hair styles that I remember among older women in the 1950s. The resemblance to Marcel waving is obvious. Both photos are screen shots from old films.

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.