V166: Book Review: “The Art of Finger Waving” by Paul Compan

Art of Finger Waving — Recreating Vintage 1920s and 1930s Hairstyles

Paul Compan
(c) 2007 by Bramcost Publications
ISBN 978-1-934268-34-6

There are few techniques in the world of vintage fashion that inspire such confusion as finger waving.  The go-to hair setting technique of the 1920s, finger waving, sometimes called water waving, seems to be a lost art.  Though cosmotology students are taught the art of finger waving these days, it is not an often used or requested style in the salon, and the practice slips away into obscurity.

However, there are those of us who obsess on vintage fashion, and *need* to learn how to do these things, and so for us we have books as resources, like Art of Finger Waving.  This is a re-publication of a textbook from the 1920s, complete with handy pictures, and fancy, archaic descriptions.

The Good
Art of Finger Waving contains quite a lot of information to not only explain how to create finger waves, but illustrate with drawn diagrams and photos.  Part One covers preparation, curling fluids (like Lottabody), and the most important part of the book, the basic technique of creating waves.

Unlike other sources, this book makes no bones about how to do the waves, and also how hard finger waving is.  It instructs you to practice, practice, practice, and makes note that really swell wave sets are (were) done by professionals in salons.  Don’t be discouraged, though – practice the basic wave technique illustrated, and you will be amazed with the results.  Never have I found a book so exact in teaching how to finger wave – it pays to go to the original source!

Part Three of Art of Finger Waving covers twelve different hairstyles with cute names – The Varsity Bob, The Billie Dove Bob, The Whoopee Bob – with instructions on not only how to set them, but what face shape they will best suit.  Each hair style has photos showing the steps to create the style.

The waves in the front of my hair here were created with the wave technique in this book. I haven’t had much practice, and with a better setting lotion, like LottaBody, these waves would hold their shape better after combing out.

The Bad
For as small as Art of Finger Waving is, it’s rather daunting.  It is quite descriptive, in a formal manner of writing we are not used to these days.  The descriptions can seem confusing, but I suggest going through the “lesson” while working on your or your friend’s hair, kindof like following sewing pattern directions as you are sewing the dress.  It will make a lot more sense if you have a head there to practice on.

This book will take some de-coding and must be taken as a primary source from the 1920s.  It does not have recommendations for specific curl-setting fluids, or types of combs, so you have to think like a ninety-year-old hairdresser, and use your best judgement when selecting tools at the beauty supply – some items are obvious, like a rat-tailed comb, a spray bottle, and a curl setting lotion, but you may find you like a wider-toothed comb better, and fancy using clips of various types.

This is a great little book for vintage lovers who want to get in to styling their own hair with period techniques.  Finger waving with water is difficult, but this book illustrates the technique clearly, and with practice, you will learn to create correct waves just like were worn in the 1920s.  I highly recommend this little manual!  It is available through Amazon for about $17:


  • MrsC (Maryanne)

    June 14, 2012 at 9:38 PM

    Oooh how useful! I do have to admit however that when the title came up in my blog reader, my first thought was not of hair dos but road rage, if you know what I mean. Waving the middle finger at other drivers, so to speak! Not sure it's an art form however! hehehe

  • Lynn Brooks

    June 15, 2012 at 4:46 PM

    Oh Mrs. C, I think waving the finger is a true art form, it must be because it ais a treasured tradition running in my family,lol.

    This book has been on my amazon wishlist for ages now, but I was hesitant to order because I wasn't sure if it would be worth it. Thanks for reviewing it for us. I definately want it now.

    Sadly, I am a professional hairstylist and cannot do finger waves. In the state of California it has been a required part of the curriculum since beauty schools have existed and is even part of our state board exam. Which is unfair, because they are hard, and the way they teach it in school (the state board testing method) is the hardest way to approach it. I could honestly say that only 10% of my fellow students could do it. In the 20 years I've been doing hair I have only had a small handfull of co-workers that could do a good one. It is hard, thankfully we almost never get requests for it. And it is even harder to do on oneself. Much kudos to you, the finger wave you did on yourself in that pic came out pretty good (and way better than I could have done). I did learn how to fake it a bit with a marcel iron but it's not a tequnique for the whole head.
    Once I got my liscence, I didn't really care that i couldn't do it, it wasn't a popular "current" style for any part of my career, but ever since my obsession with vintage and historical styling started a few years back, I am obsessed with wanting to learn it now.
    Thanks for such a great post, I always learn so much from you, it's why your one of my favorite bloggers.

    lynn brooks

    • Lauren R

      June 15, 2012 at 8:22 PM

      Lynn, I have heard from several other hairdressing buddies the same thing about finger waving being required on the exam, but never used or requested after you get your license. I wonder why they still teach it?

      Maybe it'll come back into style, and we'll all be in having our hair set. Seems impossible in our comfort-culture today!

  • Anonymous

    June 15, 2012 at 6:25 PM

    Those waves are incredible, do they get squashed flat when you wear a cloche? It looks like a good book but since my hair comes down to my waist it would be no use at all to me.
    The girl on the cover has amazing hair! But her makeup and the way she is staring sort of make her look like one of those creepy porcelain dolls trying to use evil mind powers on you.

    • Lauren R

      June 15, 2012 at 8:23 PM

      Anon, from my own experiences, I have found that if you set the waves with a good setting fluid, they're practically indestructible. I don't mean they're crispy, like if they were set with gel, but when you brush them out, they just somehow hold their shape for the whole day, even if it's breezy, and even under a hat.

      I totally agree about the illustration on the front of the book, lol, she is pretty creepy looking!

  • Reneesance

    June 18, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    My sister actually got finger waves set at the local Paul Mitchell school for this year's steampunk world's fair! The student who did it was so excited to get to actually practice on someone and she did a great job although they were of the gel set variety and verra stiff 😉 but Libby looked amazing. There's a picture here if anyone is interested 🙂 http://pinterest.com/pin/185210603396133108/ She was rockin a very "Caberet" kind of look, so much so that we demanded she buy a riding crop to go with the outfit 😉

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