Curling Your Hair For Rockabilly Hairstyles

Most vintage hairstyles require curling of some sort or another. As you start to learn how to style your hair in vintage-era styles,

you’ll soon come to recognize that not all curls are the same! The

finished look of your hair will most probably vary depending on whether you curled it with a curling iron, sponge rollers, pincurls, rag rollers – and also what direction you curled them and what products are on your hair!

This can all seem quite confusing to begin with, but as I said on the Beginners Vintage Styling Tips page, take small steps and just start trying stuff out!

I most usually curl my hair in sponge rollers – so that’s what I’m going to focus talking about here. There are some other amazing gals who offer more vintage hair styling tutorials and can offer much more detail then myself (I’ve listed more information about them on the hairstyling page.) I’m just here to get you started…and then I’m off to have fun working on my classic car!

So how do I curl my long hair in sponge rollers?

I’ve been using sponge rollers since I was a kid. Yes, I sleep in them. No, they don’t fall out if put in correctly. Yes, they can take some getting used to. But – the good news is, they’re cheap, they’re fast, and they provide curls that are last much longer than curling iron curls!

Prepping your hair to curl in sponge rollers

You can roll freshly washed hair or not.

When freshly washed:

  • I first prep my hair by applying finishing lotion from root to tip after I get out of the shower. I then let my hair air-dry to the point where it’s nearly completely dry – be sure there are no spots where you’ve got wet strands. If you don’t have the time for air drying, a blow dryer can be used…I just don’t like to.

When not freshly washed:

  • Add a finger-drops amount of finishing lotion to each section as you go to roll it. If you want curls for days in a row – I suggest not washing your hair but wearing sponge rollers each night. It’s extremely fast to throw a few rollers in hair that’s already been curled!

A note about products

sponge rolling product

I prefer finishing lotion, but it can be hard to find. An alternative would be gel, but that tends to be too sticky. Finishing lotion can be found in ethnic hair sections – be sure to look for one that is not alcohol-based (as it will dry out your hair). The one I’ve used for years is called “Wave Nouveau Finishing Lotion” and its first ingredient is water. Another option which I love, but is MUCH more expensive, is “BB Styling Creme” or “Fekkai Glossing Creme“.

Another consideration is brand of sponge rollers, and unfortunately there’s not much choice here. I feel like the quailty in sponge rollers has gone down considerably in the past decade. I find that the sponge part doesn’t hold up as long as it used to and tends to grab your hair some when it’s new, and the plastic is of low quality with prongs that aren’t sufficiently long enough to not pop out if you put a little too much hair on the roller! If anyone knows of a boutique brand sponge roller that’s good…please leave a comment and let me know!

Easy Sponge Rolling Tutorial


1. Separate a small section of hair and add a small dab of finishing lotion or other hair product if you choose. Depending on your hair’s thickness, and the curler size, the amount of hair per section will vary. I use mostly 3/4″ rollers and my fine hair takes about a 2 inch section.

2. Smooth out the ends of your hair and wrap them around the sponge roller. Be sure the ends are tucked in – this will make the difference between frizz and no-frizz curls.

3. Roll up and snap closed. I tend to roll them to just my hair-line, rather than all the way up to the roots. If I want super curly hair, I’ll make smaller sections and roll them all the way to the root.

4. Continue until finished!

5. To sleep on sponge rollers, you’ll want to secure them with a bandana or something. I found this triangle shaped net years ago, and prefer it to more bulky bandanas.

6. It’s time to let that curl set in! I’ve never tried only leaving sponge rollers in for a couple of hours…I always wear them overnight.

Getting the front of hair curled  for vintage styles


There’s a variety of ways I curl my “bangs” (which are actually the full length of my hair). If you use a sponge roller, you’re bound to create a crease in the hair. The roller I prefer is a foam roller, with a wire in the middle (see above) – I picked up a pack of them somewhere along the way. They don’t curl as tightly as sponge rollers do, but I’m usually pinning up my bang area into a style anyhow, and the no-crease factor is more important to me. You can also do a couple pincurls there or just one larger roll as seen below (a good choice if you’re planning on doing a pompadour or barrel roll the next day).



Super Quick Sponge Roller Option


After practice, it doesn’t take more than 10 minutes to put your hair in rollers…but sometimes I’m lazy or just want less curls in the morning. In that case I…

1. Split my hair into two loose side ponytails (you don’t want to make a crease with your hairband).

2. Do two to four rollers on each side.

3. Wahlah, you’re finished! Here’s what it’ll look like in the morning…


Are you ready for some vintage hairstyle ideas?!