The whole idea of a wet set is for the hair to retain some of the shape given to it by being wrapped around curlers as it drys. As you can imagine, the pattern of how you set the rollers does have an effect on the finished hairstyle, but not as much as you might think. The combing and teasing can significantly shape the final hairdo. The great thing about this is that even if you are new at wet sets, and you curlers aren't as neatly set as you might want them to be, you can still turn the result into a great hairstyle.
There are probably about four basic setting patterns. Perhaps the most common and easiest to do is the one shown below:
To set your hair this way, comb you hair from the forehead back, and then left and right towards each of your ears, leaving about a roller's width of hair going back from you forehead. Start with the roller at your forehead and add one after another going back till you run out if hair at your neck. Once done with that row, put an extra pik though each adjacent pair of rollers if you feel any are in danger of falling out.
Now do the left and right rows in a similar way, and then fill in the spaces in the back with rows if possible. Once dried, this is often used as the foundation for hairdos with a lot of volume on top,and/or a bit of flip on either side. Comb back and sideways for a style as shown. You can vary the set with different size rollers or the direction in which you roll them. If you want a very curly tousled look, try rolling smaller adjacent curlers in alternate directions.
The second most common is the halo pattern:
As you can see for the diagram, its called a halo because a row of curlers forms a halo around your face. The rows are wound towards the ears left and right from where you want the part in your hair to be. The back then filled in with neat rows. A setting like this often lends itself to itself to beautiful gently flowing waves combed left and tight from the part as shown in the photograph. Be sure to wind the curlers left and right form where you want the part, otherwise you will end up fighting the set when trying when combing out you hair.
The brick pattern is a slightly harder to do setting pattern:
American Hairdresser, July 1971
This pattern is either for more solid styles, or curls all over. It is of course called a brick pattern because every row or rollers is often offset by half a roller length, so they resemble bricks in a wall (although in the example picture this is not the case). To set you hair like this, start with a neat ring of curlers around your face, then work back row by row. It gets harder to keep the rollers in the required pattern as you get towards the back. If you are lucky enough to have half length rollers (common in the 60s, rare today) you can use them to re-position your row of curlers. Otherwise , just make do – its less critical in the back anyway. Like the other settings, if some of your curlers are in danger of falling out place a pik though a few rollers to hold them in place. Comb upwards for a style like in the diagram.
And finally random rollers, the easiest to do:
Slight variations on each of the above can be done to emphasize certain styles, often by placing rollers in front in slightly different directions. An example is shown below:
Notice how the two angles rollers on the forehead adds just a bit of curl to the part in her hair and looks great!
The best source of more information about setting patterns and how they relate to hairstyles are vintage magazines. The ones to look out for are titles like “200 Setting patterns”, “Set 'n Style” and some issues of “Woman's Day” and similar household magazines. eBay is a good place to look if your interested, but be warned: sometimes people seem to go a little bidding crazy – you really shouldn't pay more than $15 or so for a vintage magazine. If you can get one of these vintage magazines that is devoted to setting patterns, you will have about the best piece of reference material you can find. And remember, don't hesitate to experiment: the great thing about a wet set is you can always wash it out if you don't like it.
Wet-sets with curlers were the way to do hair in the 50s and 60s. Even today with curling irons and hot rollers, a wet set is still a good way to do many vintage styles if you want to wear them for more than just a few hours, and is also a great way to style your hair with minimal damage. If you not sure what a wet-set is, its actually quite simple: you wind wet hair on curlers (or in pincurls, but thats another topic) and then let it dry. The water and tension on the hair causes the very weakest chemical bonds in the hair to break and reform as the hair drys, resulting in the hair retaining its new shape. Unlike perms ( which reform stronger and more permanent disulfide bonds), exposing hair to water undoes the set, so don't get your finished hairdo wet!
Before you set our hair, you will need a few things, the most obvious being rollers (also called curlers, no difference). Use curlers that you are familiar with. If you have never set your hair before, try some sort of brush or mesh rollers – they are easiest to roll which can be tricky the first time you do it. Magnetic (smooth plastic) are the hardest to use, but also produce the most well defined curls. Velcros and sponge rollers are somewhere in between. Choose the size of the roller to match your hair length: hair should be able to wind around the roller two to three times. Depending on the roller type, you will need piks (long plastic pins) or clips to hold the roller in place. If you not sure which to use, ask at the store which is the best for the rollers you are buying. If you are using brush or mesh rollers, piks are usually the easiest. You may also want to pick up a net to help hold your rollers in place, and some setting lotion or gel if you want more well defined curls.
The best way to do a wet-set is wash you hair first, preferably with a shampoo like Infusium, and then use that product's conditioner. Put a towel over your shoulders and leave your hair wet. Sit in front of a mirror and have everything you need within easy reach. This includes curlers, piks or clips, and setting lotion or gel. If you use gel, put a nice big blob of it on a saucer so its is easily accessible. The best hairdos are from neatly done wetsets, so following the setting diagram below for curler placement:
[Over 200 New Hair Setting Patterns,1969 ]
[ Hairdo, May 1961]
With your other hand, smear some gel onto it, then hold the end of the hair to the curlers, and roll it back keeping firm tension on the hair till it touches your scalp. The hair should neatly wind on the roller as shown below:
[ Hairdo, May 1961]
If it isn't neat, try again. It is tricky looking into a mirror In fact, it can be easier if you don't look. If roller wind looks messy, try a few more times. If you have plastic brush rollers, you can use the roller itself as a comb which makes winding a little easier:
[Wil-Hold Hair Roller package from the 60s]
Don't get discouraged – it does take practice. After a few tries, even if it isn't perfect, secure with a pik as below (Note that this picture is for a narrower roller, but pik placement is the same):
And now repeat going back towards your neck. Now you can also make securing your rollers easier by place the pick so it goes into the previous roller. If course this only works of the rollers are close together which they should be. Half way done and your set should look something like this:
[Hairdo, January 1963]
Once you have set your hair, you may with to add a few more piks in places where the rollers look or feel like they may be on the verge of falling out. And if you notice an uncomfortably tight roller, remove its pik and re-insert the pik in a slightly different place.
With a bit of luck and some practice, your set should look like this:
Of course, if you have a friend who can set you hair, its much easier than doing it in a mirror.. Either way, if you have have arrived at this point, you should be nicely set in curlers.
Now its time to dry, and there are a number of options. The simplest method is to air dry, but it also takes longest, either spending all day or all night in rollers. I certainly wouldn't recommend wearing curlers overnight until you have had a number of wet-sets and gotten used to being in curlers. You certainly do get used to being set, but it may be quite a few times until you are really comfortable wearing them.
The quicker way to dry a wet-set is with a bonnet dryer, either hard bonnet similar to a salon dryer, or a soft bonnet similar to a shower cap. Both work well and area easily available. If you use a dryer, stay away from super hot temperatures – not only is it uncomfortable, but will not be great for the health of your hair.
The best compromise is to use a dryer till your hair is almost dry, then air dry to finish it.
Only remove the rollers when you hair is completely dry and has cooled down, or setting your hair will have been for nothing. If in doubt, stay in rollers for another half hour or go under the dryer a bit more.
Unwind you rollers in the opposite order in which your wound them. This will keep them from getting tangled, particularly if your hair is longer. Of a roller does get tangled, go on to the ones beside it and then once they are loose, it will be easier to unwind. Once your rollers are out, you have a wide range of options. Use your fingers or the narrow handle of a comb to adjust your curls. If you like it, spray with hairspray and your done. If not keep try actually combing and then brushing your hair. This will remove well formed curls and create wavy hair, and if you continue, straighter hair with volume. You can also tease it (another topic) for bouffant styles.
So those are the basics. Changing size and placement of rollers will produce different hairdos, as will the type of hair you have, roller style, and the use of gel or setting lotion. Wet-sets can – and were - used to create virtually every type of hairdo, from curly, to wavy, to straight. You will have to experiment to see what is best for you, and don't give up it things didn't work out great the first time.
A few additional thoughts: don't set your hair the very first time just hours before some important event. Instead, plan to try a number of wet-sets when you have some spare time to see what works best for your hair and get some practice. The good thing is that in spite of the holding power of a wet-set, washing your hair will remove the style so you don't have to worry when you are experimenting. Similarly, if you decide to try setting your hair overnight, don't try it for the first time if you have have something important the next morning – sleeping in curlers does take some getting used to, and you may not sleep well the first few nights. Also, be aware that if you are unlucky enough it have an exceptionally sensitive scalp, roller sets may not be for you. If that is the case, concentrate you efforts on pincurls, and/or curling irons. Either way, enjoy your new hairstyles!