Hair how-to: the cheat’s retro roll – video & step-by-step

So, here we go, my first hair tutorial complete with video! One of the simplest things I do with my hair is also the thing I get asked about the most – the little ‘roll’ I wear at the front of my head.
Here’s the story: I made up this little hair twist to give my super flat hair some volume and because my hair is so long trying to do proper rolls is quite a frustrating and time-consuming experience (not to mention they end up gigantic!). In the old days, I actually used to do more of a double faux victory roll thing, but find this single roll more flattering for my face shape. Because it’s something I made up as I went along, it is incredibly easy and quick – as I am that brilliant mix of very lazy and impatient – and I actually had to exaggerate the various stages in the video below as the whole thing takes me about a minute these days, having done it surely over a thousand times by this point… My favourite way to wear my hair down is with this little roll at the front and some gentle backcombing for volume through the rest of the hair, so this is what I’m showing you in the video and the step-by-step guide below which will be best to use as a reference point having seen the video, as some bits were hard to capture by photo.
For me, this is a great look to have to hand as I am just so bad at curling my hair – it’s a way to still have vintage inspired hair but without the beautiful waves I have zero ability to create.
You will need
  • A narrow (i.e. not wide paddle) hairbrush or fine-toothed comb (to allow for backcombing)
  • 2-3 kirby grips in your hair’s colour
  • Hairspray

You don’t need the sound on as I’ve added captions (note: I don’t think they work on phones, but you probably won’t need them anyway). Enjoy!

And if you’re someone who prefers to work from photos, or wants to see a fuller explanation of any of the steps in the video, here you go…
1. Prep and section the first side
Here’s my hair as its flat, limp self. I’ve run my hair straighteners through it because I’m going to wear it down, but find this roll works just as well on my naturally wavy (and fluffy) hair if I’m going to put it up straight after. Curled hair would be doable, but because this isn’t a proper roll with the ends tucked in you’ll end up with a curly ‘tail’ which might look a bit awkward. Starting with a side parting that’s roughly in line with my fringe (although this works just fine if you don’t have a fringe too, you’d just start further forward), I section off a ‘triangle’ of hair about three inches wide starting halfway between the top of my head and my ear. You can see the shape in the second picture and how the line slopes up towards the back of my head – this is made clearer in the video.
2. Back-comb and flip; section the other side
Gently backcomb this section from behind from the height you see in the left photo – about a dozen times will do. Make sure the front stays pretty smooth – you can run the brush gently over it if it gets untidy. The backcombing is just to give the hair some texture so that you can mold it into the twist later and to give it a bit of volume, hence it’s only gentle. In the video, at this point I then take a further smaller section of hair to the side and repeat, which is because I kind of messed up my initial section and I know from experience if the initial selection is too narrow you won’t get quite the right shape – do take a look to see the rough size that works best, but otherwise it can take a bit of practice to nail it. Once it’s done, flip this section over your head and it’ll sit there quite happily while you now take the second section of about the same size and height on the other side of your head, using the brush to scoop it up – as in the picture on the right. This is quite hard to describe, so see the video if you get stuck here. Keep hold of it…

3. Merge the sections; push into position and pin

Merge the first section of hair with the second – use the brush to do this, brushing the first section across and into the second, without brushing the backcombing out. Again, the video will demonstrate this better than I can describe it (particularly as I didn’t get a photo of this bit), if you get stuck. Once it’s all been brought together, backcomb the other side another dozen or so times. Now, use your fingers to push the piece of hair from behind essentially into a subtle S shape – or what looks like a roll from the front. It should keep its volume. Using 2-3 kirby grips in your hair colour, secure ‘behind’ the roll, to lock in its shape and height. Again, you can see better what I mean in the video. Make sure there’s at least two grips inserted from either direction, with a third being used to secure it if it feels a bit loose.

4. Spray the roll; optional – back-comb surrounding hair

Smooth over any straggler hairs gently with your brush/comb and when you’re happy your roll is neat, spray it in place. Now, if I’m wearing my hair down with the roll, I go around the top of my head behind the roll picking up sections a couple of inches wide from the top and backcombing gently to give gentle height. Again, this is gentle backcombing from the underneath so that the top of the hair that’s on display stays neat looking.

 5. Smooth over and you’re done!

Tidy up any backcombing fluff you’ve created by smoothing the brush over the top of your hair and that’s it! Hair that’s no longer flat as in the first picture and has a cute vintage-inspired roll in the front. As I say, I will also do this roll before putting my hair up – as it only uses a tiny section of hair, you can do pretty much anything else you want with it! Of course, the section of hair you’ve pinned will lay against your head as this isn’t a proper roll where it’s all tucked in – because my hair is all different colours you can just about see it blending in with the rest in the picture on the right.
Do let me know if you liked this and want to see more… Is it useful to have the step-by-step too?

Although, I probably need a bit of a break after this one as when I went to upload it to YouTube I noticed a glitch with one of the slides… tried to replace it and the whole video editing software completely broke and I had to start again. Was someone trying to tell me I shouldn’t venture into the video world?! I certainly have a lot more respect for anyone who’s done videos of their own now! This took so much longer than I thought it would.



  1. February 19, 2015 / 1:40 pm

    This looks gorgeous and not too hard, think I might give it a go! I haven't attempted to anything interesting to my hair since I had it cut (and I'm just now realising how long ago that was, oops!), but before I had it cut, it was so long and thick it was impossible to do anything with, especially anything like victory rolls, but this might have even worked with my hair that length!
    Sian xx Rebel Angel

    • February 19, 2015 / 1:53 pm

      Well, the good thing is you could do this with most lengths, as long as you've got long enough hair to pull it across the top of your head – chin-length and beyond would be fine, I'm fairly sure. I find my hair quite challenging as it's pretty long, so coming up with things like this to do with it has been key to not hacking it all off! Proper rolls just take so much time and skill to work for me I had to come up with something else..! x

  2. February 19, 2015 / 3:02 pm

    Woo hoo!! Congrats on getting your first video done. It's fab, and might I say – very professional looking with the graphics, and I love the rockabilly soundtrack. Well done, you must be so pleased! Here's to many more, maybe you can't take over the world but you could take over Youtube!!

    • February 20, 2015 / 7:56 am

      It's thanks to B it looks professional – video editing software is completely alien to me!! I did choose the music though 😉 I'm pleased it's done and I hope people like it, but it really was time-consuming! xx

  3. Emily T
    February 19, 2015 / 3:06 pm

    Awesome – thank you. I'd love to see a video of you doing it your normal quick time – that would be seriously impressive x

    • February 20, 2015 / 7:57 am

      Ha! That's what happens when you do something nearly every day I guess… I really had to stop and think about what each of the 'steps' were! x

  4. February 19, 2015 / 8:07 pm

    It is easy and nice tutorial. I like it 🙂

    • February 20, 2015 / 7:58 am

      That's what I like to hear – above all I wanted it to be easy… although hopefully not so easy it wasn't worth doing 😉

  5. Anonymous
    February 20, 2015 / 11:59 am

    I love it – thank you!! I don't really do retro in my everyday outfits, but I found your blog and I find your style adorable. After inspiration from you I realised that it is easier to do "modern retro" than true retro and I now try to incoorporate that feel into my own style from time to time. I have tried to replicate your "roll" without any luck – but now I think I will manage:) So thank you for this and for all of your inspiration in general <3

    • February 20, 2015 / 1:30 pm

      Thanks for your incredibly sweet comment, kind stranger! You really made my day 🙂 hopefully I can bring you lots more inspiration in the future (and I find it amazing to be an inspiration at all!) x

  6. February 20, 2015 / 1:36 pm

    Love this! I always admire your retro roll in your photos – it's so distinctive, and although it has that retro feel I love, it doesn't look rigid or fussy, the way a lot of other vintage-inspired 'dos can. I also have very flat hair (It's the bane of my life – I sometimes think the top of my head looks like a pin), so I'll have to give this a go 🙂

    • February 20, 2015 / 1:50 pm

      Exactly! And also, it takes about a fraction of the time some vintage 'dos do and I really, really don't have the patience. It feels such a mission with long hair! I totally get the pin-head blues… Oh and also, it's thanks to you I figured out that I could use YouTube's own annotations feature to add text to this video – so thanks for that inspiration 😉 x

  7. February 20, 2015 / 7:42 pm

    I know you say your hair is a bit of a pain, but I'm a bit jealous of how pretty it always looks! This is such an awesome style on you, and I love that you were creative about coming up with something that's easy, pretty, and works so well with your hair texture and face shape. I have pin straight hair, and I spend so much time curling and pinning in it, trying to get it to do something other than just lie there. I would love to find a go to style like this for myself.

    • February 21, 2015 / 10:57 am

      I guess it only looks pretty because I've found ways to deal with it – but gosh, that's taken me years! I spent most of my early 20s with a big bow in my hair to distract from how limp it was… I think you've hit on something I did here – I worked out where I needed height and shape to suit my face shape then I spent a while figuring out how to achieve it quickly. Finally, I got there! Basically, my best friends are kirby grips and I am a huge believe in the magic they can create – if I were you I'd do what I did and experiment with different ways of pinning it until you find one that sticks (and requires minimal effort!) 🙂

  8. February 23, 2015 / 10:55 pm

    Ah man, this is so cool, I wish I had hair!

  9. February 24, 2015 / 4:39 pm

    Great tutorial! You sure know how to rock the retro styles. Do you think this would look good with shorter hair? I have basically shoulder length hair so I'll have to see if it would work well with my length!
    Olivia | Her Name Was Celebration

    • February 25, 2015 / 7:53 am

      One of my friends told me she followed the video and managed to get it to work for much shorter hair than shoulder length, so I'm sure it'll work for you too 🙂 I do think it would as the hair only needs to be long enough to lay across the top of your head!

  10. February 24, 2015 / 7:11 pm

    Seriously terrific tutorial! I love that you so thoughtfully included photos for us as well. Between the two, it really gives one an extra jolt of confidence that they could master this style as well. I loved seeing you in video form, honey. Please don't hesitate to keep making and sharing more films on all sorts of topics that interest you with us.

    Big hugs,
    ♥ Jessica

    *PS* Thank you very much for each and every one of your fabulously lovely recent blog comments.

  11. February 25, 2015 / 7:57 am

    Thanks, Jessica! I'm glad you commented on the usefulness of the photos – I'm not convinced they're necessary, but I basically included them because I've always quite liked working from stills… And thanks for your lovely comments like this one too 🙂 x

  12. March 7, 2015 / 8:09 pm

    This is a great post, I like the simplicity of the roll and the fact it's not too fussy or difficult to achieve.

    I often admire vintage hairstyles but feel they would be too complicated to replicate in real-life, on an everyday basis. So it's great to see a simpler alternative which looks just as nice!

    Saba x

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