When I asked a friend what newfangled gadget had given her ponytail a smooth, flirty flip, her answer took me back.
Way back—60 years.
“Hot curlers,” she said. “Who wants to bother with a blow dryer?”
Hot rollers are undeniably retro; my grandmother insists that rag rollers, made with old strips of sheet, gave her rippling Veronica Lake waves on a wartime budget. My mother wrapped her long, thick hair around plastic curlers nightly, taming her tresses in New Orleans humidity. Her friends would sometimes wind their locks around used orange-juice cans.
I’ve since joined their ranks. Curlers might lack the cachet of other styling tools like tourmaline dryers and straighteners, but the old Hollywood styles they help create are experiencing a renaissance.
“Hot rollers are making a big comeback, especially for fall styles,” says Joey Noufal of Noufal Hair Studio in Vienna.
How hair reacts to hot rolling depends on the size of the curlers and how long you keep them in your hair. Leaving small, 3⁄4-inch rollers in for 45 minutes will result in tight, Shirley Temple coils; 20 minutes with jumbo, 11⁄2-inch curlers creates glamorous waves.
I find that curlers halve my prep time for a night out because I’ll do other things while my hair sets.
Make sure hair is dry or nearly dry—never wet; a quick blow-dry should do it. Roll hair on the crown of your head from front to back, and set the hair on the sides and back of your head from top to bottom.
Noufal advises “staggering” curlers, or not placing them in neat rows—to avoid overly precious, columnar curls. He also suggests tipping your head upside down and finger-combing hair after removing the rollers. “Do not use a brush, as it will frizz out the curls,” he says.
Hot-curling sets can be hard to find in salons but are easily purchased online or at retail chains like Target. These products were recommended by stylists or are ones I can personally vouch for.
BaByliss Pro Ceramic and Ionic Hair Setter ($79.95). A set of 30 rollers in varying sizes works well for all hair types—and for those who can’t commit to one style.In a hurry? Try
BaByliss’s Pro Ceramic Roller 12 Hair Setter ($39.95), a large- and medium-roller combo that, with only 12 pieces, heats up almost instantly.
Caruso ProTraveler 14 Molecular Steam Hairsetter ($29.99). Steam heat ensures a longer-lasting curl, good for those with fine, naturally straight hair.
ConAir Instant Heat Jumbo Rollers ($23.95). A dozen large, velvet rollers and clips are gentle on hair and leave a smooth finish—best for curly, coarse hair.