Vintage Hair
Hairstyles for vintage enthusiasts
How to thin out hair (and why) 
26th-Feb-2008 02:35 am
In the 20's and 30's every lady who set their hair also had their hair thinned out.
Thinned out hair holds waves and curls better, fluffier and longer, since the individual hairs don't weigh each-other down in a negative way. You can also build volume more easily if desired, because of the same reason.
It also reduces some problems with pincurls for people with extremely long and/or thick hair, for example it reduces drying time and thickness of the curles, so that you don't have to "pile the curls on top of each other" as one of my friends with very thick hair once stated.

The method I will describe is not complicated to do, but it is time-consuming. I recommend that every lady here sporting 20's and 30's hairstyles grab a friend and thinning-out-scissor and start cutting!

This method of thinning out hair is described in a Swedish hairdresser's book from 1947.
It is the first book concerning hairdressing written in Sweden, and that is why it also describes hairdressing of earlier decades.
This is described as the best, most sophisticated way of thinning out hair, although it can be done in a number of ways.

In modern haircuts thinning out hair in this manner never occurs. Our way of dealing with volume and support of either natural or artificial waves and curls are layers. Layered haircuts never occurred in the 20's to 60's as far as I know.
I must admit I don't know when layered haircuts came in to fashion, but I imagine they gained
their true popularity in the 80's and 90's and certainly continue in fashion today.

I would also like to mention that my native language is not English, so I might not use the
correct and certainly not the professional terms, and if someone would like to improve my
description I would be honored!

1) This is an illustration of natural hair-length. Notice how the length of the hairs is slightly different from each other.

2) A hair thinned out with a different method, where the top hair is left longest, and the hair at the bottom is shortest. This method will only make the hair fall closer to the head. It will not help to support curls or waves.

3) Illustration of how evenly thinned out hair supports hair sets.

* IMPORTANT! Use special hairdressing scissors made for thinning out hair! These have teeth on one or on both sides, and thus does not cut each hair between the blades! This method is applied on DRY hair.

4) This is the sub-sections that we work with. Start with the top-triangle, do either right or left side of the large triangle first, and work your way "inwards", so that you keep the
triangle shape. This helps you remember which sections of the hair you have already treated.
According to the book the HEIGHT of the subsection triangles is 3 cm. The sub-sectioned triangles are supposed to be equilateral.

1) Part the hair in the back like a big triangle from the swivel of the hair to the ears.
Fasten the other hair with combs (suggested, since it was a common tool in the 30's, you might as well use modern clips or whatever. Just keep it neat).

2). Pick up the first top sub-triangle-section.

3) Back-comb some of the hair to about half the length to the total hair. Backcombing more hair
will make you cut less hair away. Adjust the amount to the type of hair and amount of hair of
your client.

4) Cut the hair (once) with a thinning-out-scissor about 1 cm from the tips of the hairs you are
holding. Hold the scissor with close to vertical tilt. Suggested way of holding scissors is from underneath with the wrist facing upwards.
Then comb the hair out again.

5) Start back-combing the same section but push the hair further down, to about 2/3 of the total
length of hair. Make the second cut in the middle of the length (above the back-combed hair).
Then comb the hair straight again.

6) Back-comb the same section again. This time push the comb as closely to the scalp as possible.
Make the third cut as close to the scalp as possible without cutting through the back-combed
hair. Then comb the hair out again and pick up your next sub-section as described earlier.

7) When the hair in the back of the head is finished, make your main part (it is assumed that the client has a fixed part, since they often adjusted the haircut to the hairdo/hair set, which they wore more or less constantly).
After making the main part (illustrated with the little green dots), section the rest of the hair into triangles. Start at the top, closest to the swivel.

8,9) The hair is cut in the same way with the back-combing in the three steps that were
described earlier, but in the sections closest to the main part and forehead caution must be taken with the third step. Otherwise short stray hairs might poke up in an unflattering way.
Suggested method in the book is that you make the first and second cut in the top-corners of your subsection, and the third cut closest to the head in the bottom angle of the triangle, and not cut through the whole section.
The book does not mention how to handle the "upside down"-triangles. Maybe you can work with the
three flat sides instead of the corners of the triangles. I think the important thing is to not
forget to take caution with the third step. Common sense must be applied!

10) When all sections have been worked over, feel and look through the hair and even out eventual flaws. Make sure the hair is evenly thin in the back as well as the front. Also check the tips of the hair, that the edges are even and pretty. You should be all done after this!

I am not sure that this tutorial/instruction makes complete sense, so any feedback would be much appreciated.
Don't be afraid to ask any sort of questions you might have! I will try to answer them as best I can (together with the rest of the informed people in this community, I'm sure!)

After a few weeks I hope to make a revised version of this tutorial, release it as a PDF on various sites on the internet (such as the fedora lounge, here again, on my personal homepage and any other place you might suggest).
I found this information very hard to find when I first started doing vintage hairdos which is a real pity, since it's so essential to succeeding with these advanced hairdos.
With my modern piracy background I want to keep information free and close at hand to anyone who wants to find it.
26th-Feb-2008 02:39 am (UTC)
that's really interesting...i'd never really thought that there was a better way to thin hair...because i know if i get mine done in the modern way (with layers) it just goes a big boof...

now to find a friend that i trust with scissors...
26th-Feb-2008 03:10 am (UTC)
Some hairstyles of that era (especially bobs) were unlikely to have included thinning, except perhaps at the tips. And the usefulness of thinning hair for longer and more elaborate styles depends largely on the volume and thickness of the individual's hair. (Many people's hair is naturally fine and/or thin.)

I confess that I don't understand the progressions of the pictures #4, 5 and 6. It looks like you're starting from the ends of the hair and working towards the scalp. That makes no sense. Thinning scissors are used going away from the scalp. I would never use thinning scissors closer than 1/3 the length of the hair from the scalp, and never on the crown. YMMV.
26th-Feb-2008 05:18 am (UTC)
Right with you on the starting at the ends makes no sense. First thing they teach you in school is that you start thinning one third the length of the hair from the scalp. This is also the first I have ever heard of back combing as a part of the thinning process. I just hope anyone reading the tutorial that plans on attempting this realizes it takes a special kind shear to do this with that actually has teeth and not just regular scissors or they are gonna be in a world of hurt and likely very pissed off.
26th-Feb-2008 08:01 am (UTC)
the point about the scissors was of course very important. thanks! that might have ended badly! ;D
26th-Feb-2008 07:45 am (UTC)
of course. i forgot to mention that thinning out on bobs that are ment to be stragight was never done.

it's true that you make the first cut (you only close the scissors one on each step) at the tips of the hair, and in the next step you do it in the middle length of the hair, and third, closest to the scalp. in this way you are "working" towards the scalp.

the scissors that were used on my hair when thinning out were the ones like the second from right in this picture:

and as i said, this sort of thinning out never occurs in modern hairdressing, which is why the method might not be taught out in modern hairstyling educations, and thus, it might go against what you've learned.

26th-Feb-2008 02:29 pm (UTC)
this sort of thinning out never occurs in modern hairdressing

I use a similar type of thinning practically every day, and I've heard of the backcombing technique (to thin only some of the hair, not the entirety of the section you're using), but I still agree with bricology and krypt_kitten that going that close to the scalp with thinning shears is probably not the best plan.

Hair has a natural point where it will either lay flat or stick up, and if you get that close to the scalp, the "thinned" hairs have a very good chance of sticking straight up.
26th-Feb-2008 03:36 pm (UTC)
yes of course. did you read the section where i said common sense must be used and caution taken espcially taken close to any showing parts and close to the face?
i don't see the problem in cutting that close to the scalp in the back or anywhere else no showing parts will be placed, and indeed, my hair is thinned out in the exact manner described in the book, and i don't have any problems with sticking up hair.
26th-Feb-2008 07:50 am (UTC)
oh, and the book especially mentions that thinning out hair of people who have naturally thin hair is essential to the sucess of a good hairset because of the supportive nature such a haircut provides to waves and curls.
the book stresses that the hair will not LOOK thinner, but instead, be given more volume, airiness and the set will last longer.
26th-Feb-2008 04:18 am (UTC)
From experience, fingerwaving on thin hair is much more feasible than on thick hair. I know nothing about cutting hair so I'm not sure I can give you any constructive advice/ feedback there.
26th-Feb-2008 02:32 pm (UTC)
My 2 cents......I thin my bangs out and do my sides about every other trim. I usually put the scissors in about 2 inches into the section and cut ONCE. I do it in verticle sections to get it to flow...the bangs are done in horizontal sections. When I trim my friends hair I will do the ends with the thinners or the razor just to get them to curl under.
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