Want to get a classic wave? Go for the finger wave! No, it’s not taking one finger of your choosing and wiggling it in a friendly way at people that walk by. Though that technically IS a definition of it.
The finger wave I speak of is a stunning beauty technique that you might have noticed in old movies and photos from the 1920s and 1930s. Think Bette Davis, and you’re on the right track.
But finger waves came back in popularity again in the late portion of the 1990s.
I can recall Madonna donning the style as well as the equally as awesome Missy Elliott. It’s a look that is gorgeous on anybody, regardless of hair type, though it looks killer perfection on shorter, natural African-American hair.
What is a finger wave? It’s when you pinch your hair between your fingers while combing it in opposing directions to create an “S.”
It gets locked in place with a wave lotion; usually, something with karaya gum but these days, liquid styling gel or even hairspray can hold it in place.
Clips were also added, which helped with keeping things in place until the gel dried. I love this adorable style for short hair.
My friend Carrie has a bob, and when she goes out on the town, she often does the finger wave.
You don’t need a bob haircut to do it. Nor do you need a certain type or texture of hair.
But if you have type 4 natural hair, I’m going to help you learn how to master this classic, beautiful style that will have everyone turning heads to admire you again and again.
One of the best things about doing the finger wave is that you do NOT need to use heat styling tools.
It just takes your fingers. Let’s kick it back to a classic era and bring back this iconic style.
And yes, even if you have naturally curly or permed hair, you can do this. Even on straight hair too!
I tried it, and while it’s certainly not an everyday ‘do for me, it is definitely something I’ll be using when I have something special to attend.
Can You Finger Wave Natural Hair?
Finger waving is a versatile style that looks great no matter the texture of your natural hair. If you do not have natural hair, this style may be a bit challenging to do.
Now, before you look at me and my straight hair and roll your eyes, I have enlisted my friend Jennine who was happy to help me when I was writing this post. She has type 4 hair, and even she was skeptical that we could get her hair to do the finger wave.
I was excited to try it out myself, and on her hair too. First, we experimented on my hair, which was fun, but because it’s long, it wasn’t like the bob finger waves I envy. But the best part was Jennine’s hair after we were done.
And in the name of all of this, we were successful with some tips I’m going to provide below, proving you can get finger waves no matter the type of hair you have.
The first thing I want to make clear though, is if your hair is type 4 or just kinky in general, it’s a good idea to prep your hair with plenty of moisturization and hydration first.
All the gel you’ll need to achieve this look (incidentally, stock up on that too) will lead to dry strands, and we don’t want that.
So do a deep conditioning first and get your hair loaded with hydration. Then follow these steps you’ll read below!
Hair Length Needed to Achieve This Hairstyle
My friend Carrie is a perfect bob-cut beauty. Her hair is about 4 inches in length, and ideally, if your hair is about 2 to 4 inches, you’ll have the best results.
Her hair came out way better than mine, but mine is heavy and long, so it weighted on the curls.
Now with Jennine, she has shrunken hair that naturally coils and turns, so she was the perfect candidate with type 4 natural hair to give this a whirl.
And don’t get FOMO if you have short but relaxed hair. You can do it too though you’ll need much less gel than Jennine did, so that’s a good thing!
How to achieve finger waves on natural hair?
Before you begin, I recommend trying this out on a lazy day when you’ve got nowhere to go.
That way, if you hate it, you won’t be stuck trying to throw your hair into a style you like before heading out the door.
This is definitely not something to try before you head to work, right before a first date, or ahead of a big event.
Make sure you get it right first, and once you do, if you like it, you can always pull it off with success.
Here are the steps you’ll need to get those beautiful finger waves and channel your 1920s Hollywood starlet spirit!
Step #1: Wash your hair
The first key step in achieving finger waves on type 4 natural hair is to wash it. Your hair must be wet to get those finger waves.
Step #2: Add a leave-in conditioner
Remember what I said about adding in more moisture? Don’t stop at conditioning in the shower.
After you get out, add a leave-in too to help lock in moisture. You’re going to need it!
Step #3: Use gel
For other types of hair, you could get away with mousse, but for type 4 natural hair, you’re going to need all the strength you can get.
Apply a generous amount of the gel into wet hair.
On Jennine’s hair, we used Cantu – Wave Whip Curling Mousse Eco Styling Gel.
Step #4: Make a side part
We used a tail comb to help get that deep side part to perfection. Then we separated a 2-inch section above her forehead to make the finger waves. The tail comb really helps get that line perfect.
Step #5: Start shaping the finger waves
With that tail comb, we pulled the separate hair strands forward toward Jennine’s face and began shaping the finger waves along the part.
You’ll want to work from in the direction toward the end of the strands by pushing the hair up toward the part and then shape the finger waves in rows.
Step #6: Clip it
With the clips, you can secure the base of each of the finger waves. This is how you’ll leave it until the gel dries in place.
Step #7: Make sure you alternate the waves
To achieve perfect finger waves, you will want to alternate the direction of the waves upwards or downwards in varying rows.
As you complete each, don’t forget to clip it, so it stays there. Make each following wave go in the opposite pattern.
Step #8: Wait for it to dry
Ah, the waiting is totally the hardest part. I had to distract Jennine with Netflix and snacks until it was finally dry.
You want to air-dry it, just like those classy starlets did back in the day. Once it’s dry, you can remove the clips.
Step #9: Spray it in place
Once the hair has dried into perfect finger waves, you can secure your vintage fabulous style with hairspray.
We used göt2b® Glued freeze Blasting Spray, which is pretty strong, making sure Jennine’s hair stayed in perfect finger waves.
This also prevented it from frizzing. It was a look that came out beautifully for her.
A Few More Finger Wave Tips
Before you get started on your finger wave adventures, I recommend grabbing what you need first rather than trying to scavenge it up. That means have your gel and hairspray ready.
Carrie recommends mousse too, but she doesn’t have type 4 natural hair. I’d say go with the gel and hairspray for sure.
Another thing that helped for Jennine was to wrap her hair with a satin scarf. If you have access to one of those salon dryers, you could sit underneath it, but if not, let it air dry.
It’s nice to let your hair dry on its own sometimes anyway to minimize heat exposure.
Don’t forget your tools either. You’ll need a fine-tooth comb with a tail on it that will help smooth, mold, and shape the style as well as get you that deep part.
You’ll also want a wide-tooth comb to help you form those finger waves.
Follow the steps to ensure you get it right. Again, keep hair happy with plenty of conditioning prior to making finger waves.
All that gel will leave it feeling dry and suck the moisture right out of it. And once you’re finished sportin’ those finger waves, be sure to pamper your hair with another indulgent deep conditioning session to keep it nice and healthy.
Finger waves look so elegant and classy. They might have originated in the 1920s and 1930s, but they came back in the 1990s, and now it’s time for them to experience another comeback.
This classic style is one of sophistication, perfect for the holidays.
If you have somewhere special to go, give finger waves a try on your type 4 natural hair, or any hair type.
I will say this… if you have long, straight hair like me, you will have better success if you do part of your hair up to keep the length from pulling out the waves.
It’s a lot of fun to try this style, though, and it really does look stunning on every woman. Enjoy!