Marcel Wave

The Marcel wave was a very popular hairstyle of the 1920s and worked particularly well on the new and fashionable bob hairstyle that was sweeping the world. Marcel waving was named after 19th century French hairdresser Francois Marcel, who had invented the process of creating undulating 'S' shaped waves with the hair. In the 1870s Marcel tried out his style successfully on various women, including a well known actress of the day - the word spread and the soft 'S' wave thereafter became associated with Francois Marcel and the name Marcel a generic term for the style.

An early photograph of actress Claudette Colbert sporting a stylish  Marcel wave
However, although the wavy style had been used pre-1920s on long hair using hot irons heated on a stove,  the invention of electric waving irons in the early 20s made it so much easier to achieve - the stove method could be perilous, with burns and over heating a frequent problem.  There was also a Marcel perming machine used in the 20s but it was expensive and the results variable. Although there were women who had their hair permed in the 20s, It wouldn't be until the next decade that the perming process became widespread and trustworthy.

It's not hard to see why Marcel waving would have been so popular in the 20s, enduring into the 30s, as it was a romantic style which emulated natural waves and softened the severity of short hair, framing the face in flattering, uplifting waves. Marcel waves meant a 20s woman could keep in step with the new radicalism in fashion yet still retain a very feminine look.

Hollywood too, went a long way toward popularizing the style, as many leading actresses had their hair professionally coiffed in the Marcel style and together with the dark eye-makeup and  thin, penciled eyebrows of the era, made a dramatic statement on screen. For a retro change of style, these days it's easy enough to get the look with a purpose designed curling iron.