Most vintage lovers have heard of the books I’m going to review today.

Lauren Rennells books on Vintage Hairstyling and Retro Make Up are often talked about as amazing resources. They’re not cheap to buy, particularly if you live in the UK, so many people Um and Ah over it for a while. Can they be worth the outlay?

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I was always one of those people, so when HRST books offered to send me copies to review I said YES PLEASE! Really loudly.

I did intend to try out some of the looks for photos, but I just haven’t had time to try anything new lately, falling back on old favourites instead. I have, however, given the books a bloomin’ good read. I thought it was worth sharing my initial impressions, especially as behind todays advent calendar door is a set of the books PLUS a boxed pin curl tool set (go enter!). I might return in less hectic times to show you my attempts at following the advice contained within them!

Vintage Hairstyling

This was the first of the books to be released, and was often spoken of in reverential tones! The best thing about it is it’s so much more than a step by step “how to” for different hair styles. The first quarter of the book is given over to the building blocks of creating vintage hair styles, the sort of information that will help you experiment and create your own styles.

It’s not just equipment, though that’s all there, it’s also techniques for pin curls and waves, how to keep ends under control when pin curling, how to comb out styles, and an overview of hair silhouettes across the decades.

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Without a doubt this is the most comprehensive guide to vintage styling I’ve ever read, and great if you really want to work on your techniques.

Once you get into the finished styles step by step guides I was pleased to see that they don’t all rely on heat curling. Many of them use wet sets to get the look. I haven’t had chance to try following the instructions myself yet, but reading through I would say that some of them might be quite tricky if you’re a real beginner. The instructions themselves are well photographed and the steps clearly described but some of the more complex looks require a lot of different sections and angles that can get confusing. It’s good that they are included as they’ll be great to try once you’re a bit more experienced. I feel like there should be a grading system from beginners to more experienced styles to try!

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Retro Make Up

I remember the buzz when this book was released, and now I have a copy I think it’s well deserved. It feels much lighter than the hair styling book, but there’s an awful lot of information crammed into those pages. Like the hair book, this is split into sections, and starts with a little history on the wearing of cosmetics, and the building blocks of applying it. It goes through modern tools available, and onto techniques for everything from grooming brows to getting lipstick to last and the different types of products available.

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For the looks themselves the book is split by decade, which means each section starts with a really useful general overview of techniques and styles associated with a decade, before moving onto step by step guides for 3 or 4 specific looks. The guides themselves are easy to follow and not hugely detailed, there is no list of necessary products at the beginning of each and I got the impression they were more general guides than designed to be followed step by step. I would probably use this book more as a mix and match of techniques than to follow the step by steps. Each decades section is packed with little snippets of information about how starlets of the age did their make up, as well as more theatrical techniques such as covering your eyebrows to create a whole new shape and how to apply a beauty spot.

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If you already have a basic skill level in hair and make up and want to improve them, or if you’re already quite advanced and want some tips and ideas then I think these books are indispensable. If you’re a real beginner then you might find them a little advanced, but they’re worth getting for the information inside, it just might take you a little longer to get the hang of some of the styles.

In the UK you can buy the books as a set directly from HRST Books for $55.95, and shipping will be about an additional $24.99.

They are also available from Pin Up Parade.

Alternatively you can pop over to the Advent Calendar and have a go at winning yourself a set!