Model β-hairpin peptides based on variations in the turn sequence of Cochran's tryptophan zipper peptide, SWTWENGKWTWK, were studied using electronic circular dichroism (ECD), fluorescence, and infrared (IR) spectroscopies. The trpzip2 Asn–Gly turn sequence was substituted with Thr–Gly, Aib–Gly, DPro–Gly, and Gly–Asn (trpzip1) to study the impact of turn stability on β-hairpin formation. Stability and conformational changes of these hairpins were monitored by thermodynamic analyses of the temperature variation of both FTIR (amide I′) and ECD spectral intensities. These changes were fit to a two-state model which yielded different Tm values, representing the folding/unfolding process, for hairpins with different β-turns. Different β-turns show systematic contributions to hairpin structure formation, and their inclusion in hairpin design can modify the folding pathways. Aib–Gly or DPro–Gly sequences stabilize the turn resulting in residual Trp–Trp interaction at high temperatures, but at the same time the β-structure (cross strand H-bonds) can become less stable due to constraints of the turn, as seen for DPro–Gly. The structure of the Aib–Gly turn containing hairpin was determined by NMR and was shown to be like trpzip2 (Asn–Gly turn) as regards turn and strand geometries, but to differ from trpzip1 (Gly–Asn turn). The Munoz and Eaton statistical mechanically derived multistate model, tested as an alternate point of view, represented contributions from H-bonds and hydrophobic interactions as well as conformational change as interdependent. Use of different spectral methods that vary in dependence on these physical interactions along with the structural variations provided insight to the complex folding pathways of these small, well-folded peptides. Proteins 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.