History of Nail Art
The appearance of one's nails can matter a lot to a person. It gives them a way to express individual style. Thought by many to be predominantly a style choice for women, it can be a good way to cheer themselves up. However, in Babylonia, 3200 B.C. it was men, not women who would paint their nails with black and green ‘kohl' - an ancient cosmetic. Babylonians warriors would spend hours on their fingernails, getting their hair curled along with other beauty treatments to prepare them for war.
Around 3000 B.C. in ancient Egypt, the colour of the kohl upon their fingertips would indicate their status. A nobleman would have a black colour on their fingertips while a common man would be green. It was around the same time in which the first nail lacquer was developed in China. The first nail polish was made of a blend of gum Arabic, gelatine and egg whites, the colour was made by the different vegetable dyes and crushing up orchid and rose petals, this gave varying shades of pinks and reds. The first lacquer developed had to be left for hours and sometimes even overnight to get the desired pigment. Could you imagine having to leave it that long? Imagine as a nail tech today and you having to stop your client using their phone while it was being developed. Yes, I personally think that the development of the gel polish was one of the best things manufactured for the nail industry. In 600 B.C. during the ‘Zhou Dynasty' royalty would use this nail polish with added silver and gold dust to show their social status.
It was during the Chinese Ming dynasty that aristocrats showered their lengthy nails in gold and silver. The nail guards were encrusted with jewels, this showed their wealth within society. To avoid getting their nails damaged or broken it was down to the servants to perform personal chores.
Flying forward to the late 1800s the word ‘manicure' (From the Latin ‘Manus cura' for ‘Hand care') was the title given to a professional who would buff the nail beds and clean up the cuticle, this type of maintenance was originally thought of as medical and hygienic. In 1878 it was Mary E Cobb who opened the first salon to perform a manicure treatment. It was the countries first manicure salon which was based in Manhattan. Fingernails then were kept short, rounded and well buffed, again symbolising a wealthy life of leisure.
The 1920's came around and the decade of the flappers appeared, with their new attitude and new clothes that helped to reinvigorate the nail scene. The cigarette campaigns showed flappers glamorising drinking and smoking while showing off their well-manicured
rounded nails. Many flappers would wear the iconic red of the decade. Icons such as Bette Davis and Joan Crawford popularised the moon manicure, where the lunula and the free edge was free from colour and usually a vibrant red was painted across the middle of the nail.
Revlon was the first company to push nail enamel into the mass market. It first launched with a single product, a long-lasting nail enamel, it wasn't long after they started producing delicate pinks and bold reds. Revlon allowed the wearer to have fun with colour, whilst expressing some individuality.
Almond shaped nails became popular during the second world war when nail polish campaigns promoted women in the armed forces. The moon manicure was soon replaced by this trend. It was starlets such as Elizabeth Taylor that really helped to bring this new trend to the screen throughout America and to the women who watched her.
The 1960's were all about pastel shades. However, a few mods such as Barbra Streisand and Twiggy who opted for the long oval with colours such as pale pinks and peach colours that were ‘barely there' colours.
It is Jeff Pink the founder of the nail brand Orly who is the man who is credited for the ‘French Manicure' after he used this term on one of his manicure kits. This new style of manicure made it easier for actresses and models to accessorise their style to their many outfit changes throughout the day.
A Kaleidoscope of colour entered the world of nail polishes during the 1980's From Neon Yellows to Shocking Pink. It wasn't just about colour this decade it was also about experimenting with nail art with the introduction to prints, textures and embellishments. There was a lot of techniques coming into the industry during this time from hand painting, foil art and the artwork with the aid of airbrushing.
It was during the 1990s that big stars such as Missy Elliot embraced nail art though airbrushing and was one of many stars to have their nails pierced. Amongst these more extravagant stars with their bright ‘blinged' up nails, there was a small proportion of women who went with the minimalist movement and revived the more traditional colours such as reds and nude colours.
Due to there being more diversity within social groups during this decade, sometimes referred to as ‘PostModern', it brought with it many different nail styles to match the many different individual styles. We can't forget the more ‘Grunge' and ‘Goth' cultures which brought back black.
The millennium hit and so did sheens, embellishments and an amazing array of different colours. It was during this decade that nails truly became part of the outfit. More intricate designs were brought in and nail art ideas were being pushed more. Breakthroughs in materials science brought a host of new products and techniques to the salon. It was the company Minx that helped to bring more art to your fingertips with their self-adhesive stick ons, bringing intricate and flashy nail design to the fingertips in minutes.
2008 was the breakthrough year when the most amazing product (in my eyes) was produced. No more do we have to sit and wait 20 minutes for our manicure to dry. Once the treatment is done the polish is DRY!! no more "I've just smudged that one, can you redo it" as your clients are leaving the door. Or even worse "I've just touched my top and now I have fluff on my nails." A big thank you to CND the creators of the first gel polish range; shellac. Many companies have followed this new revolution from Le Chat's perfect match to Nail Harmony's Gelish and beyond. Gel polish not only helped us as nail techs to cut down time but it also opened a world of more opportunity within are nail art range. Gel polish gives us more time to work with the colour to get it spot on and what's better is that your client has lovely manicured nails for at least 2 weeks with no chips.
Today we have a variety of different styles and techniques to suit every client. These days I personally don't have a client who has a completely plain manicure. Sometimes they allow me to go wild with a full design, or sometimes opt for a single statement nail design. Either way, it seems clear to me that the trend is for further individualistic styles, powered by better products and a beautiful history of nail art to draw from.
Who knows where the world of nails will end up next?