Nail Art History

Beautiful nails are valued as a gift to be kept and taken care of. The first manicurist according to Greek mythology is Eros. He clipped the fingernails of the goddess Aphrodite while she slept and spread them around the earth’s beaches. After observing what had happened, the fates gathered the cuttings and transformed them into the semi-precious stone onyx, which is derived from the Greek meaning fingernail. In actuality, the dorsal portion of human fingertips and toes are covered in convex, hard horny plates that have evolved from the primordial claw. According to folklore beliefs, the nails are frequently thought to keep growing even after death, delaying the effects of aging for a while. So vampires, revenants, and other “undead” people are known for having long nails.

The phenomenon is actually caused by the corpse’s dehydration, which makes the skin around the nails retract and shrink back. However, the unsettling effect of this specific aspect of decomposition has given rise to countless macabre horror stories in which regretful people who have been buried alive try to scratch their way out of the tomb. According to Sir Thomas Browne in the seventeenth century, deceased people’s nails, along with their bones, hair, and teeth, were “the treasures of Old Sorcerers,” and one of the earliest methods of poisoning was to mix grated nails with food or wine. Even today, people take extra precautions to clean up human scratches, maybe because nails do contain a small amount of arsenic.

History of Manicuring

Manicuring itself is a very old practice. There is proof that manicures were performed as long ago as 4,000 years ago in southern Babylonia, and manicure tools have been discovered in the royal tombs of Egypt. Romans used a mixture of sheep fat and blood to paint their nails. Boiling rose petals were used by Turkish ladies to give their nails a pink colour. According to the Song of Solomon, women in biblical times not only dyed their hair, but also painted their hands, feet, fingernails, toenails, and other body parts with henna juice, a custom that is still prevalent in Middle Eastern society today. The practice of having long nails is associated with status since it can make certain physical labor impossible.

The extremely long fingernails of Chinese nobility during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), which occasionally had nail guards made of gold and jewels, were well known. In order to prevent them from breaking a nail, servants were forced to dress, feed, and handle other personal tasks for them. As well as using Arabic gum, beeswax, vegetable colors, and egg whites as nail lacquer, the Chinese also employed other types of polish.

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Colored nail polish wasn’t prevalent in the Western Hemisphere until the 20th century. Instead, a dominating aesthetic connecting personal hygiene and moral purity valued clean hands with white, neatly shaped nails. Old etiquette manuals from the 1800s advise using a little water mixed with vinegar or lemon juice to whiten the nail tips.

This seeming absence of ornamentation was a clear sign of riches and constrained leisure. For instance, Emma Bovary’s nails are “cut in the shape of an almond and scrubbed cleaner than Dieppe ivory.” Such meticulous nail care was in line with the anti-cosmetics movement, which persisted far into the early 1900s and expressed a belief in the transparency of inner beauty.

A New Development in Nail Polish

More than any other visual medium, Hollywood movies helped make wearing nail polish ubiquitous in the West. The 1920s film stars embodied modernism, appeared foreign, and displayed brilliant glossy lacquer on their nails, which was soon made widely available. Since nail polish and cinematic film are both visual arts, the new lacquer was literally inspired by movies.

Castor oil, alcohol, and cleaned film scraps were combined in an early way of creating nail paint. The concoction was then allowed to soak for the night. The earliest colored nail polishes were created in muted pink hues and were given names like “rose,” “ruby,” “coral,” and “natural” in an effort to conceal the product’s chemical makeup and get around the advertising industry’s prevalent monochrome style.

Before Charles Revson and his associates discovered how to add opaque pigments (rather than dyes) to polish so that it would coat the nails uniformly, deep color varnishes like cardinal red were not readily available.

Today’s Nail Art

Western nail art has undergone more advancements and fads throughout the past few decades. Quick-drying polishes have been developed by manufacturers specifically for active women, and the variety of hues now offered has increased. Brightly colored varnish has been readily available since the 1980s in uncommon hues like ice-cream pastels and gunmetal gray, as well as polishes that include built-in decorations like glitter or tiny metallic stars. When Chanel introduced a deep black-red lacquer in 1995, it cemented these hues’ place in the fashion world. When Uma Thurman, who played the title role in the movie Pulp Fiction, donned “Vamp” the next year, the association with Hollywood was furthered. Chanel’s nail polish, which costs $15 per bottle, opened the way for the development of the industry for high-end nail products.

In American nail salons, over $6 billion is spent on services each year, and manicurists’ skills are becoming more and more sought after on a global scale. As clean hands are now seen as an essential component of a professional appearance, both men and women are now regular clients. Acrylic nails and nail extensions that are applied using glue adhesives and glue tabs also look more realistic thanks to new technologies. In the fantasy segment of the market, fingernails and toenails have evolved into a practical blank canvas for imaginative expression. Nails can be carved, stenciled, pierced, and of course painted with ornate motifs in nail art, which is frequently incredibly intricate.

The art of the manicurist is celebrated in competitions like the Nail Olympics, held yearly in Las Vegas. Black culture in Britain and the US is particularly resonant with current nail art. This context sees lavishly painted nails as a highly decorative alternative to Eurocentric ideas of beauty.

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