There has been much talk of men being on top of their grooming as a growing fad. In truth though, it’s not a “fad” at all. Men have been getting manicures for thousands of years, dating all the way back to the archaic empires of Rome, Egypt and China. Even without the modern marvels we’ve developed over the years and enjoy today, these civilizations used nail care for much more than just keeping up appearances.
The English word manicure is derived from the French, meaning “care of the hands.” This originates from the Latin words manus, for “hand,” and cura, for “care”. The first recorded manicures date back over 3,000 years ago to ancient Egypt and Babylonia, where nail color was used to represent social class. Bright tones or black on the nails reflected wealth and power while paler and natural “earth” tones were reserved for the peasantry. Only 600 years ago in China they also took on this idea, the wealthiest in society using silver and gold paint, made from wax, egg whites, gelatin and rubber, to coat their nails and convey their high aristocratic status. The bolder the color, the more power it represented. The Ming Dynasty, the ruling family from 1368 to 1644, was especially fond of a dark bloody red.
Not far after the Egyptians in 296 BC in the lands of the Roman Empire, the Roman Senator Ticinius Mena returned to Rome from Sicily and pioneered the custom of the first barbershops, providing men with shaves, haircuts, massages and, voila, both manicures and pedicures complete with oils and scents to perfume their hands. It’s been documented that Roman men spent long hours in the barbershops getting groomed, shattering any previous conceptions that polishing your look for hours at a time is only a feminine practice.
In America, the barbershop culture also thrived and by the 18th century, they were a staple in towns and cities everywhere. From the old west to upstate New York, barbershops offered manicures and pedicures at the majority of establishments and were a common addition to a haircut and shave. They even had designated manicurists who would work on guys’ nails while the barber attended to their hair. Cowboys wanted to look good while they were gun slinging too!
Through the 20th Century, the “man-icure” developed a reputation to be “for girls only” with the rise of the French Manicure and the use of acrylic nails. Nevertheless, by 1950, the manicure field was one of the strongest of the cosmetic industry. And over the past 64 years, it has only continued to expand. With the resurgence of men stepping back into the grooming sphere and new techniques and treatments being endlessly developed, it’s no wonder the number of nail establishments, not to mention patrons, has skyrocketed over the years. So go on, take part in this age-old ritual. It was good enough for the rulers of the ancient world. What’s your excuse?
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