For Women’s Equality Day this weekend, we thought we would delve into the long history of nail fashion and equality. It will surprise you to know the long and intertwined history between the two! From the invention of nail polish back in 3000 BC, it was a trend that was shared by both men and women and while this trend turned to one preferred by women, it has come full circle in recent years. Today, both men and women are sharing and celebrating nail fashion once more.
The English word ‘manicure’ originates from the French ‘manucure’, or “care of the hands”. This derives from the two Latin words ‘manus’, meaning “hand” and ‘cura’ meaning “care”. Getting a manicure is a ritual that dates back to 3000 BC in China, where aristocratic women would soak their nails overnight in a mix of egg whites, beeswax, gum arabic, and gelatin, then adding dyes made from orchids and roses to color their nails. Prior to this in 3200 BC in Babylon, warriors would stain their nails with kohl as a war paint to strike fear into their opponents during battle. Since its’ origin in history, coloring and decorating one’s nails has been a way to instill self-confidence and express personality.
The invention of nail polish transformed hands and nails from a functional tool, to something that could be decorated and shown off. The desire to show yourself off and express yourself is as old as time, however the ingredients and methods have changed over the years. Nail polish has traditionally been worn by women in the Western world, with colors and styles varying over time. After the Victorian era when women no longer had to wear corsets and long-form covering gowns, they progressed from modest pale colors on their nails to French manicures and brighter colors such as red covering the entire nail bed, not just the tip.
Now women’s style decisions are made for themselves, not for the benefit of the opposite sex or the ‘moral customs’ of the day. We paint our nails to please ourselves, because we want to. It is becoming more fashionable for men to paint their nails as well, it is not a ‘feminine trend’, as shown by many male celebrities and musicians (and even our own Nailing It column).
The nail industry has success from how varied and open it is, just google manicure trends and hundreds of thousands of results will come up. These days there are no limits to how you can paint your nails, the trends are thousands of years old but the ideology remains the same. Women use their nails to express their personality, however they choose to do so!