Manicured nails is also often referred to as nail art. Beautiful manicured nails for a woman are determinants of beauty and femininity. Don’t you know that the culture of manicured nails sprung during the Greek times. Eros was even considered to be the first manicurist as it was mentioned in the Greek mythology archives that he cut Aphrodite’s fingernails while she was asleep. Then, Eros threw these clippings in the beach where these turned into precious gems.
On the other hand, the practice of manicuring is dated to be very ancient as it dates as far back as 4,000 years ago. In fact, manicures existed in southern Babylonia and manicure instruments have been found in Egypt’s royal tombs. The Romans painted their nails with a mixture of sheep fat and blood. Turkish women created a pink tint for the nails from boiled rose petals. Women in biblical times not only dyed their hair but also painted their fingernails and toenails as well as hands and feet with henna juice (as mentioned in the Song of Solomon), a practice that still forms part of Middle Eastern culture today. The custom of growing long nails relates to status, since it can preclude certain forms of manual labor. Chinese noblemen and women of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) were well known for their extraordinarily long fingernails, which were sometimes protected with gold and jewel-encrusted nail guards. Servants were required to feed, dress, and perform other personal chores for them so that they did not break a nail. The Chinese also used nail polish made from egg whites, beeswax, vegetable dyes, and Arabic gum.
However, in Western history, colored nail polish was uncommon until the twentieth century. Instead, unstained hands with white and regularly formed nails were esteemed as part of a dominant aesthetic linking physical hygiene and moral purity. Etiquette guides from the 1800s recommend a little lemon juice or vinegar and water to whiten the nail tips and commercial products available at this time included nail polishers or buffers, crystal stones, emery boards, hand and cuticle creams, pearly white liquid, and several kinds of bleaching powders for the hands and nails. This apparent lack of adornment was an obvious indicator of wealth and enforced leisure. Emma Bovary’s nails for instance are “scrubbed cleaner than Dieppe ivory and cut almond shape.” Such fastidious treatment of the nails was in keeping with the anti-cosmetics stance, which professed a belief in the transparency of inner beauty and continued well into the early 1900s.
It was actually in the 60s and 70s where the nail fad began as nail salon began to sprout everywhere. This was brought about by the desire of the American woman to look feminine and sexy. Over $6 billion is spent on services in American nail salons every year and the art of the manicurist has become increasingly prized worldwide. Men as well as women are now regular clients since well-kept hands are considered to be an important part of a professional image. New technologies have also resulted in more realistic-looking acrylic nails and nail extensions, which are attached with glue adhesives and glue tabs. At the fantasy end of the market, fingernails and toenails have become a natural canvas for the expression of creative imagination. Nail art is often stunningly elaborate—nails can be sculpted, stenciled, pierced, and of course painted with intricate designs. Competitions such as the Nail Olympics held annually in Las Vegas honor the art of the manicurist—as a latter-day miniaturist painter—and indicate the growing professionalization of the industry. In Britain and the United States, contemporary nail art resonates particularly with black culture. In this context elaborately painted nails are seen to offer a highly decorative alternative to Eurocentric ideals of beauty.
Forde, Katherine. “Nail Art.” Encyclopedia of Clothing and Fashion. Ed. Valerie Steele. Vol. 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005. 437-439.