Our Favorite Flex: Nail Art & Its Origins

Sep 18, 2019 · 4 min read

Do you realize how long its taken for you to be able to get your nails done, just the way you want them? Nail art was once a luxury reserved for the upper class. Nowadays, anyone and everyone can get a manicure and do their nails as they please. In fact, a manicure is more than just a nail cleaning, it’s a popular form of self-expression and oftentimes necessary part of self-care. As a result, we thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of nail art and see how the modern-day manicure has developed into the artform it is today.

Mary Cobb, one of America’s first female entrepreneurs, opened her salon — Mrs. Cobb’s Manicure Parlors — in 1878 in NYC. (source: Department of Special Collections, Memorial Library)

Elitist Origins: Ancient Nail Art

Although nail art can be traced as far back as 5000 B.C., the ornamental aspect still practiced to this day is most evident in 3000 B.C. China. During this time, the most prevalent trend in nail art was the practice of growing long nails, which were decorated with gold and jewel-encrusted nail guards. This particular practice was used as a status symbol for the rich, to imply that they did not engage in manual labor. These days, long painted nails can imply wealth, but one does not need to be wealthy to enjoy fully manicured nails. In addition, a variety of nail stains were created using egg whites, beeswax, and vegetable dyes. The ability to actually paint your nails with lacquer nail polish did not become an option until much later.

Nail protectors (source: Wikimedia)

How Your Car Gave You Nail Polish

You can thank the automobile industry for the range of nail polish we have available to us today. In the 1920s, women began to use high-gloss car paint to color their nails. Then in 1932, Revlon released a nail polish that substituted traditional dyes for pigments and made this formula available in drug stores for purchase. By the 1940’s, the average American woman decorated her nails either by painting them at home or visiting a nail salon (which now offered acrylic nails). Red nail polished established itself as an instant classic at this time.

Classic red nails from the 50’s (source: Sephora)

1980’s Nail Art Revolution

In the history of nail art, the 1980’s was an era when manicures became common and experimentation with colors, embellishments, and textures seemed to peak. It was during this time that men began to paint their nails (the practice of men painting their nails originated in ancient Babylonia, where soldiers would color their nails black or green). During this time, manicurists started to file nails into square shapes as opposed to the traditional almond-shaped standard. It’s from this point forward that the sky became the limit for nail art, and from which we draw our standard for creativity today.

1980’s Rubik’s Cube nails (source: pinimg)

Carpe Diem: The Modern Motto For Nail Art

As this brief history of nail art has shown us, society has an untamed desire for self-expression and an unwavering desire to innovate. What started as a practice reserved only for the elite has transformed into a culture all its own. On average, a woman gets her nails done every two weeks. Depending on the type of manicure desired, this service can cost up to $80 per session and can take over an hour to complete. Luckily, ManiMe has developed an alternative option for getting your nails done, without the cost and time required to visit a nail salon. We pride ourselves on providing custom-designed and sized manicures that you can use at home. Whether you like long or short nails, classic french manicures or almost holographic designs, you’ve got the freedom to choose your nail art and the option to change things up as often as you want!

ManiMe “Manicures-on-the-go” (source: instagram@ManiMe)


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