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  • Writer's pictureLalita Dileep

Nailing this trendy preoccupation – Distilling its intricate history to its modern iteration

The lure of Manicures & Pedicures to enhance personal and professional persona

Arriving at this moment

Summer is not just sunshine, beaches and vacations. These warm months also debut the most colorful, inspirational, fun, shapes, textures and designs for – manicures! Manicures are no longer a simple soak, scrub and paint visit to the nail salon. Instead they have been elevated to a revered art form not to be taken lightly. Embellishing nails is not just a preoccupation it is an occupation, nay an entire industry. It is what most women and indeed a growing number of men do in the name of self-care. Whether the preference is for soft pastels or bright neon colors, summer manicures are the season to test out the contemporary trends. A chance to be creative, bold, trendy, chic, colorful, moody, experimental all at the same time. It is also very forgiving and easy to get a do over at the next nail appointment. Dressing up nails is one more yardstick adopted by the beauty industry to measure one’s substance.

Reading up on its history, apparently the genesis of manicures cannot be attributed to one culture alone. Dating back to 5000 BC, archeologists discovered Egyptian mummies with gilded nails and henna tipped fingertips. Around the same time, Indian women were staining their nails with henna too, while ancient Babylonian men used kohl (eyeliner) to color their nails. Continuing tracing its history, during 17th century in Chinese society, the upper class used fingernails to demonstrate their wealth and place in society. Both men and women grew their nails five inches long to show that they didn’t have to perform manual labor. To secure their nails, they fastened elaborate gold and bamboo splints.

Clearly, nail art is deeply rooted in our history, steeped in an intricate social and cultural code that in modern context dissipates with easy access by all to nail salons. No longer reserved for the elite, nail salons, over the counter kits and internet explosion has guaranteed that anyone and everyone can paint, polish and enhance their nails and toes.

Accessible, Chic and steeped in History

Even as it is easy to dismiss nail obsession, the glut of Instagram and Pinterest postings tells its own tale. Nail artists are stars in their own right, while celebrity's nail selections, set off trends that are instantly imitated by countless women. It is no exaggeration to state that beauty business completely incorporates cuticle culture and by contrast naked nails are a sign of trailing behind. The first nail salon opened its doors in New York City in 1878 by Mary Cobb. She charged $1.25 for buff and shine manicures, setting in motion one of the most requested beauty services of current times.

Red nails a perennial favorite even today were also favored by the Ming Dynasty as well as Egyptian queens Nefertiti and Cleopatra. Hollywood ushered in the trend for long red nails, likely spurred by actress by Rita Hayworth in the 1940s. French makeup artist Michelle Menard is credited with introducing glossy nail polish in the 1920s using car paint, even though it was available only for limited use. This is a far cry from when both male and female members of the Ming Dynasty added tint to their nails by mixing together egg white, wax, vegetable dyes and materials like roses and orchids to create different color varnishes ranging from dark red to black. Everything changed in 1932 when Revlon launched the spectrum of nail polishes as we know it, revolutionizing the business of manicuring. Some shades like Chanel Rouge Noir, popularized by Uma Thurman’s character in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction sold out on the first day it was launched. Jeff Pink, the President of Orly Nails, created the understated hues of the French Manicure in 1975, still popular to this day.

Endless Possibilities

No sooner is one seated in the nail salon, it is customary to make a binary choice between square or round tip shapes. With influencers in the mix, this decision making is now fraught with endless choices, having come a long way from the traditional silhouettes. Salon owners are of the opinion that trying out different nail shapes allow one to express themselves, just like trying out bold nail colors is a sign of bravery and experimentation. Nail shapes range from square, round, almond, flare, squoral, stiletto, ballerina to name a few of the 11 popular shapes.

Nail polish itself has graduated to include embellishments like sparkling gems, small flowers, fruits, stripes, dots – the list and possibilities are endless. Ombre nails are another sparkling addition that exhibits versatility and style. The idea is to find the “it” factor that can complete your look be it summer or winter and all the months in between. It is no wonder that by some estimates the manicure and pedicure industry has grown to be a 6 billion dollar industry in the last decade or so. Nails, like make up add the finishing touch to one's look and it is hard to escape their appeal.

We are stronger together


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