Thursday, December 27, 2012


Now, he says, if people like a certain time period, say the 1950s or 60s, "they can have that look, or if they like the hookers in the Victorian era, that whole bordello look, they can have that. 

They live vicariously through their nails, marbling, particularly in colours that make nails resemble vintage Pucci fabrics. 

There is a new trend for felt nails, and designs made from lace. UV-cured polishes – dried under a lamp, and exceptionally hardwearing – have also transformed the industry, says Watson.
Ornate, painted, long, embellished nails nonetheless still seem one of the least practical fashion trends of all time. 

PRofessor Aileen Ribeiro, author of Facing Beauty: Painted Women and Cosmetic Art, says long nails have been popular for centuries, partly because they denote wealth and leisure. "

People in the Ming dynasty had incredibly long fingernails," she says, "and obviously this implied they really couldn't do very much work at all. 

So it's about status, really. 

Leisurely status. 

And long nails give out a lot of different signals. 

They elongate the fingers, and for hundreds of years, long, slim fingers have been very much admired. 

People [displayed] their hands much more in the past than we do today. 

There was far more in the way of hand deportment, so a man would put his hands within the buttons of his waistcoat to show off their elegance, and a woman would use a fan."
Yet the vogue for nail polish is surprisingly recent. 

Angus Trumble, senior curator of paintings and sculpture at the Yale Centre for British Art, and author of  The Finger: A Handbook, says that in the 19th century, in European cultures, there were all sorts of nostrums and powders, products that were designed to make nails look shiny, pink or fresh, youthful and smooth, but they were generally used rather like shoe polish. 

So you put it on, and polished it off, and it would leave a tint or a tinge. 

When women polished their nails back then, says Ribeiro, they buffed them with chamois leather, or they put lightly coloured beeswax on their nails to give them a shine. 

It was a very natural look. 

So in the 1920s, when paints developed for cars and aircraft began being applied to nails, many found them startling.
The question critics asked, says Ribeiro, is why women with all these relative new freedoms, having won the vote, and able to stride out, no longer hobbled by skirts, tight whalebone corsets, and so on – why would they need to wear makeup and polish their nails so much? 

I think what the complaint is, from critics – and they're nearly always male critics – is that women are illogical. 

Long nails, particularly when polished, give out the look of a kind of harpie, a woman who is ferocious, and is almost prepared to be bloodthirsty in her quest for a man. 

There's been quite a lot of discussion as to why red is so popular, because it is the colour of blood, it is the colour of danger, it is the colour of subversion. 

But of course it is just an enhanced and artificial way of replicating the colour of one's lips. 

Early on in nail polish's evolution, brands began selling matching lipstick and nail colour.
In the early days, too, some were so suspicious of the trend they suggested it was a form of self-harm. 

Trumble writes about lauded psychiatrist, Dr Karl A Menninger, who in 1934 presented his case to the American Psychiatric Association that 'bobbed hair and tinted nails' were a form of self-mutilation no less harmful than the abnormal cutting off of an arm, or starving oneself to death. 

There were also suggestions that nail polish must be a means of covering up sin or dirt. 

Ribeiro says the trend might have been associated with an element of sluttishness, that if you paint your nails, you hide dirt under the fingernails. 

Given the notion of health and hygiene, which was so big in the early 20th century, this again would seem to be going a step backwards. 

So I think there were a lot of quite complex feelings that people had, which they may not have fully understood.

Nail polish was taken up by Hollywood stars, with actors including Rita Hayworth popularising red nails in the 40s and 50s. 

In the 70s, artificial nails were invented, and in that decade women in the African American community, and the African Caribbean community in the UK, began pioneering brilliant new styles and ideas. 

Dr Shirley Tate, author of Black Skins, Black Masks, says manicured nails were always a way of showing class distinctions. 

Certainly, in the Caribbean, the people who used to have nails that were long and manicured were women who didn't have to do housework. 

So having long nails that were manicured was a way of showing class. 

If a woman couldn't afford a salon manicure, you did your own manicure every Sunday, because that was about middle-class femininity, the aspiration for professional and middle-class life.
What's interesting, says Tate, is how the meaning of different looks changes. 

Now we have dancehall artists with fake nails and loads of art on them, and that shows a different version of femininity, maybe, than that middle-class one. 

Mainstream culture has appropriated nail art in the same way as it has other black beauty practices, including hair extensions, she says.
A model's nails, 2012 NailympicsNailympics. Photograph: Sarah Lee 

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