A Short History of Nail Polish as We Know it

Do you ever wonder just where nail polish and nail art came from? How did nail art move from tacky to titillating? Well, wonder no more! This comprehensive article is going to give you complete nail knowledge!

Nail technicians and nail artists have come a long way in the health and beauty industry. Nails and nail art are an oft forgotten or overlooked aspect of fashion.

While nail art has been around for centuries, it has recently emerged as an integral part of the fashion industry.

Crushed Beetles is the Oldest Trend


The application of color and art to nails dates back at least 6,000 years. Egyptians and Chinese women colored their nails with crushed beetles and dyes, and further embellished them with elaborate designs and illustrations.

It was not until the 1980s when ‘ghetto nails’, a nail art style originating in African-American communities, came onto the fashion landscape that the real exploration of design and color we see today began.

Trendsetting members of the of the African-American community wore long talons in bright colors and funky, over-the-top designs. Nail art with 3-D and sculptures made by hand also exploded onto the fashion arena in Japan and neighboring Asian countries.

The emergence of Kawaii and Harajuku styles in Japan in the 1990s propelled nail fashion forward. Suddenly, anybody who was anybody in the fashion scene was wearing hand designed creations that could be painstaking to produce.

Cartoon characters like Hello Kitty were literally drawn onto the nail surface, and it became a fun competition to see the great lengths wearers would go to in order to outdo one another.

The idea of dress in the Western world was shifting by the 2000s and nail colors that were once regarded as tacky or trashy began to be viewed as fun. Before the 21st century, it was suggested that women in the workforce wear nude colors or French manicures to work.

By 2010, women were wearing bold colors both day and night, ushering in a new thought in terms of what was acceptable in the workforce and on the streets. Advancements in technology allowed nail artists to foster in new looks in terms of texture. Matte nail varnish and even fur became all the rage.

How Nail Art Went from Tacky to Titillating


Nail fashion has evolved since its first appearance and even its resurgence in the late 20th century. It is now venturing into new territory with celebrities like Rihanna, Katy Perry, Beyonce and Nicki Minaj sporting nail art schematics on the red carpet!

Finely manicured, polished and decorated nails are seen as the ultimate finishing statement to couture! The likes of Betsey Johnson, Saunder and a host of other designers now feature nail art on their models and use it to effectively ‘finish’ the looks they produce.

Some male artists, such as Snoop Dogg and Adam Lambert, are even venturing to wear nail art and nail color.

Nails are now viewed at as the ultimate fashion accessory. Nail art is so sought after now that once difficult to produce 3-D sculptures are being mass market produced as stickers that can be easily applied by anyone. Decals and even fashion logo adhesives are widely used. There are nail art stamp machines sold around the world that allow the regular consumer to reproduce complicated arrangements with ease.

Magazines like ‘Nail It’, ‘Nail Pro’ and ‘Nail Max’ discuss salon practices and teach readers how to re-create looks at home. Their prominence also shows the huge demand for nail art and nail polish.

For the first time in television history, there is even a show, Nail’d It, solely dedicated to nail art, which appears on the Oxygen network and is hosted by celebrity Adrienne Bailon. The show is held in a competition format as nail artists showcase their skills.

Nail art has come such a long way! What was once seen as frivolous has turned into a lucrative aspect of the beauty market. The momentum of nail art and polish has increased drastically and sales reached over $760 million in the US alone in the year 2012 (Time Magazine). It will be colorful to see what happens in the nail world next!

What are your nail art and nail polish views and experiences? Do you embrace the nail art trend happening right now? Please comment below and share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

Cover photo: pinterest.com


About the author

Otaymah Bonds

Otaymah Bonds is author of The Glamour Gladiator and CEO of Eternal Women Inc, an Image Consulting Company. She can be located trying to find the best veggie cheese or at the spa.

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