The Secret History Of Nail Polish}

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Submitted by: Jamie Crook

Women have worked nail polish as a high end fashion accessory for thousands of years, with nail varnish only coming on the mass market in the 20th century. When you paint your nails, you are in fact emulating the very highest aristocracy from both Egyptian and Chinese dynasties. Youre also following in the footsteps of Hollywood royalty. This fascinating guide to the history of the worlds favourite beauty product traces its roots from a royalty-only product; to its launch in modern times; and the styles that paved the way for the nail polishes women wear today.

Historical records indicate nail polish began life in ancient China. Around 3000 BC, it was mostly composed of ingredients like bees wax, egg white and gum Arabic, with colour tinting coming from the petals of flowers. It stained the nail, with the application lasting several hours. Unsurprisingly it was exclusively reserved for aristocratic women. The ancient Egyptian upper classes also used prototypes of nail varnish, with Cleopatras favourite shade apparently a carmine red. Interestingly, some of the later Chinese dynasties went through phases of using metallic artificial nails to emphasise high social status.


Much closer to our shores, a European podiatrist Dr Sitz introduced manicure techniques in the 18th century, which quickly spread to the USA. The world still had to wait until the 1920s before the introduction of modern nail polishes. There were pastes and powders for buffing, but these only gave very temporary effects. Then a French make-up artist named Michelle Menard introduced modern nail polish as we know it, working for the firm that was to become Revlon. At first, the trend was tied in closely with the flapper style of the roaring 20s, but by the 1940s it was notably used by actress Rita Hayworth, which was about as close to royalty as you could get in 1940s Hollywood.

During the 1950s, scarlet nail polishes with matching scarlet lipstick was popularised by the likes of TV comedienne Lucille Ball, alongside some pale shimmering frosted pinks. Then in the 1960s the likes of Brigitte Bardot introduced a wave of pale lipsticks and Elizabeth Taylor launched a ton of heavy eyeliner in the film Cleopatra. On the whole, nail varnish was popular in the paler, pastel shades. The 1970s ushered in a more natural look. This contrasted radically later with the defiant explosion of punk and goth styles radically boosting sales of black nail polishes. The 70s also brought about two more huge milestones for the history of nail varnish.

Acrylic nails properly hit the scene for the fist time, and around the same time there were official product launches of French manicure kits: nude base colours and then a white nail polish for the nail tips only. Speeding onto the 1980s, the TV shows Dallas and Dynasty were a huge global phenomenon and strong driving force behind power dressing. This meant bold make-up including strong nail colours, and just as importantly, big, hair – super-styled and literally voluminous. The 80s are also noted for Madonnas influence on a younger, funky, look, including plenty of neon nail polishes. In the 80s, the game really began as we know it now through the expansion of salon quality nail colours. Despite this, the nail colour story of the 1990s was undoubtedly a classic, not a nouveau shade.

When Tarantinos cult hit movie Pulp Fiction hit the screens with Uma Thurman sporting short square nails in Chanels Rouge Noir/Vamp, dark red rapidly became the defining fashion of the decade. In the later noughties, the picture is not as clear though. The increase in nail polish colours from the better brands simply launched an enormous variety of different trends. Acrylic nails do stand out as a defining feature though, with nail art becoming high art. The various patterns, gems and foils spawned both nail art competitions and the expansion of high street salons. Today, the shades do still change each fashion season and the better brands definitely follow couture runways for inspiration.

About the Author: Our online store is devoted to nails and carries a huge range of salon quality products including of course a great selection of beautiful

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