Now & Then: The History of Nail Polish

According to T Magazine’s Sally Singer, her nail art design inspired by taxi cab beaded seat covers “would look good with Burberry’s spring collection.”

When one of fashion’s most cerebral and analytical figures, the New York Times’ T Magazine editor Sally Singer, admits to a passion for elaborate and decidedly unconservative nail art – its clearly time to rethink the basic clear polish. In her NOWNESS collaboration with nail artist Maki Sakamoto, Singer recently unveiled five avant-garde manicure designs featuring decorative 3D patterns with themes that include Powdered Violet Nails, Céline Orange Nails, Mexican Sugar Skulls Nails, Taxi Driver Seat Nails and Kate Middleton Nails.

Nail Art from Tokyo’s world renowned  Nail Expo

Theories abound at the switch, fashion forecasters contend the growing popularity of elaborate nail art is due to our nails being more on show now because of widespread use of smartphones, the influence of Japanese nail art pop culture – the Nail Expo in Tokyo attracted nearly 190,000 visitors last year – and advances in both nail techniques and new products.

The 30’s inspired V French manicure sported by Lana Del Rey in the March 2012 issue of Vogue UK

While funky 3D nails may be the hottest manicure trending, our desire to decorate our fingertips is by no means new. The first concept of a manicure began in India well over 5,000 years ago with the use of henna as nail paint. Up until the turn of the 20th century if you desired colored nails, they were tinted red with scented oils and waxes before being polished and buffed. it wasn’t until the 1920s when French makeup artist, Michelle Menard – inspired by the invention of automobile paint – decided to stop staining the nail and coat it with hard enamel instead. By 1932, the first bottle of nail polish by Revlon – its first ever product – hit shelves making it one of depression era women’s most economical style enhancers.
A paler nail emerged in the 1960s as worn by Catherine Deneuve in Belle Du Jour

The first modern manicure in the 1930s was known as the “moon manicure.” Sported now by retro style stars, Dita Von Teese and Lana Del Rey, red polish is applied to the nail but not to the moon and tip, in some cases, edges were filed into points. Red nails continued to be desired by women until the 1960s when the focus moved away from reds and turned to paler, pastel shades to match modish nude lips. The 1970s saw the introduction of the French manicure, the 1980s welcomed bright fuchsia and neon nails and in the 1990s, the hottest accessory was Chanel’s “Vamp.” Created to be the same color as dried blood, the polish went on to gross $1 million in sales in its first year alone and became the most in-demand product in the whole of Chanel’s history.

Chanel’s black-red color, “Vamp” was released in 1994 and sold out world wide

Now & Then: The History of the Fashion Corset

Now & Then: The History of Lace

Now & Then: The History of the Platform Shoe

Now & Then: The History of Fitness Wear

Now & Then: The History of the Paisley Print

Now & Then: The History of the Pencil Skirt

Now & Then: The History of the Cocktail Dress

Now & Then: The History of the Trench Coat

Now & Then: The History of the Bold Brow

Now & Then: The History of the Cuff

Now & Then: The History of Turtlenecks

Now & Then: The History of Tights

Now & Then: The History of Skinny Jeans

Now & Then: The History of the Chevron Stripe

Now & Then: The History of Penny Loafers

Now & Then: The History of Go-Go Boots

Now & Then: The History of the Poet Blouse




Rowena Ritchie

Rowena is EcoSalon’s West Coast Fashion Editor and currently resides in San Francisco, CA.