How manicures have evolved over time

Anyone who enjoys getting their nails done knows just how satisfying it is to hear the clickity-clackity sound of their acrylics tapping against one another. Going to the salon for a fresh set can be extremely relaxing and feel like an awesome way to treat oneself. With a virtually infinite amount of colors and designs, going for a manicure offers new ways to express oneself, no matter how many times they’ve gotten their nails done in the past. 

Painting nails has been a cultural pastime for thousands of years. According to Deven Hopp in an article from Byrdie, the Babylonians started painting their nails with kohl – a pigment made of charcoal – as a mark of warrior ranking in 3200 B.C. 

Grasping the same idea, in 3000 B.C. Chinese elite’s would paint their nails as a sign of their rank and dynasty, usually wearing a deep red color. Lower-caste people were not allowed to paint their nails with the same pigment. 

“During certain dynasties, the lower classes could wear pale colors, but wearing the color of royals was punishable by death,” read Hopp’s article. 

After a few thousand years, getting a manicure became more popular, but it still was not available to everyone. 

According to Maureen Callahan in an article from the New York Post, New York City birthed the first-ever American nail salon back in the late 1800s. In 1878, entrepreneur Mary Cobbs opened up a manicure parlor on West 23rd Street. Within a few years, Cobb’s parlor was as busy as ever, and wealthy, good ol’ American girls were lining up to get their nails painted. 

For a good while, getting a manicure was quite expensive and considered to be an “elite pastime,” according to Callahan’s article. But, as America became more ethnically and racially diverse in the 20th century, Asian entrepreneurs designed nail salons to open business to all. 

“With the influx of ­Korean immigrants to New York City in the 1970s, manicures became far more accessible and affordable,” read Callahan’s article. Then, as more people were able to get their nails done, an influx of nail art ideas immersed, establishing manicures as a way to pamper oneself and to treat their nails as a form of beauty and expression. 

According to an Allure Youtube Video, “100 Years of Nails,” acrylic nails were invented  by Fred Slack in 1955. This opened up tons of opportunities for manicurists to create boundary-breaking nail art designs. 

In the ‘80s, it became popular to paint each nail a different color and to use neon polish. According to the Allure video, rapper Lil’ Kim went bold with her nails, where she would encase dollar bills in her acrylics. 

Today, nail art lives on. The #nailart has over 86 million posts on Instagram, showcasing thousands of unique nail sets. Some enjoy blossoming 3D flowers on their nails, while others enjoy geometric or marble shapes. Some nail artists can even paint faces on people’s nails. The precision it takes to paint such beautiful designs on such a small canvas portrays wonderful talent. 

Undoubtedly, going in for a manicure will remain as a beloved pastime for many. As nail art trends shift over the years, the excitement and passion manicurists and their clients have in the salon is sure to persist – hopefully for another few thousand years. 

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