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8 Things You Never Knew About The History Of Manicures & Nail Art

What do Louis Philippe of France, Frida Kahlo and Rihanna all have in common? You’d never believe it, but the members of this unlikely trio have all expressed love for a good manicure. In Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure, Costume Institute researcher and polish enthusiast Suzanne E. Shapiro traces the history of nail art from the French aristocracy to the revolutionary acrylic nail to today’s creative moon-shaped manis. Here’s a few fun facts we’ve learned that were too good not to share:


Shapiro writes, “Great nails are one-size-fits-all regardless of body type, ethnicity, or age and the easiest way to appropriate celebrity style to a T. It’s a fix without the peril of plastic surgery and flair without the permanence of a tattoo.” These insights prove that a flawless manicure is one beauty trend that will never chip away.

1. French Kings Loved Their Manis

“The modern manicure as a service was born well into the 19th century, developing from the medical field rather than the world of beauty. A certain Monsieur Sitts served as Pedicure to King Louis Philippe of France, ‘pedicure’ and ‘Manicure’ signifying the person who plied the trade at this time.”

2. Wearing Polish Was Once Reserved for Bad Girls

“Nail lacquer’s attractiveness was also boosted by a new behaviour, as fashionable women increasingly picked up the habit of cigarette smoking — a fairly risqué trespass on a par with that of make-up.”

3. Painted Nails Played a Part in the Feminist Movement

“A roll call of 1930s and ‘40s artists and intellectuals often doubles as a dossier of great nails. Oil paint and personal trauma couldn’t keep Frida Kahlo from her red nails; radical feminist awareness didn’t complicate Simone de Beauvoir’s apparent affection for hers. Eleanor Roosevelt, not often associated with undue vanity, kept weekly manicure appointments.”

4. Hollywood Invented the French Manicure

“Supplying the beauty products to film and television productions in Hollywood, [Jeff Pink] developed a versatile look that would suit actresses’ frequent change of costume: painting nail tips an opaque, chalky white and the bed a transparent flesh tone. His ‘natural nail look’ essentially represented an exaggerated vision of flawlessness — the hands’ corollary to dental veneers.”

5. You Can Thank the Dental Biz for Your Favorite Polish

“In California, George Schaeffer’s small dental supply business, Odontorium Products Inc., was harbouring the secret ingredient of resourceful nail techs: acrylic porcelains for dentures, also useful for nail extensions. Realising that they could profit from the salon industry, Schaeffer and sister-in-law Suzi Weiss-Fischmann converted the company into OPI Products.”

6. Madonna Rocked Yellow Nails First

“Yellow nail colour was mostly avoided until Madonna wore it to blazing effect.”

7. Nails Are More Popular Than Ever

“Nails Magazine estimates that there are an astonishing 35,000 blogs dedicated to all things nails. With a steady stream of products released throughout the year, nail polish fanatics like Michelle Mismas (All Lacquered Up) never run out of lacquers to review and trends to discuss.”

8. Painting Your Nails Can Be a Charitable Act

“Since the ‘90s, limited edition colours have benefited causes like AIDS and breast cancer research, but only now have US presidential campaigns gotten in on the fundraising potential — and glamour quotient — or custom colour.”
– Vanessa Karalis