Although nail polish has been around for over 5,000 years, it wasn't until the 1940s when it became acceptable for the average woman to wear enamel paint on her nails.
Nail polish was first used by ancient Chinese cultures around 3,000 B.C. It was used by women to make their nails appear "rosy." The ancient Chinese blended flower petals with other ingredients, such as beeswax and egg whites to make a substance they would rub on their finger and toe nails.
In ancient Egypt, both women and men colored their nails to indicate social status. While Egyptian royalty used dark red colors on their nails, the lower classes would only tint their nails a pale, rose color. No one dared to color their nails the same color as the Queen or King.
In later centuries, women would polish their nails with cloth to give them a shiny appearance. Oils were introduced in the late 19th century as were pastes. These substances simply "polished" the nail while giving it a red tint. It wasn't until the 20th Century when nail polish, as we know it today, was invented.
Today's nail polish is the direct result of the automotive industry's quest to discover automobile paint. When enamel paint was first produced in the 1920s, it inspired the creation of colored nail enamels. Although the fashion of painting ones nails became the rage in Paris, where French make-up artist Michelle Menard introduced the paints, American women did not begin painting their nails until the 1940s.
It was generally unacceptable for the average American woman to wear make-up in the early part of the 20th century. Women who wore powders and rouges were considered to be of loose morality. With the introduction of moving pictures in the early part of the century, actresses were seen wearing make-up. American women, however, did not begin using make-up on a regular basis until the 1930s. And while film stars of that era often wore nail polish, most American women dared not paint their nails.
The cosmetic industry began an arduous campaign to press American women into using nail polish in the 1930s. Ads placed in fashion magazines were largely ignored. Despite all attempts to try to get women to paint their nails, American women continued to resist until ads for the products began to frequent movie magazines, such as Photoplay.
In the early part of the 1940s, the cosmetic industry began to see an increase in the sales of nail polish. Many American women, at this time, had gone to work to help the war effort. They worked in jobs traditionally held by men, who were off fighting the war. Many longed for an escape and theaters were normally packed on weekends. Sales of movie magazines began to skyrocket as more American women looked for an escape from their every day existence through films. They soon began emulating their favorite film stars, most of whom, at this time, wore nail polish.
The tradition of painting ones nails continued to boom throughout the latter part of the 1940s and into the 1960s. Towards the end of the 1960s, younger women began opting for a more casual look and nail polish sales began to dwindle.
In the 1980s, women again began wearing more make-up and sporting nail polish. It was during this time that many women chose to get acrylic nails offered in salons. Having "fake" nails soon began to be all the rage. Manicurists, who were normally only seen in beauty parlors, became in demand as more women from all walks of life began sporting long, acrylic nails. The French Manicure became popular among American women. The French Manicure consists of whitening the tip of the nail and painting the nail bed either a rose color or with clear enamel. Nail salons opened in strip malls across the country as women chose to have long nails and French Manicures.
Today, nail polish itself is a billion dollar industry. Nail salons are abundant throughout the United States and they make approximately ten billion dollars a year. American women, after a long struggle that began in the 1930s, are finally happy with painting their nails.
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