Well manicured nails have been a luxurious beauty standard for decades. Up until the 1920s, however, women were taking care of their nails in much the same way that their great-grandmothers might have. The nails were brushed or rubbed with oil which was slightly tinted in a blush color and often scented of rose. The application usually occurred before bedtime and throughout the next day, when the lady had a moment, the nails would be polished with a chamois buffer to create a subtle sheen. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This was a time consuming process that didn’t suit most women’s daily lives. Trimming and filing nails, usually to an oval shape, was about as far as the average woman could be expected to go. But then two technologies changed the future of nail care. The first, perhaps surprisingly, was the automobile industry.
As Sarah Jane Downing notes in Beauty and Cosmetics 1550-1950:
New technology from the automobile industry revolutionized the manicure, and fingertips sparkled with precision gloss.
The varnish used to paint cars was reworked and converted into long-wearing nail polish. Initially women bought and wore pink or clear tones, reminiscent of the buffed nails they were familiar with. That changed too with the fashion influence of a second technology: the movies. Downing continues:
Hollywood stars like Marlene Dietrich and Anna May Wong grew their nails long and wore the half-moon manicure in scarlet, the tips and half-moons of the nails left unpainted.
This type of manicure, which has unfortunately been out of favor since 1940, is actually both more economical and better for the natural nails. With the half-moons at the cuticle left unencumbered by polish, the nails can “breathe” and not extending polish all the way to the tips of the nails deters chipping. The 1930s rage for oval or even pointy fingernails was also, to my mind, a lot more flattering to most hands than the shovel-shaped nails of today’s squared-off manicure.
By the ‘30s almost anything went as far as nail polish colors. Reds, corals and pinks were seen regularly as were blue, green and even black, the last made popular not by a movie star but by New York socialite Barbara Hutton. With the coming of World War II, colors became more about what one could get rather than what was fashionable. Even
stuck largely to coral or pink until red returned in the prosperous ‘50s. Hollywood
For more on decade specific manicures, nail and makeup colors, click over to this wonderful post at Snoodlebug. A votre santé ~
Header: Anna May Wong via Lucy Who