A History of Nail Art: How did nails become so big?!

April 15, 2020

A History of Nail Art: How did nails become so big?!

Ever wondered where nail art comes from and why it’s become such an obsession? The days where nails were just an accessory to a look are looooong gone. We’ve waved goodbye to the ‘less is more’ approach - who wants to play it safe anyway? Nail artists have stepped up their game BIG time so now we’re all about showcasing that and letting our talons do the talking!

So how did we get to this point where nails became so important? We wanted to know more so delved deep into the nail archives to find out….

Manicures actually go waaaay back (like 3000 years back!!) with Queen Nefertiti and Cleopatra being some of the OG’s when it comes to nail art. They added colour to their talons using henna and other plant extract plus a combo of natural oils to moisturise - we love the innovation! Having colourful tips was a sign of wealth and status so even back then it’s clear to see the power of nails.


So lets fast forward to the 20th century to a time that we may be a little more familiar with…

The 1920’s and 1930’s saw well known brands Cutex and Revlon hitting the shelves.  Their launch of dusky rose and super high lacquer red shades were perfect for rocking the half moon manicures that were taking off at the time thanks to silver screen actresses such as Jean Harlow. Before that they’d been using high-gloss car paint….*insert horrified emoji face here*

The '40s and '50s saw a shift in styles with wartime forcing the day to day gal to opt for a more shortened, practical manicure.  In the movies however, the colour red was still a staple although now moving onto a deeper shade and longer with an almond shape as seen on Marlene Dietrich. And may we just say that she is working it!

The 1960’s saw big changes in the fashion and beauty industry with people daring to be different and less afraid to make a statement with their outfits.  And OMG the colours! Brands like Mary Quant hit the scene with everything from vibrant yellows to cute candy pastel blues and shades with shimmering pearlescent finishes.  The classic reds and pinks of the past were still there but had met their match in these new statement hues; nails were no longer taking a back seat!

With the birth of disco and Studio 54, the power of celebs went up a gear in the '70s with singers like Cher rocking square tipped nails and the French manicure (created by Orly founder Jeff Pink) whilst Diana Ross was loving her long red acrylics.  Colour was still big news but it was also a time of throwbacks with a new found love of deep reds and the moon manicure of the '30s even making a comeback.
The '80s were anything but minimal - this was the decade where the phrase ‘more is more’ definitely came into effect! Some serious nail art began to emerge on the hands of celebs and athletes alike - ever seen those super long talons on Olympic runner Flo-Jo?! She was breaking records both on and off the track with those bad boys!

With the birth of grunge in the '90s, nails took on a less polished look as seen on the likes of Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. Suddenly it became ok to have week old, chipped nails - you just had to own it. Darker shades were HUGE, especially after the release of Pulp Fiction which saw Uma Thurman rocking Chanel’s iconic Rouge Noir shade. Such a kick ass look that we still love!


A throwback to the ‘90s wouldn’t be legit without recognising the likes of Hip Hop Queens Missy Elliott and Lil’ Kim whose crystal adorned, unapologetically blinged nails set the tone for the entire decade.  Being icons of both music and popular culture, these women (amongst others) became representatives of nail artists at that time and by showcasing their talents, were able to elevate their status giving them the recognition they deserved.


Anyone remember this dollar bill set created by celebrity nail technician Bernadette Thompson for Lil' Kim in 1995 - they’re oh so money…!!


The industry as we know it today owes itself largely to the African American innovators of the ‘80s and ‘90s who used nail art as a form of self-expression and had been for decades. Whilst pierced and heavily rhinestoned nails remain current and fresh, the fact is that their origins lie within African American culture and whose aesthetic continues to evolve and inspire us. A couple of our faves are Bianca Williams, aka Beedy, and Teyana Taylor who launched her Harlem-based '90s themed nail salon, Junie Bee Nails in 2018. They are killing it!

  


So that brings us to the 2000’s up until today….where do we start?! This is the era where tech has really come into play, with social media platforms like Instagram and YouTube bringing nail art to a whole new level not to mention a new audience.

Through the power of these multimedia tools, nail artists are able to showcase their skills as well as inspire and teach others. With these apps at our disposal, it has made nail artistry so much more accessible; they've now become the go-to for discovering new designs, techniques and talented artists from all over the world.

The '80s may have showed us that ‘more is more’ but things have gone waaaay beyond that now - there really are no limits and we are continuously pushing to find the next big thing. Take a look below to see what we mean....next level crazy and we love it!







 

The past decade has seen us go above and beyond what we thought could even be possible with nails and we can’t wait to be a part of what comes next!

As always, ISLA is on top of the trends and of course creating our own! Need more inspiring looks? Go check out our Instagram to stay on top of it!

 
Written by Hazel Hedges.