Nailing the Art of Manicure

Loudly typing away in the college library with my festively metallic, polished and buffed new nails, I briefly consider whether the manicure is a vacuous habit and a bi-monthly extravagance I could do without in this cash-strapped age of austerity. Before discovering the magic of ultra-shiny, chip-resistant and nail-lengthening gel powder, I had always lived with my short, bitten nails, and could definitely identity with the nail bed woes of Karen in ‘Mean Girls’. Finding DIY acrylics too fiddly, and fed up with having a minute surface-area of nail to work with and an even smaller amount of artistic talent to apply to it, I rejected nail polishes altogether. 

However, it seems that I am not alone in now plunging my fingers into a pool of polishes and powders; in fact, having done-up nails, it appears, is currently de rigueur for women. Since the female Team GB athletes sported their patriotic nails at the Olympics, and kitschy nail art began to colonize Instagram, sales of nail polish, stencils and related paraphernalia have been trumping lipstick sales. We are adorning our nails with gems and small silver balls as an inexpensive alternative to the diamonds and caviar we can only dream about.

As Lauren Michelle Pires, who creates nails for editorial shoots and most recently did Pixie Lott’s nails for her music video ‘Nasty’, says,“the possibilities of what you can put on your natural (or fake) nails are endless. How could you ever get bored of that?” And with a constant stream of new nail trends; from the playful cracked polish effect to upmarket geometric patterns, it seems that the manicure empire is continuing to expand.

Back in the days of my own nail neglect, I had failed to initiate a ‘shabby chic’ nail trend amongst my manicured circle of friends. Like a mother duck defending her ugly duckling, I tried to argue for the unkempt fingertip by championing inner beauty in a homogenised, consumerist monoculture of fake tan and vajazzles. But truthfully, it was hypocritical of me to denounce orderly nails when I too take care of my appearance in other ways.

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Last year, the comedian, Jim Gaffigan, sparked twitter outrage when he said “Ladies I hope getting your nails done feels good because not a single man notices you got them done.” Although he may well have been expressing his genuine puzzlement over the manicure obsession, it isn’t difficult to see how his tweet seems to perpetuate the idea that what women do for their physical appearance primarily serves to get male attention. I ask Lauren whether she thinks that any part of our obsession with manicures and pedicures stems from a desire to seek male approval. “I don’t think what you put on your nails has anything to do with impressing guys. In fact, I’m pretty sure they dislike them. Especially long talons!”

So what can explain the trend in manicures and nail art across different generations and social strata? “I suppose nail art is a form of semi-permanent make up”, Lauren says. “Your face can be completely stripped down, but having your nails did always feels like you’re still dressed up…just a little bit. Personally, I feel more naked without my nails done, than I do my face!”

Getting my nails done for the first time, I felt as though I’d gained entry to a new community of both women and men, and feel that part of the appeal to having your nails done must also lie in the communal and relaxed atmosphere if nail salons; for that short period of time, I had felt (mani)cured from my pent-up Collections anxieties, which had drifted away with the acrylic fumes.

“I generally give myself a manicure and pedicure once a month, usually at the end so I’m fresh for the next month” Lauren tells me. “I suppose it’s a way of prepping me, physically and mentally.” Starting the New Year and term with a fresh set of nails made me feel infinitely more positive, and although it might be a stretch to correlate work success with nail length, I won’t be letting my fingers regress to their former ‘shabby chic’ look again. On the other hand, my longer nails have also provided me with a new form of procrastination and space for practicing a new skill – nail art.