Nail Art

Nail  art refers  to decorative embellishments of fingernails, while nail art fashion includes designs, paintings on  nails, and  the  length of fingernails. This  tradition of decorative embellishments of female fingernails has lasted  for over 6,000  years in one  form  or another. As foot binding and  the  desire  for diminutive feet originated among elites and  initially  served  as an indicator that  a family could  afford to remove  a woman from  active  labor  in ancient China (after  1300  c.e.), some noblewomen also grew their nails long for the same reason. At different times and cultures, these  high-status displays,  accompanied by the  application of brightly colored varnish to the  nails, illustrated the  fact that  these  were hands that  never had to toil. Unmarried women with polished long nails could  expect a good marriage rather than a life as a servant. In ancient China, wealthy  noblewomen had long nails painted with gold to signify their  membership in the leisure  class.

Contemporary Trends

Neatly  manicured nails would  remain a sign of the leisure  class throughout most of the 20th  century and  among many  different cultures. However, like the use of cosmetics, brightly  painted nails were often linked to artificiality and impropriety. Even as nail polish  became a common beauty  ritual,  local five-and-dimes offered an  array  of choices for  do-it-yourself applications that  reserved a professional manicure for the wealthy.

In the past couple of decades, however, the fashion for long, painted fingernails has  been  amplified, along  with  the  widespread growth of nail  salons than now provide  nail art as well as more  traditional manicuring services.  Nail salons  offer a variation of designs  for nails  in which  fancy patterns are added  to the  surface of the nails. This  includes everything from a natural-looking French manicure to elaborate nail  art  of acrylic  nail  sculptures, stick-on rhinestones, hologram tips, and  dangling nail jewelry for pierced  nails. The  list is endless, including themed nail  art  for holidays like Halloween or  Christmas that  only  well-trained, highly skilled professionals are capable  of mastering.

Nail  salons  label  different nail  styles  with  names such  as Airbrush, French, Tropical, American, and  Silk Wraps, in addition to the  regular nail polish  procedure.  Almost  every year, new nail fashions are added  to the  current repertoire of nail styles and,  like the  clothing industry, certain nail fashions go out  of style to be replaced with new ones.

Nail  Fashion And Identity

Women across  spectrums of race, class, age, and  ethnicity have their  nails done. But different nail styles are popular among different groups of women. The  variety of nail styles and fashions makes  individual and group choices meaningful. White  middle-class women in middle  management and  professional positions, on  the  whole,  choose nail fashions characterized by short cuts  and  light  polish with  nails  that  are well kept  and  are markers of neatness, professionalism, and good  grooming. The  specific nail fashion of attaching artificial acrylic nails and painting them with  colorful and  elaborate designs in  long  nails  is especially popular among African American women. Even when  these  nails hamper manual dexterity, their  personal and  social  impact  may be so rewarding as to compensate for this.  Given  the  history of race  and  labor,  African  American hands that  look as though they do not do manual labor or service work contradict and challenge much of the past. The  individual reasons for this preference, however, are highly  diverse,  reflecting a myriad  of emotional desires  and  aesthetic sensibilities. Everything from Black Power  fists to floral designs  are popular requests, depending on  person and  place.  In  this  sense,  nail  beautification can  be  read as a means of resistance as well as inscribing identity, along  with  cosmetic and decorative art, in body  aesthetics. Practices in nail beautification can be read  as culturally coded  styles  of beauty  that  motivate and  valorize  particular expressions  of differences.

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