A Brief History Of Nail Polish

Anything can become weird if you think about it too much. Like how if you say your name over and over again, it begins to sound like nothing but weird sounds? That’s kind of what happened to me yesterday when I zoned out during my manicure. As I watched the polish going on my nails, I got to thinking, How did we ever think to cover up our nails? Who did it first? Why? What did people use? When did the shiny lacquers we have now become commonplace? Style nerds, rejoice: I’ve compiled a brief history of nail polish for you to digest.

  • Class Act: Nail polish is thought to have originated in China as early as 3000 BC when the Chinese used to paint their nails (with a mixture of egg whites, beeswax, and arabic gum) according to the colors of the ruling dynasty. Apparently, wearing nail polish was a marker of class: only the upper class sported it. If you were lower class and tried wearing nail polish? Death penalty. (At least, some sources say.)
  • Cleopatra Fans: The tradition was also around in Ancient Egypt, where the upper class (Cleopatra among them) used to color their nails with henna or blood (!). The redder the shade, the higher in society you were.
  • Sweet ‘n Simple: Jumping ahead to the 1800s. Color wasn’t around so much, and people went more for the simple manicure. You could, however, find polish recipes in cookbooks. Weird! We want to find one of those and try it out for ourselves.
  • Rev-ed Up: Nail lacquer as we know it gained popularity in the ’20s as a flapper trend. Some credit a woman named Michelle Manard as the first inventor of nail polish, who took inspiration from high-gloss car paints. Others say it was the Revlon brothers who really pioneered the field, coming out in 1932 with a popular nail enamel (that’s obviously endured the test of time).

[Associated Content]
[Wikipedia: “History of Nail Polish”]
[Wikipedia: “Revlon”]