The Evolution Of Nail Art: From Classic To Contemporary
Nail art has transformed through the years, showcasing fresh colours, textures and techniques in every era. From Hollywood glam to disco vibes and grunge aesthetics, nail art has been a dynamic canvas for self-expression.
In this blog, we trace the evolution of nail art and uncover the stories behind iconic trends.
Nail art in the Ancient Ages
Did you know that nail artistry has been around for centuries? Decorating nails was a widespread tradition in ancient China, dating back to 3,000 BC. Nail polish was crafted from natural ingredients like gelatine, vegetable dyes, egg whites and beeswax.
Back then, nail polish was used to indicate social status. The affluent people flaunted colours like red, gold or silver. During the Ming Dynasty, people wore bedazzled nail guards to protect their fashionably long nails.
The ancient Egyptians also jazzed up their nails with henna. Known for their opulent tastes, Queens Cleopatra and Nefertiti rubbed rich oils on their hands and painted their nails. Cleopatra was known to favour blood-red shades, while Nefertiti opted for ruby. The bolder the colour, the greater the symbol of power and wealth.
The birth of modern nail polish
Modern nail polish was invented by Northam Warren, a chemist from Chicago. In 1911, Warren developed the formula for Cutex, the first cuticle remover. After Cutex proved to be successful, the Northam Warren Corporation gradually expanded its nail care line. They introduced the first liquid nail polish in 1916, and the following year, they launched the first rose-tint nail polish.
1920s to 1930s: Old school red and half-moon glamour
As the automobile industry boomed in the 1920s, women began to paint their nails using high-gloss car paint. In 1932, Revlon launched the first commercial red nail polish featuring a pigmented formula instead of traditional dyes. In its early days, the brand concentrated on red shades "Cherries in the Snow," "Fire and Ice" and "Fifth Avenue Red."
In the 1930s, flappers and Hollywood actresses sparked glamorous nail art trends, such as the half-moon technique. The half-moon design involves using a fine nail art brush to outline a crescent shape at the base of the nail. Then, the entire nail is painted except for the outlined crescent.
1950s: Acrylics and other nail art tools
In 1955, a dentist named Frederick Slack unintentionally invented the acrylic sculpting-nail extension while trying to repair a broken nail. He crafted a platform to fix the nail using dental acrylic and aluminium foil and soon patented the first nail form.
The Slack family emerged as pioneers in the nail industry and later introduced the first non-yellowing, cross-linked formulations used in modern acrylic systems. They also brought in UV-cured gels, strong fibreglass-reinforced polymers and air and heat-activated polish sealants. All of these innovations are essential to modern nail art and mani-pedi techniques.
1970s: Disco fever and kaleidoscope nails
The 1970s, a time of liberal expression, embraced a kaleidoscope of colours inspired by disco and hippie culture. Nails adorned with charms, golden hues and disco ball glitter became all the rage. People experimented with earth tones, pastels and vibrant pops of colour. Flaunting long fake nails also became widespread during this era.
1980s: Neon explosions
The 1980's was an era of bold, vibrant and unconventional fashion choices. Neon nail polish — mainly pink, purple, yellow, blue and green — was worn to match the electric shades of scrunchies and leg warmers.
Nail art kits expanded as more accessories were introduced to the market. Nail stickers, glitter stones, stripers and metallic foils led to dazzling trends that quickly became instant classics.
1990s: Dark hues and grunge glam
Grunge rocked the music scene and its fierce and edgy style spilled into nail art designs. Deliberately tattered polish and chipped black nails filled in with Sharpie markers became the signature look. The '90s nail palette was sultry, with black, plum and oxblood becoming the top picks.
2000s: More is more
Y2K nails embraced the "more is more" aesthetic. It's a flashy fusion of bling and bedazzled nail art, characterised by 3D charms, chunky beads, crystals and bows. This vibrant era boldly ditched minimalism, unleashing a riot of colours and textures.
2020s: Textures and subtle statements
Contemporary nail art is all about unique textures, negative space and understated elegance. Gradient and ombre effects, along with unique textures like velvet and matte finishes, add a modern twist to basic manicures. This was also the era of playful styles like French glass tips, melted metal effects and glazed doughnut nails finished with chrome.
The surge in innovative nail supplies and embellishments offers a world of possibilities. From trendy nail stickers to mismatched designs and dip powder kits, the 2020s have made it easier to create designs that suit every style, vibe or occasion.