top of page

Nailed It - A Look At Nails Through History

Nailed It - A Look At Nails Through History

Unlike our hair or makeup, we see our nails all day. Their appearance matters to us. It's a way to express ourselves and our individual style. Having nice nails makes us happy. Throughout history we have paid special attention to our nails. Nail trends date back to 5000 B.C. Although trendsetters Kim Kardashian and Kylie Jenner might have inspired our latest obsession with long, pointed nails, they were not the first women to wear them.

Let's take a walk through history to see where nail trends really began...

Over the decades many cultural icons have popularized nail shapes and trends. There has been a general movement from rounded, short nails towards elongated ovals in the mid 20th century, and then towards squared-off shapes from the ‘70s on. Starting in the mid ‘90s, the short squoval nail became the hot, trendy statement. And still stylish today, the squoval is among popular styles, like stiletto, coffin and ballerina nails.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s,"manicure" was a title given to a professional who buffed nail beds and cleaned cuticles. After studying nail care in France and marrying podiatrist J. Parker Pray, American, Mary E. Cobb, created her own nail maintenance system and opened the country's first manicure salon in Manhattan in 1878. Mary E. Cobb (May 1852 - January 30, 1902) was the first known American manicurist and introduced modern nail manicuring to Britain and the United States.


Hygiene was all the rage during the Victorian era, so clean nails were a must. The most popular type of manicure was simply buffing and trimming nails, and even tinting them with red oil.


Fingernail maintenance was originally considered a medical industry. Short, round nails that were kept clean symbolized a wealthy life of leisure.


Makeup artist Michelle Menard adapted the enamel used for cars to use

on nails, resulting in a glossy lacquer similar to today's polishes. Her creation was popular among flappers who generally only painted the middle of the nail, leaving the cuticles and tip bare which was known as “The Moon Manicure.”

During the Roaring Twenties, flappers shed their conservative dresses for liberating, skin-bearing designs.

Drinking and smoking were glamorized as cigarette campaigns advertised beautiful women with well-manicured round nails.

Both the tip and natural crescent at the cuticle — known as the lunula, or "little moon," in Latin — were left bare. This half-moon manicure became wildly popular.


After the stock market crash in 1929, the interest in manicures increased!

It was an inexpensive way to maintain a sense of luxury. Launching in 1932 with only a single product, Revlon helped push nail polish into the mass market. Delicate pinks and bold reds allowed us to have fun with color.

The minute there was nail polish, there was nail art. Revlon red came out, and the half moon was still happening. Stars like actress, Joan Crawford, showed off a sharp, pointed style that was painted red just in the center of the nail.


During World War II, nail polish companies rallied around women in the armed forces, referring to them "the best dressed." These campaigns featured ladies with longer, almond-shaped nails colored in various shades of solid red.


Starlets like a young Elizabeth Taylor and I Love Lucy's Lucille Ball brought the almond shaped manicure to us. Prestigious fashion magazines and respected actresses promoted this elegant trend and it soon replaced the moon manicure as one of the most popular trends.


The Supremes, Dionne Warwick, Connie Francis and Etta James were just a few of the feamle vocalists who transformed the music scene of the

1960s. Thanks to the hit show American Bandstand, hosted by Dick Clark, fans from all around could watch their favorite artists, taking in their sounds and their styles. Female musicians have always influenced nail trends.

Long oval nails in transparent shades like pastel pink and shiny peach ruled the decade. Fashion stars like model Twiggy and actress Barbra Streisand flaunted this style.


While many hippies opted for short, unfinished nails in the '70s, the disco crowd loved to show off glamorous manicures. Divas like Cher and Donna Summer dramatized the oval shape by extending it even longer and adding shine.

With the invention of the French manicure in 1978, square shapes began to rule.


A few years later dental supply company Odontorium Products Inc.

converted its denture acrylics into a product for nails and shortened its company name to OPI, eventually becoming the extremely successful polish brand we have today. The nail extension technique transformed the industry by providing a larger, more stable canvas for detailed nail art. The birth of acrylics gave rise to the longest nail yet. By the '80s, when we exploded in primary colors, we ventured into more daring shades.

Female R&B artist and U.S. Olympian Florence Griffith-Joyner helped solidify extra long square and oval-square nails known as "squoval" as the reigning shape through the '80s.