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Nail Art: a history in time

By Emma Hobday | 31 December 2021 | Feature

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Nail art. It can be so many things: bold, beautiful, empowering, subtle, fun, and can give us a confidence boost or a little moment of joy in the day when we look down at our decorated fingertips.

Nail art is creativity at its finest, providing you with 10 tiny ways to express yourself and enveloping them in all sorts of artistry – from hand-painted elaborate designs, to embellishments, decals, wraps, glitters and more. It seems that the phenomenon of nail art has only just begun, as there is always more to learn in the nail art market – more products, more techniques, more training and education.

But where did nail art come from? Nail art educator, expert, mentor, and author of Nail Art Secrets: The Workbook for Nail Artists, Sam Biddle lists what trends, shapes and colours were popular throughout the decades…

1920s: The Luna look was everywhere in this decade: nail polish was being mass produced and it was fashionable to only paint the middle of the nails, leaving the moon and tips a natural colour.

1930s: Women in this decade would pair their lipstick and nail polish colours together, generally in a bold red, pale rose, or subtle cream shades. Sometimes the tips would be painted with a gold, silver, or an opalescent shade.

1940s: Affordable cosmetics were popular, helping to give women a feminine look even when working heavy machinery. They kept their nails protected by using clear coats and base coats marketed towards keeping nails strong and healthy while working. The style was for short nails with a layer of natural pink polish.

1950s: Post war returned a feminine, glamorous style, with longer bold red nails and a new invention of acrylic nails by dentist Frederick Slack in 1957.

1960s: Inspired by the many social movements, make-up was all about the eyes, and women wore nail colours that were more subdued, or in a light pastel shade.

1970s: This is where the French manicure became popular. A natural, polished look that went with anything was how most women of this decade wanted to wear their nails. Supported by television and film, they were influenced for the first time by what stars of the screen wore.

1980s: Anything goes in the 80s! Bright, off the wall colours, every nail painted a different colour, neon greens, yellows and blues, which had never been worn on nails before, became the norm.

1990s: Bold nail art sported by female rappers led the way for nail art we see as common place today. Short, dark nails were seen in popular films and inspired a new trend.

2000s: During the recession, nail art became a way to express yourself. This decade was all about adding wraps, glitter, studs, jewels, stickers, water slides, textured nail polishes, and metallic shades, along with hand painted nail art, worn with a lot of make-up and glossy lips.

2010s: Individuality is key – there is a style, nail shape, length, and nail colour for everybody. It has never been easier to express ourselves and change who we want to be for the day. New nail art helps you come up with a new way to be seen and relevant.

2020s: So far, the new take on the French, along with ‘jelly’ nail art, Japanese Kawaii nail art, coloured swirls, animal print, and mismatched nails have reigned supreme!

Buy Sam’s book, Nail Art Secrets: The Workbook for Nail Artists, here.