Fashion

5 Things We Learned at Suzanne Shapiro's "A Century of the Modern Manicure"

Where did our obsession with nails -- and particularly manicures -- come from?

Suzanne Shapiro broached the subject on Wednesday, September 10, with her lecture "A Century of the Modern Manicure" at Phoenix Art Museum. Her new book, Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure, explores the growing popularity and innovation in nail painting, while Shapiro's lecture took the audience through 100 years of American nail trends and why they're an important part of both history and beauty evolution.

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We learned a handful of interesting tidbits during the talk, presented by Arizona Costume Institute, and compiled them below. Keep them in mind the next time you're anxiously waiting for that top coat to dry.

5. This year marks 100 years of nail polish.

Cutex introduced the first-ever nail polish in 1914. It was a semi-transluscent rose shade. And it was scandalous. Adding color to one's nails was seen as vulgar.

4. Manicures hit the mainstream in the 1930s.

Manis hit the masses during this decade, when innovation reigned supreme in the nail department. All types of colors were manufactured -- including deep red that trickled down as a trend from European high society style to Hollywood to your great grandma. The 1939 film The Women brought manicures and nail salons to the big screen -- and featured actress Norma Shearer championing "jungle red" as an empowering shade.

3. Nail art is nothing new.

Turns out, the recent trend of adorning nails with more than just color (adding texture, patterns, gems, and other unique elements) has been around nearly as long as nail polish. Choosing your favorite team's colors or using découpage to adhere a picture of your boyfriend's face to your fingers has all been done.

2. Beautification was more about liberation than oppression.

The rise in popularity of both makeup and nail polish coincides with women increasingly joining the work force. And during World War II, women used beauty as act of defiance (Nazis apparently reviled nail polish) and a way to bolster morale. Though polish production temporarily was halted because particular chemicals were needed for weaponry, lacquer's popularity didn't suffer in the long run.

1. It's the easiest way to test trends.

Yeah, fast fashion's a quick and easy way to embrace trendy colors, patterns, and ideas. But nothing tops the manicure for indulging style whims. Thanks to its impermanence, cost effectiveness, the fact that you don't need to be a particular size or shape to take part (and look good), and nail polish's ability to capture an of-the-moment mood or idea, the mani is most certainly here to stay.

Editor's note: This post has been modified from its original version.

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Becky Bartkowski is an award-winning journalist and the arts and music editor at New Times, where she writes about art, fashion, and pop culture.
Contact: Becky Bartkowski