The drive for women to use methods to enhance their beauty stems back thousands of years. In fact, nail trends are a lot older than you might think and date back to 5,000 BC when fingertips in India were decorated with henna. Tombs of Babylonian soldiers uncovered manicure kits from 4,000 BC used in battle preparation. In hopes of striking fear into their enemies, soldiers would stain their nails with colors of black and green khol as a type of war paint. originating in China.

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Babylonian Soldiers Colored Their Nails Like War Paint

In mythology and palmistry, the left hand is called the dreamer because the ring finger on the left hand leads directly to the heart. I find it a very poetic idea. And that’s why I only wear nail polish on my left ring finger.GLORIA VANDERBILT

Chinese Origins

During the Zhou dynasty, around 600 BC, the royal house preferred the colors of silver and gold. Just like in modern day,  styles and preferences change and those metallic colors were eventually replaced with red and black. Red manis have quite a history! The ingredients included beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, vegetable dyes and gum arabic during the Ming dynasty and often included dyes made from orchids and roses.

Long nails were a status symbol for noblemen and women to indicate that they did not do manual labor or hard work. They would protect their long nails with nail guards that were protected with gems and precious metals.

Ties to Egypt

The lower classes in Egypt wore pale colors such as nudes and light colors. As with the royals in China, the high society Egyptians chose to stand out from the lower classes by using henna to paint their nails a reddish brown. Nail polish was used to help signify class rankings. Pharaohs who were mummified would have their nails painted with henna for their beautification in the afterworld.

In 50 BC Egypt, Cleopatra put her stamp on the Egyptian beauty trends by being one of the first to apply color to just her nails instead of the entire hand. (It is said that Queen Nefertiti previously popularized the henna painting.) Cleopatra pushed the beauty trends forward by dying her nails blood red using plant extracts. Don’t we just love the trendsetters who pushed the boundaries for beauty and style?!

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Queen Nefertiti

Early Nail Art

Peru in the 1400s was greatly influenced by imagery and symbolism. The Aztecs used symbols of eagles to show power, strength and courage for their preparation in battle. The Incan tribespeople would use these motifs to decorate their nails using sharpened wood sticks and natural dyes.

Innovations & Nail Salons

The first nail file was created out of a dental tool by King Louis’s manicurist. This is one of my favorite nail care tools, so I am personally happy for that creative invention!

Paris, France in the 1870s was the perfect location for one of the first commercial nail salons to be opened. Fashion forward men and women were pampered with creams, powders and tinted oils to clean their nails and buff them to a shine. The shiny result after all that nail pampering is the reason we now call it “polish.”

In 1878, Mary Cobb opened her first manicure salon in Manhattan, which was an extension of her husband’s (Dr. J. Parker Pray) manufacturing business. It was called “Mrs. Pray’s Manicure” and she charged $1.25 for a manicure. Mary Cobb was a savvy business woman who expanded her salon services to include hair dressing and skin care. In 1884 she and her ex-husband invented the emory board to which they held a monopoly on both the production and sales.

Cobb’s Manicure Products in an 1893 Marshall Fields Catalog

War & Invention

The U.S. obtained chemical patents from the Germans for nitrocellulose during World War I. This allowed the production of nail polish in shades of pink for the very first time. Think pink! An unexpected contribution to the advancement of nail polish was the increased evolution of the automotive paint industry. Experimentation led to the increased rainbow of available colors… with many women leaning towards bold reds.

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Vintage Cutex Ad During WW II (

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