Trend Ender is a new irregular feature, meant to identify, illustrate and investigate the origins of current fashion trends, assess when they’re fabulous and when they fail, and attempt to predict their demise.
Trend: Nail art. This term describes any type of manicure that is more elaborate than just a swipe of one nail polish. It can be as simple as layering one nail polish over another, or as complex as three-dimensional, multi-media collage. Essentially, it’s the application of time, thought, and technique that elevates fingernails into ‘art’.
Where it came from: Colouring nails has been a part of human history for thousands of years, across many cultures, but the first instance of figurative nail art is thought to be by the Incas in the 15th century. More recently, royalty of the decadent Qing dynasty in China grew their nails very long and wore decorative jewelled nail guards to emphasize their leisured lifestyle. Creative, unconventional manicures have been recorded since nail polish was introduced in 1917. In the 1980s, star athlete Florence Griffith Joyner’s nail art was famous – she said she used it to emphasize her femininity. There is an unexamined anecdotal modern phenomenon of elaborate nail art worn by African American and East Asian women, though frustrating Google searches on the topic reveal very little. It seems to be related to marginalized female entrepreneurship. In the only decent post I found, rather than exploring the racial aspect of the history, Robin Givhan only offers an explanation for why it is not discussed. I hope some smart young journalist out there writes a thoughtful article about this soon. (UPDATE: Britticisms has written a wonderful post about her personal experiences with nail art growing up in Chicago in the 1990s.)
When it works: Great nail art truly lives up to the name – there are manicures that are postmodern, conceptual, lavish, technically impressive. Perhaps nail art’s greatest virtue is that it is one of those rare little luxuries that is accessible to everyone. No matter how bad life gets, anyone can have a bit of glamour at their fingertips.
When it’s wack: Sub-trends in nail art are driven by novelty and technology. So when a new gimmick in nail polish is released – like Crackle Nail Polish was in the summer of 2011, it fads and fades before it even gets a chance to dry. If you’re not willing to do the necessary upkeep to stay on top of this type of high-rotation trend cycle, you might as well not bother dipping your chipped fingernails in.
How it will end: The current obsession with nail art is fuelled by technology of a different kind – social media. The camaraderie of the nail salon has become an international grass-roots gab session which even a naked nail type like myself can appreciate for all the enthusiasm and creativity on display. I doubt this trend will end anytime soon – it’s community-driven and the big brands are very late to the party. Now that the fashion industry is getting into the game, the faddishness of specific techniques do seem to have shorter and shorter life cycles. It’s not hard to imagine a future where a novel nail art innovation receives wholehearted praise and all-round condemnation within a single day, if not a single hour.