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Since my nail polish spill described in my last post, I’ve wondered how this idea of polishing nails ever started. Culturally, we are pretty obsessed with our nails. Is there a strip mall anywhere without a nail salon?

Check out any drug or beauty store and you will find more shades of nail polish than you can count. Colors spread the entire range of the rainbow from clear, white, primary colors and all the pastels in between and on to browns and black. The Essie rack at Walgreens has several shades of yellow, purple, pink, red, blue, and so on. It’s difficult to choose, and that doesn’t even include the art that can be applied using stamps, stickers, and stones.

Glamour online said that the most popular colors for celebrity toes this summer are candy apple red, baby blue, tangerine, melon, beige, black, taupe, and metallic. Harpers Bazaar said neutrals are coming back for fingernails. So it looks like, anything goes.

It’s thought that nail polish was created in China thousands of years ago. The ruling class wore silver or gold and later red or black. During the Ming Dynasty, they would soak their nails for hours in a solution made from egg whites, beeswax, Arabic gum and flower petals. The practice was more than for beauty. It distinguished royalty from the lower classes. If a commoner dared to color their nails, they were executed.

The idea of nail polish spread to India, the Middle East and Northern Africa and then on to Europe. It lost momentum after the fall of the Roman Empire but gradually came back again during the Renaissance. By the late 18th Century, it was increasing more popular in France, Italy, and England. There it was as much as a fashion statement as a way to hide dirt under the nails.

The biggest boost to the nail polish industry came with the creation of automobile paint. Cutex produced the first modern nail polish in 1917. By the 1920s and 30s, it was popular everywhere.

©2013, Mary K. Doyle

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