Latinas Have Always Pushed The Envelope When It Comes To The Acrylic Nails Game
Acrylic nails have been a long-time fashion staple. Many of us have those early memories of a tía, a vecina, mom, etc., rocking the long red nails. Today, fake nails are not just a passing fad, but they have become an essential part of pop-culture, wearable art. Most famously, Cardi B (who has worn acrylics since before she was famous and has remained loyal to her same nail artist Jenny Bui) is one of the celebrities that has captivated the world which her famous “sets” which, no doubt, has inspired millions of fans.
Acrylic nails have always and will continue to be a woman’s strongest style accessory.
One of the most iconic sets is part of a special exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Back in the 90s, Lil Kim (the original Queen Bee) asked her manicurist – celebrity nail artist Bernadette Thompson – to add something different to the nail design for a photoshoot for the Junior M.A.F.I.A. single “Get Money.” Thinking on her feet, Thompson cut up a dollar bill and…the rest is history. Thompson is credited with moving nail art into the world of high fashion since she often had to fight against editors of Vogue, and other big-name fashion magazines, to feature the nail designs worn by the artist.
They can tell any story you want and make any statement you can imagine.
However, acrylics have been here long before celebrities and Instagram. One of the most famous manicures has even held Olympic gold, thanks to Hall of Famer, Florence Griffith Joyner. “Flo Jo” – still considered the fastest women in history – not only was she an iconic Olympian, but she was also known for her distinctive fierce style and nails.
If we look at the history of nail art, India is the first to put color on the map in 5000 B.C. and are credited with being the ones to dip fingertips in red henna, a practice which is still seen today.
Different cultures across the world have incorporated acrylic nails.
But where did the concept of acrylic nails come from? The earliest traces can be found somewhere around 3000 B.C between Egypt and China. We can thank ancient Egyptians for almost every aspect of the beauty and cosmetics that we use today. They also introduced the notion of associating red with power and nobility. Noblemen and women would use berries to add red hues to their nails and if anyone from the lower class was caught with red nails, they were put to death. It is believed that the ancient royal Egyptians used ivory, gold, and bone to create extensions of their nails. Shorter nails implied that you needed your hands available to work, therefore, longer nails became a symbol of status, wealth and non-laboring hands.
Around the same time period, the ancient Chinese were the first to make a “permanent color stain” that would taint nails the same as nail polish does today. Here is also where we have the closest example to modern-day acrylics. The earliest dynasties created elaborate “fingernail guards” which gave the appearance of exaggerated long nails. The nail extensions were made of gold and precious gems; and as with the ancient Egyptians, long nails became a symbol of a someone that did not need their hands free for manual labor and therefore became a symbol of the ruling class. The ornate nails were usually worn on one hand, covering each finger (except the thumb) and only the most elite wore fingernail guards on both hands.
In both Egypt and China, higher-ranking men and kings also sported the acrylics and nail polish. When King Tut’s tomb was discovered in 1922, among his treasures they found the royal red nail coloring still in a sealed bottle, and the paint was still good.
Ancient Greece also got in on early acrylic nails. They believed in the healing energy of the moon and favored the appearance of moon shape nails. Greek women would place pistachio nut shells over their nails and in order to give a pleasing round appearance.
In South America, the Incas of Peru, are said to have been the first to have actually created nail art, by adding a decorative element – an eagle – to their nails.
Over time, artificial nails were slowly making their way throughout Europe and eventually made their way across the ocean.
In 1934, Dr. Maxwell Lappe – a dentist from Chicago – was working on a remedy to help his patients who bit their nails. Mixing two dental acrylic products – liquid and powder – he created Nu Nails. The mixture was thick and heavy, meant to create a hard nail protective covering.
However, these are the first official artificial nails documented in modern history.
During the 1930s, starlets – like Greta Garbo – often tried to create their own “nail extensions” by wrapping foil around their fingers and then painting the foil red.
In 1957, twenty years after Nu Nails, another dentist – Dr. Frederick Slack – made a breakthrough. As the story goes, he broke his own nail and in order to create a temporary fix, he used dental acrylic and aluminum foil, and accidentally invented the first sculpted acrylic nail. The Slack family went on launch the modern acrylic nail industry and has since created several innovative products, including the first non-yellowing bonding formula, which is still used today.
The nail game is constantly growing and evolving. Today, we are in an acrylic boom again, nails are not only a part of our fashion, but they can also be part of the larger conversation.
Your set can reflect your politics, religion, heritage etc.
Acrylic nails and nail art aren’t going anywhere, they have been here since the days of B.C. and will most likely continue to always be part of our human story. Although women of color in the United States are often chastised for wearing long and elaborate nails, it has never stopped us from doing so, nor should it. We are walking in the traditions of ancient royals and nobility – men and women – so continue to hold your head high, pick your colors, add some bling and don’t be shy; tú dale, and make the ancient world proud…live boldly.