Origins & formula
The origins of nail polish go all the way to China, as early as 3000 BCE. The early formula of nail polish contained beeswax, egg white, gelatin, alum and acacia tree sap. Either rose or orchid petals were used for the dyeing process, as they would be left on the nail for several hours, as to stain the nail. Later on, the stakes got higher, as artificial nails made of silver or gold and decorated with jewels were introduced.
Later on, the Chinese techniques traveled all the way to Africa, India and the Middle East, reaching Europe towards the end of the 18th century, thanks to the India and Middle East trade deals. In Egypt henna was a popular approach, as the mummies indicate. As for Africa and India, a form of adornment was stained fingertips. In Babylonia, it was the warriors that got their nails polished, believe it or not.
Nail polish was considered a high elite asset, or even a royal one, until the late 19th century, when the first nail salon opened in Paris.
Colors and symbolism
Initially destined for the royals, the social elite, as an emblem of wealth and power. It was considered a crime for anyone outside the high circles to wear nail polish. Talk about the nail police!
During the Zhou dynasty, the royals preferred gold and silver colored nail polish, but the elite’s taste shifted towards red and black. Later on, though, the lower rank women were granted permission to use pastel colors of nail polish, but never the bright red or black that were reserved for the higher social classes. Throughout the years, red and black did keep up a strong game. Red remains, to this day, a strong color, that makes us chicas feel like we can do anything. Meanwhile, black, whilst officially the color of the goths and rockers, remains a timeless classic – just as red is.
If we were to compare those ol’ times with the current nail fashion situation, it would seem like the roles were a bit reversed, wouldn’t it? Royals have pretty specific guidelines for their entire appearance, not just for clothes. Nails are to be kept short and simple, whilst for the rest of us, the doors to nail art and length are wide open! And for that, we can only be thankful!