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Nail Art Goes Mainstream

When this website launched over ten years ago, nail art had limited appeal. In English-speaking countries it was not very popular, and certainly not in fashion. Although it was a common ethnic beauty ritual in black, Japanese, and other Asian communities, as it had been for decades, it was still quite rare among white women. The chances of seeing it were about as great as Britney Spears not lip synching at a live performance.

In the last few years, however, the miniature style idea that was thrown at the fashion wall has started to stick. Magazines have covered its rise, and the latest issue of Elle (Canada), for example, says: "nail art sales have exploded by 200 percent since 2009."

More time on their hands

You may have noticed many women with beauty habits where they always fuss over one aspect, such as nails, hair, or makeup. For ages it's been a regular part of their daily or weekly self-maintenance routine and they are reliably stylish in at least their favorite thing. That is changing as more attention, time, and energy is going to previously neglected digits. Lack of creativity is no longer acceptable the way it used to be; girls are saying no to boring and yes to fun. Instead of color and glamour once in a blue moon; now it's a lot more frequently or all the time.

"Back in the day," says Jenny Longworth, a spokesperson for cosmetics giant Revlon, "I was really into nail art, but every one told me it was trashy. Now, nail polish is the latest accessory. People are even recreating the texture of their clothes on their nails."

Black is a failure of imagination

Black nail color became about as popular as the little black dress and everyone, it seemed, was stuck in that boring rut of excessively muted short nails for at least five years. But there's only so long a girl can live in a dark, isolated and morbid world that's funeral-ready and puts her spirit to sleep, dying of boredom.

The widespread visceral reaction against the old Gothic standard from the restrained 90s was inevitable, and the fashion pendulum swung back against the nun-like obsession with a single, dull, uninspired and unfeminine color into a full rainbow of fun and satisfying opportunities. The average young woman found, well, her inner woman.

Cheap thrills in a bad economy

The recession of recent years has affected spending habits for beauty care like everything else. How many times you color your hair; how often you get a cut; or the frequency of your visits to a spa are obviously a matter of discretionary spending. However, it has been said that even when you are unable able to afford a new lipstick, you can always buy a new polish. Sales of it have gone through the roof in the last year, up over 50%.

Old Hollywood nail glamour is history

The driving force behind art becoming fashionable isn't a series of celebrities with creative designs. Not more than a few had them. About 90% of Hollywood's elite do something different with their hair but only 10% dress up their fingers in a special way. Nail trends aren't like hairstyles fashions where one fame queen sets a standard; then everyone else and their sister copy it exactly. Stars just don't sparkle like they used to.

Polishing up on your visual speaking skills

When polish itself is trendy, it's really not entirely surprising when people take the next logically creative step and try more colors and add artistic details. Art is an arrangement of color and some fingernails look artistic with nothing more than a single hue. Nevertheless, monochromatic anything can get boring quickly; texture and diversity break the monotony.

Brand new ideas

Adding fuel to the flames of change were beauty industry leaders like Sally Hansen which dared to be creative and helped stores stock their shelves with nail art. In other words, it was a matter of availability. What's near you is close to your shopping cart. Certainly specialty nail supply stores have offered artistic products for eons, but the best you could hope for at a Wal-Mart or your drug store was ultra-simple press-on French nails.

But isn't it tacky?

For most of the last century, white chicks have considered nail art "ghetto" and "tacky." A decade ago, for example, a friend said she would never in a million years do anything funky. She was "totally" a French Manicure person, and wore that simple style for most of her professional career; but she would never be creative.

Fast forward to today. Google's search suggestions list "tacky" higher in the group of adjectives with nail art than cool or great. That's a clue to the prevailing sentiment, continued bias, or, you could say, ignorance.

Tacky means "showing poor taste." Anything creative is obviously going to be the subject of different opinions. Of course not everybody likes all kinds of art but anyone that dislikes all of it is extremely narrow-minded, lives in a cave, and probably doesn't have a creative bone in their body. It is also likely they have simply only been exposed to the weak kind, not the good stuff that makes you say "Wow!"

You have to draw the line somewhere

I accept that grunge, extreme, and alternative art is liked by some. Personally I'm not moved by anything that is poorly designed. The workmanship or skill level is the main issue for me. You could call it "modern" or whatever but it wouldn't change my mind. It's a visceral reaction and neither careful explanations nor extra thought make any difference. What I find gaudy are things which are too big, clumpy, or have too many colors. I don't mind pictures of birds and flowers, but I'm not into famous faces like Elvis Presley or Sarah Palin. Others like it and that's fine; to each her own.

Pretty French accent

Even when you type into Google the phrase "French Manicures," before you can go any further the Suggestions rudely spit out two words: "are tacky." That shows you there is the same sort of ignorance about the most popular kind of manicured nails in particular as with nail art in general. Are TV and print advertisers stupid for using product models with French nails? Or is the reality they are actually not tasteless but tasteful? Do millions of salons and their clients really lack taste?

It is odd that a significant number of women have such different views about the FM. On the one hand, millions feel that it is the best kind of Elegant Nails you can have. On the other hand, lots say it's trashy. The reason may be scores of trashy women have them, such as the crazy adults on Real Housewives and the overexposed kids on Jersey Shore. That could lead to "guilt by association" so others get tarred with the same brush as if they are all trailer trash.

There is such a wide variety of FM styles it's difficult to group them altogether and dismiss every single one. Yes, there are unusual kinds; for instance, with gels that are overly thick and spread out instead of realistically thin and beautifully tapered; at least one celeb has them all the time. However, there are others which hardly look artificial (you can't tell unless you look closely). Labeling anything seemingly natural as tasteless is, frankly, a little bizarre.

Peer pressure

Another influence advancing the new trend is the growing and virtually complete integration of minorities in modern society. The more African American and Asian women are friends with, and work alongside, Caucasians, the more exposure there is for creative manicures widespread in their cultures. For instance, if you are surrounded by Black ladies with perfectly polished nails but yours are short, colorless, and plainly undecorated, you might just feel like a second-class citizen.

Clean up nicely

What other factors led to the shift from visually poor to rich or dull to detailed? Nail art became more intriguing as an enhancement of the classic French Manicure design. How long can you tolerate basic white and neutral pink before you reach your boredom threshold? Some women are satisfied with the most simple configuration of color and could stick with it for the rest of their lives. Meanwhile others need variety after a few months with the emotional energy that follows a fresh burst of color and sophisticated details. A few years ago, we started seeing alternatives to pinks and whites; then the next thing we knew, the style evolution had more advanced decorations.

The picture of wedded bliss

Weddings have helped create an interest in nail designs. Brides, increasingly spoiled for the ordinary, ignore traditional French manicures and choose more elegance. Then, after they get married they still want nail art as part of everyday glamour. By the same token, women who weren't about to get married have seen bridal nail styles and adopted them for themselves. They are too good to have only once. Why enjoy something only once in a lifetime when you can appreciate it very often for the rest of your life?

Where are the salons?

If you usually do your own nails, or get basic manicures in one block color, you may be surprised to know the vast majority of nail salons in America offer nail art. According to poll results in an industry magazine, in fact, nail technicians in 92.2% of salons can enhance your nails (Nails mag, March 2007). Call ahead or check nail salon websites to see if art is included in their list of available services. Be specific in your inquiries.

More specific survey results showed a wide range in the types of nail art available. Over 75% of salons say they can do mixed media, but only 15.7% of manicurists are skilled in free-hand airbrushing. That number drops in half if you want photos on your nails. Fortunately, though, 68.3% offer one of the most popular nail art looks: custom French manicures.

There aren't many books for the budding artist, and not all of them are still in print. But if you can find one like this, it can inspire and/or guide you with step-by-step instructions.

This is one of two major industry magazines. The cover here shows a glimmer of glamour: perfect pink-and-whites plus a single 3-d flower.

IBD Gel Nails Instructions DVD

If you love this look and want to learn how to do it yourself to save lots of salon money, here is one resource. IBD can teach you perfection. It is one of the top nail companies which not only provides the teaching guide but also sells the actual gel and tools including forms, primers, bonders, brushes and UV lamps. This DVD shows you how to do both gel and acrylic applications. You can buy it with an introduction kit or separately.

After going to the trouble of getting a special manicure with art, you will want to protect it. Seche Vite is tough stuff! It must be one of the toughest top coats anywhere. In fact when it dries it has surprising durability. You can even file it the same way you do gel, but it is beautifully self leveling, so no filing should be necessary.

Seche Vite gets much thicker with time (over a year), and can even get a bit "stringy" like old glue. Yet the price is fair and the plus side of the extra thickness with age is additional strength. If you usually apply one coat of Seche Vite for a standard manicure, apply two coats on a nail art manicure which is typically more difficult to "touch up" if it chips.