Whether you keep your nails long and candy apple red for ~fashion~ reasons or maintain a trimmed clear coat to discourage biting down to the quick, getting our nails done has become a ritual. Even when we're quite young, we beg our parents to shellac our fingers and toes bright colors -- we fall in love with it!
It's not something I've ever thought too hard about -- nail polish exists, and so I will use it. Plus, those hot stones that nail technicians rub my hands and feet with just can't be beat.
But, if you actually consider it, what does nail polish do for us? Nothing much; it actually weakens our nails at the end of the day. Other than aesthetic purposes, does it have any other meaning?
Turns out, men were the first ones to even wear anything that resembled nail polish. In ancient Babylonia (think 3500 B.C.), men colored their nails with kohl (you know, that stuff that your eyeliner is made up of now) to signify their power within their civilization. The upper class would wear black, while lower classes used green kohl. How's that for swapped gender roles?!
From 1300 B.C. through 1st century Egypt, kweens Cleopatra and Nefertiti colored their nails with henna to show those Egyptians who was boss. Bolder colors meant more power, so they wore bright red, naturally. I bet that's why the power suit-wearing gals in your office favor their reds, too. Phaorahs would also have their nails stained with henna before they were mummified, so even in the afterlife they'd be running sh*t.
Later, the Zhou and Ming dynasties of China -- both males and females -- used mixtures of gelatin, egg whites, dyes and beeswax to paint their nails silver, gold, black and red; they also created the first artificial nails. Noblewomen in particular wore long, fake nails to prove they were lavish and didn't have to work for their power position.
From there, we got into nail polish as we know it today: a feminine, aesthetic thing. The nail file was invented in the early 19th century, so shorter nails could be grown out and still manicured. By the 1900s -- think roaring '20s -- women were using high-gloss car paint for their nails until Revlon launched their first polish that used pigment instead of dye in 1932. This era is also credited with the French manicure, called the half-moon technique then.
And the rest is history!
Nowadays you can do anything to your nails from nail art, dip polish, French acrylics, semi-permanent varnish -- you name it.
It doesn't necessarily mean you're more important than anyone without polished nails, but it's all about the mindset anyway, right?