Japanese Nail Art

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“Nail art is the new lipstick” – CNN

According to CNN, in 2011 the demand of decorative nail accessories has surpassed lipstick. It’s easy to understand why nail art has grown popular. It’s accessible for everyone regardless size and age, it’s affordable, easy to try out and change it if not to your liking, you can add a personal touch to it and it shows the creativity of the nail artist. Nail art has finally made his way into the fashion scene.

NAIL ART HISTORY

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Surprisingly, manicure dates back to Ancient Babylonia 7,000 years ago. At that time, male warriors spent several hours doing their hair, make-up and nails. Black kohl was used to color the nails of the higher class, green for the lower class. The vogue was then passed on to the women of Ancient Egypt (5,000 B.C. – 3,000 B.C.). They colored their fingernails and toenails according to their social status. Only queens, positioned highest on the social scale, were allowed to paint their nails in deep and brilliant colors. The mummified Nefertiti had red-painted nails. The red color was associated with sacredness, and would keep evil spirits away. Cleopatra’s nails are said to be painted rusty shaded with a golden undertone. Lower classes were permitted pastel colors only. (source)

Since the Zhou dynasty in China (1100 B.C. – 300 B.C.), royals used shiny golden and silver nail polish made of egg whites, wax, gelatin, flower petals and Arabic gum. Later during the Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) metal nail-shaped finger tip extensions came into vogue. Unlike the lower classes who had short and unpainted fingers to work with, lengthy nails were a symbol of status among the upper class. Besides, lower class people caught wearing nail polish could be sentenced to death. Later, the colors for aristocratic women shifted towards red and black. (source)

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One of the anachronisms as seen in the movie “The curse of the golden flower”: the story is set in the Tang Dynasty, but golden nail extensions were not yet worn then.

Since the beginning of the 19th century, nail polish started to play an important role for women in the western part of the world and turned out becoming a part of fashion. Up until now, nail polish has been a highly feminine product (I’m turning a blind eye to the visual kei scene in Japan and more recently to Kpop en Cpop). It’s not too extravagant (most men don’t even notice), it adds an extra touch to your outfit and, as seen throughout history, it’s associated with power and self-confidence.

JAPANESE NAIL ART

So what is the difference with Japanese nail art nowadays? Japanese nails are excessively decorated and extremely kawaii (cute). Just like their cell phones. Not only painted in bright colors, but multiple layers and 3D objects as well are glued on (fake) finger nails. The nails are quite long. Two explanations I can think of are: 1) it is a remainder of the extended nail decorations of the Ming dynasty, indicating high-class and refined style 2) you can put more cute stuff on it.

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3D nail art started in Japan, but spread quickly around the world. Ready-to-wear 3D objects are made out of plastic or fimo, and have to be glued onto the nail, after having added a basic coating. More experienced DIY-ers use different layers of acrylic to create various 3D objects. A third option is the use of 3D nail gel. The artwork is often finished off with a glitter top-coat of nail polish.

There is a big nail art scene in Japan, with many magazines, shops full of accessories and even expos.

nailartmag111(Extreme) nail art has become popular among gyaru, a type of Japanese street fashion. Gyaru is a Japanese transliteration of “gal”. The term originated in the seventies but reached its peak of popularity in 2000. Apart from bleached hair, trendy clothing and extreme make-up, long decorated nails are among the characteristics of gyaru. As there are many types of gyaru, nail art varies greatly.

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Nowadays, gyaru fashion has long since passed its peak, but nail art has taken the interest of women of all layers of the Japanese population. Since the Heian period (794-1185) women painted their nail to beautify themselves. This was called tsumakurenai 爪紅(literally “crimson nails”) and symbolized nobility. During the Meiji period (1868 – 1912), Western make-up was imported, and manicure became available for everyone. It was a part of being a gentleman or a neat lady. Today as well, having pretty nails indicates, like dressing properly, your sense of etiquette and respect for the other people who have to look at you.(source)

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