What Did We Do Before Gel Nail Kits?
A brief history of nail polish
Long before women learned how to do gel nails at home, before gel nail kits were even invented, our foremothers were fussing about trying to their nails to look nice. They would no doubt swoon at the amazing results we get today with gel nail polish. Once upon a time, we had only old school regular nail varnish – no glitter, no nail art. (Some of us can remember those days, even if we don’t like admitting to being that old!) But even before that, long before that in fact, women were trying to get glam nails.
Before women started beautifying their nails, however, it was the men who were looking to smarten up their nails. Yes, back in ancient Babylonia it seems the men would have been drooling over today’s tough and durable gel nails. Artefacts from about 3200 BC indicate that men used kohl as nail varnish to show their class rank back then, sort of like wearing a designer suit or driving a swank car today. History has not recorded how durable kohl was as a nail polish, but it isn’t likely it could complete with today’s high tech gel nail polish.
In ancient China, around 3000 BC, nail polish was also used to denote status. They used a complicated concoction and spent ages soaking their nails in it to get the right look. Really, it was a far cry from how to do gel nails at home these days! Much like some sports fans like to wear gel nail polish in their favourite sports team’s colours, the ancient Chinese often used the colours of the ruling dynasty to decorate their nails. But not just anyone could get a manicure then. It was reserved for the upper echelons of society.
No one thought Cleopatra missed this trend, right? In her day, fashion conscious ancient Egyptians used henna to colour their nails. And again, the colour did more than make a fashion statement. It indicated status. Ordinary Egyptians wore pale colours, while the rulers wore red. Cleopatra doesn’t seem like the sort who would opt for any subtle shades. She was probably fonder of deep red nails. Pity the poor pyramid builders. No way did their henna nails last two weeks doing that work like today’s gel nails do. Of course, manufacturers have yet to do any testing about how gel nail polish would fare during pyramid building, but as those with gel nail kits know, it is sturdy stuff and will get you through today’s tasks, even gardening and sports, without chipping or scratching.
Gel Nails – Not Your Grandma’s Nail Polish
The complex methods of ancient Babylonia, China and Egypt eventually evolved into tinted nail oils. Some were even scented. In Europe, women wore gloves year-round at times to protect their hands and nails. (We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and not accuse them of hiding horrible nails.) Then the fashion changed to filed and buffed nails. Neat and clean was stylish enough for a while. When women in the West eventually began to colour their nails, their early efforts involved commercially sold powders, pastes and creams. Not so glossy, and surely pretty messy. Those ladies would not believe how easy it is today when you learn how to do gel nails at home.
Modern nail varnish was, according to some experts, inspired by the glossy, tough paint developed for cars in the 1920s. It was certainly an improvement over the powders, pastes and creams, although the first liquid nail varnishes were not nearly as resilient as the paint used on cars. The fashion forward flappers of the era eagerly leapt on that bandwagon. By the 1930s, the moon manicure was all the rage. It’s also a look that works well with gel nail polish when you want to go really, authentically vintage. For a moon manicure, apply the colour only between the cuticle and end of the finger, sort of like the French manicure, which was also popular at that time, but leaving an uncoloured crescent at both ends of the nail. Various shades of red were popular, as were brown tones. Different cosmetics companies claim credit for bringing nail polish to the masses, but of course they have all been outdone by today’s gel nails.
Hollywood gets a lot of credit for making cosmetics mainstream, long before gel nail kits were available to make it easy. Once going to the films became a normal outing, women were inspired to recreate some of that Hollywood glamour at home with make-up, new hairstyles and nail varnish. Since then, styles and nail technology have evolved over time. The strong reds of the ‘40s and ‘50s gave way to more neutral and pastel shades in the ‘60s and ‘70s. The ‘80s saw a revival of brighter colours as well as black.
Now, gel nail polish comes in every colour under the sun – and then some. When you learn how to do gel nails at home, you can recreate looks from any era of the past. Unlike our foremothers, however, you can count on gel nails to last for two weeks looking smooth and glossy without chips or scratches. With gel nail kits, you can get everything you need to create a whole range of looks to capture the glamour of past eras or take your nails to the cutting edge of today’s hottest fashions.
So when you are comparing gel nail kits and learning how to do gel nails at home, spare a thought for those women centuries ago who spent hours toiling over their nails. Imagine the frustration of not being able to pick whatever gel nail polish colours struck your fancy. Nail care and nail art have come a long way, but that shows that we’ve always wanted our nails to look great.