The long, acrylic nail trend has been rocked by just about everyone from the everyday, middle-class girl to A-list celebs. Be clear: The trend that started long before the Kardashian klan and countless others adopted it as their own in the 2000s, is often seen as “tacky” on WOC and “cool” on women that aren’t.
“French manicures and pastel colors signal white, middle-class, heteronormative beauty. Long, sculptured, airbrushed nails, on the other hand, are markers of blackness, sexual deviancy, and marginalized femininity,” explained Lynchburg College Sport Management Professor Lindsay Pieper in a 2015 essay.
So, as you might’ve guessed, the origins of such a “devious” and “captivating” trend is rooted deep in the community. Nail polish and the notion of decorative nails date back as far as 5000 BC. Egyptians in North Africa created the first manicures worn by royals like the great Nefertiti, according to a March 2014 report in Daily Mail.
The earliest manis consisted of rubbing oil and incense into hands before painting the nails with herbal strengthening potions and them painting them with henna. The colored nails were a sign of their social status and wealth, according to NAILS Mag.
In 3000 BC, the Chinese originated the first form of nail polish from a mixture of beeswax, egg whites, gelatin, and vegetable dyes. Then, in 1932, Revlon became the first nail polish brand on the market. It wasn’t until the 1950s that acrylics were born. Dentist Fred Slack accidentally created acrylics when he tried to mend his broken nail using different chemicals and dental materials. That blend was perfected in the 1970s by Dr. Stuart Nordstrom.
Alas, acrylics weren’t truly popularized into mainstream culture until they were worn by the “Fastest Woman In The World,” Florence “Flo Jo” Griffith Joyner in the 1980s. The four-time Olympic medalist made her mark both on and off-the-track due to her record-setting numbers, standout asymmetrical tracksuits, and three-inch long, eye-catching nails.
She was a vision of athleticism, all the while making a bold, beauty statement on the world’s stage. In 1984, Joyner was denied a spot on the 200-meter relay team because her 6.5 inch nails were said to be too long to pass the baton. However, she went on to win the silver medal in the 200-meter race that same year. Besides her speed, Joyner’s nails became her trademark.
“Writers highlighted Flo Jo’s fingernails as both a source of intrigue and revulsion, subtly emphasizing racial differences,” Pieper pointed out in the 2015 report. “Because she preferred long, colorful nails, the runner was depicted as abnormal, deviant, and different.”
Take a look at her nails over the years:
By the late 1990s, the leading ladies of hip-hop were wearing acrylic nails adorned with airbrushed design and dolla, dolla bills y’all! Lil Kim’s iconic money manicure featured real money. The unique and eye-catching artwork, which was designed by Celebrity nail technician Bernadette Thompson and inspired by Lil Kim’s feature on Junior M.A.F.I.A. single “Get Money,” was a visual marker of status and wealth in hip-hop culture. Thompson’s work and its cultural relevance landed her an exhibit in the Museum Of Modern Art in 2017.
Nail technicians were truly experimental in the 90s, adding jewelry to their designs, as well. Janet Jackson boasted hoop-pieced nails in her music video for the 1998 single “What’s It Gonna Be?”
Even today, the long nail look is at its popularity height. Everyday girls to our faves are rocking this look and taking it to the next level.
Just look at Lizzo, whose nails are ALWAYS on point. At the 2020 Brit Awards on Feb. 18, the three-time Grammy winner rocked a gorgeous chocolate-colored (and reportedly chocolate-smelling) manicure to match her Hershey’s-style dress.
Megan Thee Stallion rocked a long, yellow manicure to match her yellow outfit (and hummus) in a Super Bowl ad in February 2020.
Beyoncé loves her long nails too. She gave us a glimpse of her Adidas x Ivy Park manicure before she created the iconic Beyoncé-posing-with-a-heap-of-Adidas-shoes meme on April 26, 2019.
Once again, Black women are the helm of cool and edgy trends in the style and beauty space. Hopefully, as our community continues to shift the culture, we are recognized for our innovation and craft.