That nail that you pick, bite and chip has a story to tell, and that story begins with a bottle of liquid nail enamel.
Maybe it was the 176 pages that brought women of various ages to the Whiteman Hall at the Phoenix Art Museum on Sept. 10, or maybe it was curiosity. Either way, they came to hear author and archive manager at PVH Corp., Suzanne E. Shapiro, explain that under each woman’s manicure lay not just personality but reflection of the eras in fashion and beauty.
“I think that’s so interesting that you can really almost take any sort of aspect of like beauty or fashion and see how it can be translated as apart of like a bigger part of our culture. It’s just a different kind of document,” Shapiro said.
“Well I think it gives us a sense of history and the importance of this part of our fashion world. I think it draws attention to the fact that manicure does have a history. It’s a beautifully illustrated book,” Steers said.
Shapiro’s book, “Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure,” published last April, is unique in that fact that it’s one of the first in its kind to detail the manicure’s history. The book is filled with nail ads, pictures, photo essays, interviews and a timeline of the painted nail from the 19th to 21st centuries.
After moving to New York 10 years ago, Shapiro began noticing the abundance of nails salons in the city. From just that observance, her curiosity eventually sparked the idea for the book.
“It got me thinking of like ‘when did this become such a compelling aspect of women’s beauty?’ I really didn’t think about it too deeply then, but I eventually went to graduate school at New York University for costume studies, and when I was thinking about writing my graduate thesis I found that no one had really treated it with any amount of seriousness,” Shapiro said.
Shapiro saw that manicures had a long and growing history, especially nail art, making it a realistic task to write the thesis leading into a book, when she started her research in 2008 by looking through archives of magazines like Vogue.
Wearing a manicure themed print crème dress, beige booties, and long oval-shaped white nails, Shapiro stood behind the podium entertaining the room of women while summarizing her book with a series of slides projected on the screen. A sense of bonding and joyful memories filled the room. Some laughed at the pictures that reminded them of their first manicure or what color their mother often wore.
“I have pictures, like my mom painted my nails when I was like two or three, but my professional manicure would have been high school. I have had polish on my nails everyday since I was in seventh grade,” 33-year-old teacher Kristin Roberts said.
“I would say I was probably about maybe twelve or thirteen. I used to do my own nails. I was obsessed. That’s how I got started with doing nails,” 31 year-old nail technician Jennifer Pyles said.
“Of course I recall my mother wearing the red nail polish of the 50’s, and even though she was a very hard worker as a stay at home mother, definitely made the effort to do her nails herself with the red color of the day,” 64 year-old videographer and member of ACI Diana Lamb said.
A common theme throughout the decades was that no matter what was going on, from wars to unstable economies, women found a way to continue having manicures, even if they had to do it themselves. It was a cheaper way to maintain their appearance.
“I think it’s a very pointy aspect of the manicure how it’s so often tied to our life passages and special occasions whether it’s proms and graduations or weddings or even births,” Shapiro said.
Within an hour, Shapiro finished her presentation to the sound of applause from all the women in the room who were inspired by her ultimate message about a women’s manicure.
“It’s been a way for women to define themselves as individuals and as members of their society. It’s something you can experiment with. You can try something new the next day because it’s not permanent. There is a rich history to women’s beautification rituals,” Shapiro said.