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February 25, 2012 5:14 AM   Subscribe

How and when did manicure rituals begin? I understand anyone might want to trim their nails, but I mean the rest of it.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think french manicures are meant to hide dirt under the nails. I think the rest of the stuff is to make it look like you have never had to do manual labor that could have damaged your nails or cuticles.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:42 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

History of Nail Care
posted by Ideefixe at 7:42 AM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can't find any really good primary type sources, but this source claims 5000 years ago in India and shows an Egyptian hieroglyph type thing that appears to show both finger and toenail care that would possibly place those activities as occurring at least 2-3-4000 years ago in Egypt.

My guess is that as soon as humans were using tools to trim or take care of their nails, they would have almost instantly starting using those same tools to enhance their looks and/or beauty of the nails, maybe prepare them in certain ways for combat, rituals, social gatherings, to impress people, attract sexual partners, and and all the other things that humans do where looks might make a difference. There is a long human history of arranging hair, skin, faces, etc etc etc to make them look a certain way for social, ritual, and practical reasons and care and decoration of both finger and toenails is so similar that they are almost certain to fit into that same category.
posted by flug at 12:15 PM on February 25, 2012

This book, page 71 bottom, mentions the discovery of a gold manicure instrument in an Egyptian tomb dating to the Old Kingdom (so approx. 2000-3000 BC).

This book has some info about different nail care regimens throughout history (search for "manicure" and "nail").

Milady's Standard Nail Technology is a textbook that gives a quick rundown of historical practices in nail care in a few different cultures, starting on page 4 (or search for the word "history").
posted by flug at 12:39 PM on February 25, 2012

I have a strong sense that nail polish/coloring goes back a very long time, and across cultures. I have a distinctive memory of reading a book as a child which was either set substantially in the past/not in Western culture/both, and in which the protagonist, a young girl, has her nails colored by having small balls of colored paste (made from crushed flowers?) placed on her nails, then tied over with [strips of banana leaf?]. She had to hold her fingers wide apart and be very careful not to move her hands while sleeping, so that in the morning the little paste/leaf bundles can be removed, and her fingernails will have been colored a deep, pretty pink. I cannot, however, for the life of me remember what the book was, and Google is failing me. Perhaps someone else remembers? This doesn't answer your question directly, I realize, but it does speak to a literary record of nail care (if I can manage to remember the source, or if someone can beat me to it.)
posted by collectallfour at 1:38 PM on February 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think collectallfour is referring to the practice of coloring nails with henna?
posted by amileighs at 6:42 AM on February 26, 2012

Response by poster: These have all been very helpful, folks! However, none of the sources explained *why* people became obsessed with messing with their cuticles.
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 6:46 PM on February 26, 2012

You might be best served by looking into some Anthropology if you are looking for the "why."
I only vaguely remember some stuff about this but in some societies growing long nails and keeping them in good shape is a sign that you are leisure and not working class (you don't have to do a lot of hard work with your hands).
Hands are also the most social and outward part of your body other than your face, and the part that interacts with people the most, so making your hands and nails look inviting and nice extends to the rest of you.
posted by rmless at 9:30 AM on February 27, 2012

However, none of the sources explained *why* people became obsessed with messing with their cuticles

Have you had a hangnail? Or had a ragged nail catch on something and tear into the quick?

Paint is one thing. Trimming and shaping has a pretty simple purpose.

Also, FWIW, the contemporary French manicure with white paint is not the original way - in the teens and twenties a French manicure had the half-moons and tips buffed with chalk under the tips. If there was any paint, it was below the half moons and above the tips. At least according to magazines of those decades.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 11:02 AM on February 27, 2012

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