Beyond Buffing: Men and Pedicures

Beyond Buffing: Men and Pedicures

It’s almost sandal season, so we’ll continue our musings on good-looking feet. We know many women love their pedicures, but what about men?  Do men get pedicures and paint their toenails?  Why yes, they do. There are quite a few blogs devoted specifically to free-spirited men who enjoy what is traditionally considered a female adornment. Let’s take a look at the history of nail polish to see just how far back men have been painting their nails.

Nail Polish through the Ages

Nail polish has a long and colorful history throughout the world. Here are just a few examples:


Nail coloring has been used for thousands of years by men and women. Although it is unclear where it originally came from, the Chinese were using nail color as early as 3000 BC. They used egg whites, beeswax, Arabic gum and flower petals to create the pigment used to dye nails. Different colors represented different social classes. During the Chou Dynasty (600 BC), for example, pastels were for the lower class, and gold and silver were the nail colors of male and female royalty. Over time, the fashionable colors for royal nails changed to red and black.


Around 3000 BC, Egyptian men and women were also painting their nails. A depiction of manicures and pedicures was found on a carving from an Egyptian pharaoh’s tomb. Queen Nefertiti, daughter-in-law of Tut-ankh-Amen was believed to paint her fingernails and toenails red, which represented the highest social class in ancient Egypt. Cleopatra’s nail color was made from the henna plant, which produced a deep rusty red shade. Red coloring on the nails was limited by a strict social code that stated only members of the higher classes could paint their nails red. Violation of the code was punishable by death.  Coloring the nails continued off and on for centuries throughout the Far East and Middle East. 

Europe and the United States

Through trade with the Middle East, nail coloring eventually reached Western countries.  Shiny nails can be seen in late 17th century European portraits.  During the Victorian era, nails were simply buffed and perhaps tinted with red oil.   In the 1920s, the French makeup artist Michelle Menard began to experiment with nail color using high-gloss car paint. She adapted the paint into a glossy lacquer that is close to modern nail polish. In 1932, Revlon developed her formula further by using pigments instead of dyes, and modern nail polish was born. Nail polish became very popular with actresses in the 1930’s, which in turn set the fashion for the general public. Because the polish was relatively inexpensive, everyone could afford it.  More recently, dark nail polish has been popular with men and women in the punk rock, grunge and Goth movements.  Although nail polish has improved over the years, modern nail polish hasn’t changed much from the original Revlon formula. Today, men and women can choose from a rainbow of colors and artwork for their toes.  

Thoroughly Modern Men

It’s become popular for men to indulge in beauty treatments such as pedicures, but I can’t pin down a date when this trend started.  A New York Times article entitled “Pedicure Soothes and Tingles, Leaving Manliness Intact” dates to April 8, 2006. In the article, journalist Harry Hurt III tells about his visit to the John Allan Club in Manhattan where he received his very first pedicure. He described it as a “religious experience,” which seems to be the consensus of many men who experience a professional pedicure. Men should take the same precautions as women when choosing a salon and pedicure practitioner.

As a society, we have come to accept both sexes adopting styles from each other (pierced ears, skin care regimens, cologne, massages). Is a man taking care of his feet and making them more attractive really any different?  It would appear from the blogs I’ve been reading that thousands of men delight in painting their toenails, and are proud of it. What do you think?












Patty Boyd, IPFH Roving Reporter

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