The rise of the male manicure

As Hollywood has come to embrace androgyny, male-centered beauty trends from the “man-icure” to “guyliner,” have become increasingly common. Harry Styles’ black and teal manicure at the 2019 Met Gala and Machine Gun Kelly’s stiletto press-on nails at the 2021 iHeart Radio Music Awards demonstrate a societal shift away from gender stereotypes in beauty. But the concept of men wearing makeup or nail polish isn’t brand new. 

The male manicure was once associated with rock and roll and punk, as nail polish became another accessory for stars like David Bowie in the ‘70s and Kurt Cobain, who was one of many musicians who sported chipped black nail polish in the ‘90s. 

Now, mainstream artists and influencers like MGK, Lil Yachty and TikTok star-turned-singer Lil Huddy are not only starting to wear nail polish regularly, but they’re also launching their own nail products. As such, the reach of the man-icure has expanded beyond the stage and onto the everyman’s nail beds. 

“Our customers seeing other men come in and getting services and being comfortable has normalized it for others,” said Rachel Apfel, founder of Glosslab, a “unisex,” membership-based nail salon. Matt James of “The Bachelor” is a regular. As the lines between “things that are traditionally ‘female,’ as opposed to ‘male’” have blurred, it’s become evident that “nail design is for both,” said Apfel. 

For Aidan Taylor, a third-year undergraduate student at NYU, this statement rings true. Taylor’s first dip into the nail polish pool was in 2019. “[My friend] painted [my nails] a sparkly blue color,” he said. While Taylor, subsequently, took a hiatus from nail polish, he was inspired to pick the brush back up when he saw Lil Huddy wear “reds and blacks” on his nails in 2021. He decided to do the same.

Huddy’s collaboration with Glamnetic, a beauty startup known for its magnetic false eyelashes and press-on nails, consists of 10 gel nail sticker sets featuring patterns that match his e-boy persona. They include skull and spider motifs in black, red, and purple. The collection was released in August 2021 on glamnetic.com. 

Similarly, Joe Steele, a mechanical engineering student at Prairie View A&M University in Texas, tried his hand at the manicure at his “friend’s little sister’s lemonade stand,” which also included a “nail polish stand,” said Steele. He chose to alternate black and blue polishes, leaving two nails on each hand blank, he said. “[The nail polish] was a little weird, but then I [thought], I sort of dig it,” he said. “I got interested in it because I like to listen to music, and one of my favorite artists is hip-hop artist Lil Yachty — he actually [launched] his own nail polish brand.” 

That brand, Crete, which launched this May, says on its website that it is“redefining the perceptions around gender norms and working towards breaking free from societal boundaries.” In contrast to the typical glass bottles seen in the aisles of CVS, its black, white and grey “nail paints” are encased within Crete’s “signature nail pen,” for easier application of the product. Since its launch, Lil Yachty has released two more collections, Heatwave 002 and Glow 003. Together, they include red, orange, purple, blue and green nail polish, as well as stickers with patterns that include butterflies, smiley faces and lightning bolts.

In addition to Huddy, MGK and Yachty, Paul Jason Klein of LANY, an alternative-pop-rock group, has also been known to sport manicured nails in his social media posts. Meanwhile, Joe Jonas was seen sporting a blue and white manicure on the Jonas Brothers’ “Remember This Tour.” The look was created with Morgan Taylor Nail Lacquer by celebrity nail artist Julie Kandalec. 

Although the gender-bending beauty trend has a history of being adopted by musicians, it’s also being embraced by the skateboarding community. “I have some friends who skate, and a lot of people who are at the skate parks wear nail polish,“ said Steele. “Everybody’s a lot more creative and a lot more self-confident, where they don’t care how people view them and if nail polish takes upon a certain gender role or not.”

Taylor called the trend “an L.A., New York type of vibe.” He added, [In coastal cities, men are more comfortable experimenting with fashion, with jewelry, with earrings, with clothing — being less of the strict, male-female [stereotypes of] what we’re supposed to do.”

But as Glosslab expands, and as an increasing number of nail polish collections catered toward men and a unisex consumer audience become available, perhaps the trend will spread further. Apfel, for her part, is planning to open Glosslab locations in territory unfamiliar to the NYC-based nail salon: suburbia. “Our first suburb locations are opening this fall,” she said. In addition to its three locations in New York City, Glosslab is opening four additional locations across the city as well as in Miami and Westport, Connecticut. 

“Overall, as a trend — at the baseline, beyond the design — nails are something for basic self-care,” said Apfel. “To take care of your nails and your cuticles and keep them clean, it’s just as much something for men [as it is] for women.”

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