I’ve always had a bit of a thing about painting my nails. There’s nothing quite like a quick file and a splash of polish to boost the old glamour stakes. Chic and understated. That’s my usual look. And for anyone even the slightest bit interested, I swear by Essie’s Pink Glove Service. When going out on the (vintage) town, however, screamingly loud, eye-poppingly bright red nails are the only way forward. A dash of OPI’s The Thrill of Brazil and I instantly feel like a 1940s screen siren.
Funny thing, this immediate association I seem to make between creating a vintage look and the colour red. No other colour’s ever got a look in. Red nails = vintage. Done. The more I research the matter, however, the more I’m assured by various historians, books and bloggers that the early days of nail varnish were by no means limited to the colour red (indeed there’s even talk of BLACK varnish having a bit of a moment in the thirties…). Despite this, red seems to be the the colour idellibly inked into my vintage varnish-wearing psyche and I will therefore continue to paint my nails in ‘The Thrill of Brazil’, ‘Fifth Avenue’, ‘Long Stem Roses’ ‘Jelly Apple’ and what ever other deliciously named red varnishes there are out there.
But if colour is not the be all and end all for the vintage nail, what else can we do to in pursuit of the ultimate vintage look?
Placement of colour
(for those well versed in the art of application)
When coloured varnish first hit the scene in the mid twenties, only the centre of the nail was painted. The white tips and half moons were left au naturelle. Achieving this look would have been a devil of a job for even the most steady-handed amongst us. There weren’t nearly so many nail bars about town in those days, either, so you couldn’t rely on a handy nail technician to do the job for you.
By the mid thirties, things had moved on (thank goodness) and women became content to leave just the half moons un-varnished. Still a bit of a bore if you ask me but hey ho, I suppose it was something to do whilst whiling away the evening hours….
Another factor to consider when aiming to create a authentic vintage nail is its shape. When we think of a classic nail shape today, most of us will immediately think of the oval. It’s a shape that I, for one, assumed to have been the staple for all of time before we got into this whole acrylic, french-manicured, squared-ended business in the late nineties. Not so, it seems. If you were after high glamour in the thirties and forties, there was only thing for it. Claws. That’s right. Sharp, pointy, watch-out-or-I’ll-poke-yer-eyes-out claws. Dangerous stuff, if you ask me.
It was the wonderful burlesque dancer extraordinaire, and vintage fashion queen, Miss Banbury Cross, who first brought the ‘claw’ to my attention. She currently sports a particularly lethal looking pair of talons which can be seen on her twitter account here. Whilst I don’t like them one jot, I have to admit, Banbury Cross seems to have got it bang on with the shape. Scanning through old advertisments that feature ladies’ hands, all the nails are of that wickedly pointed style.
And if you’re impressed by Banbury Cross, check out the bad boys on Joan Crawford below. Ouch!
So where are the pictures my half moon manicured, pointed finger-tips I hear you ask? Well, such nails aren’t really compatible with holding pens, typing, cycling, working, piano-ing, cooking, chopping, washing, dancing, sewing, eating, living, blah blah blah. Plus (and perhaps more to the point) even Joan Crawford can’t convince me that viciously pointed nails look particularly splendid. Sorry Joan.