I'll Try Anything Once: French Manicure

The meteoric rise and tragic fall of a Sophisticated Look.
Publish date:
August 1, 2011
nails, manicures, fun, french manicures

Emily's post on Dolly Parton reminded me of why I love celebrity memoirs. Sometimes, there's no better self-help reading than the journey of someone you admire. (It's good to be reminded that even if you have a series of setbacks, you, too can have your own theme park and a line of wigs.) And after reading Dolly, Suze Orman, Judge Judy, Barbra Streisand and Ann-Margret in their own words, I've realized what they all have in common.French. Manicures.So I went into my favorite nail place and asked my beloved Rita to frost me, from mitts to dogs. She looked incredulous.

"Are you sure?" she asked. "It's a little--" and here she made claws with her hands. But I insisted.

Later, that night, over an appetizer platter at Applebee's (long story), my friend Lindsey hated on my elegance, specifically my pedicure, saying it looked like I had "creepy hand toes." A gentleman friend whom I sent a text of my feet (longer story!) texted back only, "Really?" So what gives? Why the hate? I knew that the French was a bit démodé, but I never realized it was something that would make waiters look at me like I was going to steal the silverware.The Wikipedia page for "french manicure" (yes, I did) is no help -- it's more about manicures in general and helpfully points out that dirty salons may give you a fungus. I like to think that Frenchies were invented as a way to keep the hands of industrial-revolution-era women looking clean when they were covered in factory grime -- a sort of hand merkin, if you will.

But ORLY cosmetics founder Jeff Pink has long claimed to have invented the look in 1975 and called it "French" for its immediate, stratospheric populatiry among the Parisian fashion elite (O RLY?). But here, in my mind, is the timeline of the popularity of the French manicure.

'80s: Everybody's FrenchingHaving unnaturally white tips is not only acceptable, it's ENCOURAGED. There's a reason every poster you see in your Pennsylvania-strip-mall-type-nail shop features a woman from the Stryper era with a French, perhaps gripping a rose. (I have a theory that it's the same lady you see on that gyro poster in every Greek diners and in most Duran Duran album art.)

I think I was five when my cousin told me that it "symbolized luxury" because it was like "dipping your hands in white chocolate." Chic, c'est la vie!'90s: TGIF (Thank God it's FRENCHMANICURED)Everybody from your Rah Diggas to your Camilla Parker Bowles to your Kate Beckinsales were Frenching. According to home-French mani kits, it looked great while eating strawberries, drinking champagne or drinking champagne with a strawberry floating in it. The girls were fly, and so was having pink talons capped with an unnaturally snowy meniscus of white.

I remember this especially being a "special occasion nails," like prom, or in anticipation of your insurance adjuster boyfriend presenting you with a marquis-cut engangement ring at a mall steakhouse.

Chunky highlights for your hair, chunky highlights for your hands!'00s: Anti-French Sentiment Takes HoldI remember this look being "OK" when I graduated high school and on into college, but I also grew up in Ohio and went to school in rural Vermont, where the preferred activity of the town's fancier young ladies was doing donuts in the parking lot of an Ames.

But it was the end of this decade when I feel like the look reaaaaaaaaally fell out of popularity. What happened? Was it an economic-based shift toward asthetic minimalism? French opposition to the invasion of Iraq (Freedom Manicure)?'10s: Total FrancophobiaYou pretty much only see these in porn. And on me, apparently. My sister thinks they look "strippery" and I admit that I tend to associate them with porn, but something about them just does it for me.Okay, guys... Discussion véridiques! (That's French for "real talk.) Is it time for a glorious renaissance of opalescent opulence? Should I adopt this look as a tribute to my power lesbian heroes of celebrity finance? Or should this trend stay among its regional devotees, Staten Island sushi restauant clientele?