Nail polish and the lipstick effect: Wild nail art goes mainstream.

I took my daughter for her first pedicure a couple of weeks ago, and she was enraptured with the entire process. She preened as she sat in the cushy pedicure massage chair. She loved the the pretty-smelling lotion that was rubbed onto her feet. Even the tiny little brush used to apply daisies to her toes fascinated her. But she was the most impressed by the overwhelming display of polish colors available for her to choose. From vivid blues to bright yellows and shimmering greens, they gleamed like jewels from the display case.

It seems that nail art has taken on a life of its own. While I have never hid from bold color on my own toes, it doesn't seem like that long ago when green polish was reserved for Christmas. In the 1980's neon-hued polish colors were all the rage, and Cover Girl churned out those crackle glazes that OPI is doing now. In the nineties, there was a brief resurgence of wild nail polish colors. During the summer of 1996, the most popular nail polish color of teenage girls was robin egg blue. From Wikipedia:

"The company's first product was nail polish that Dineh (founder of cosmetics brand Hard Candy) mixed herself - a shade of baby blue named "Sky" to match her Charles David sandals. After receiving scores of compliments on the unique shade, Dineh began selling it at Fred Segal in Santa Monica, and her partner Ben began selling to many other top retailers including Nordstroms. In that same year, actress Alicia Silverstone appeared on Late Night with David Letterman and, when asked about her pastel blue fingernails, replied, "It's 'Sky' by Hard Candy," causing an overnight explosion of the brand. Dineh appeared on segments of MTV House of Style program several times. A mere 18 months later the brand was quoted as generating $10 million a year in a Forbes ad featuring Dineh."

However, the current popularity of nail art is far more complex and trend driven. There are blogs such as For Your Nails Only and Hey, Nice Nails completely devoted to showcasing the latest color and style trends. Limited edition designer polish collections, such as those by Chanel, sell out almost the moment they hit cosmetic counters. And celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Rhianna, and Beyonce have been responsible for the popularity of both nail designs and shapes (Gaga's pointed talons, anyone?)

During times of economic uncertainty, women load up on affordable luxuries as a substitute for more expensive items like clothing and jewelry. This trend is known as the Lipstick Effect - a phrase coined by Leonard Lauder, Chairman of Estee Lauder, who saw a huge jump in lipstick sales after September 11th. A Chanel handbag may be out of your financial reach, but a Chanel nail polish is a budget friendly way to bring that brand into your wardrobe. As designers incorporated eye-catching polish colors into their runway shows, nails have become both an accessory and an inexpensive way to include color trends of the season into your wardrobe. The price tag on those Fendi color-block shoes you've been coveting may make your wallet cry, but buying blue and orange lacquers to color-block your nails is within everyone's price range.

Companies are well aware of the economic benefits to be gained during stressful times. In 2008, when the economic downtown began to make a real mark, several cosmetics companies introduced new lines to take advantage of the 'lipstick effect.' Balm, a lip gloss brand, included lipsticks in their line for the first time. DuWop cosmetics introduced Prime Venom, a cousin to the already best-selling Lip Venom, a matte plumper designed to be worn under lipstick. The product's sales doubled that of the original version within the first few months of launch. When financial times are tough, color lifts your spirits.

The popularity of nail art can also be traced to the tremendous growth of nails as an industry. The number of nail salons nationwide doubled between 1997 and 2007. Any kind of professional beauty treatment was once a luxury reserved for the upper- and upper-middle classes only, but now anybody who has $10 and 15 minutes can get a manicure. (Bikini waxing took off in the late 1990s and early 2000s for the same reason, with an assist from "Sex and the City.") Just as any beauty industry seeks to create trends, the business of nails has to make women feel a need to change their colors frequently, and to pay attention to nail art.

For this reason, nail polish companies like O.P.I., Sally Hansen and Essie partner up with designers to create new colors for each fashion week (such as Jason Wu and CND.) Nails have become one more thing for fashion magazines and blogs to photograph and report on. Today, sales of nail polish have soared by 54 per cent in the past year, according to market researcher the NPD Group.

Have you jumped on the nail art trend? What polishes or styles have you experimented with? What are your favorite polish brands and colors? Leave a link in the comments if you've blogged your creative nail look!


  1. while im currently sporting naked nails, i love nail art and bold polishes. i think affordability has a lot to do with it. also, unlike clothing, nail polish ALWAYS fits. and with stamps, stickers, and how-to tutorials, looks that i used to imagine necessitating a high skill-level are now attainable to anyone who cares to try.
    for me, the real key is know when to stop so as to keep from looking TOO whackadoo.

  2. I used to have the time and money to get gel tips done monthly. Now, I can just afford a basic manicure - but it's so much fun to change colors at home twice a week!

    I used to love OPI, but I've switched to Essie because it goes on easier. They also makes a quick-dry top coat called 'Good to Go' that dries really fast! I'm in love with their Mezmerized (blue) and Geranium (coral red).

  3. I'm mad about nail art :) im currently sporting dalmation print ones a la Topshop Unique aw11 :)

  4. My harping fingernails are too short to look nice in polish but I keep my tootsies polished up. Makes my feel good!

  5. I've definitely jumped on the nail art bandwagon! I think my fascination with nail polish comes from the fact that I wasn't allowed to use makeup (including nail polish) until I was 16, so it was like this forbidden treat and once I was allowed I just went crazy! I love painting my nails and trying various DIY nail tutorials at home. I've amassed quite the collection- I just counted the other day out of curiosity and I have more than 65 polishes! haha I feel really strange when my nails are bare and having pretty nails can really improve my mood :) I've done a post on my nails here and I recently did these pink glittery tips!

    Thanks for writing such an interesting post! I definitely learning something new- I'd never heard of the lipstick effect before!

    star-crossed smile

  6. Totally into nail art! ^^ Coastalharp, my nails are SHORT but I don't care!

  7. I haven't tried nail art yet. As of about a year ago, I'd never worn anything on my nails but some shade of pink and even that was rare. I thought I was brave trying blues and silvers, but all the patterns out now make me still look tame. I'll catch up someday.

  8. i am a polish-a-holic but i don't do much nail art other than crackle and sally hansen salon effects

  9. I'm a nail art freak! haha love learning about the history :)


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