This kind of nail-painting harks to a different culture than done-up drag queens or expressions of queer identity. We're talking men across the identity spectrum flaunting their manicured fingers in public.
The newly resurrected trend has been pretty popular among urban, creative youth, especially within New York City. Men have sported nail polish in the past as signifiers of certain sub cultures--goths and emo kids have all painted their feelings on their nails. But this practice isn't a statement, nor is it a throwback to the "Queer Eye" era of metrosexual hyper-grooming. Its most recognizable influence and practitioner is early-'00s Carson Daly, nonchalantly sporting black nail polish as he hosted TRL.
We talked to some modern guys with pretty paws (potential new Instagram account?) about why they started painting their nails, what it means to them, and the different reactions (and non-reactions) they've gotten.
Sam (New York)
How did painting your nails start?
When I started painting my nails, I was sort of trying to emulate artists I liked and people I was close with because I thought their nails looked cool and I admired how these guys didn't care about doing something "unusual." At a point, I just went to Duane Reade and bought a $3 bottle of some really shitty, gross yellow polish that I actually quite liked and put it on, and it felt awesome.
Why do you do it?
I felt like I was able to express myself without worrying about what other people think, and so after that I started trying out different colors and experimenting and making it my own thing. I feel great to be able to express myself in a new way and to be comfortable enough to experiment with something different.
When and how did you start painting your nails?
It started 2 years ago when I went to my friend's apartment and he had his nails painted. I thought that it looked sick, so I asked to borrow some polish.
Is there a typical reaction you get from people to your nails?
Every now and then I'll have some guy at a party come up to me, pointing at my nails and calling me a "faggot." I really couldn't care less what some drunk idiot thinks about me.
The worst reaction I got was actually on set (I work as a camera operator). My friend (the one who had his nails painted first) and I were working on set together, and the make-up artist noticed we both had painted nails and kind of called us out on it. When she asked for the reason why, we both shrugged our shoulders and didn't really have a good reason. She then went on about how she would never date a guy who painted their nails, that whoever she's dating needs to be a manly man, and she's attracted to men and he needs to do manly things blah, blah, blah. I think she's still single actually...
How often are your nails painted?
I paint them pretty often. It's pretty much whenever I feel like it. If I have nail polish I'll paint them, if I don't have nail polish I don't. In certain situations, like before family gatherings, my mom will call me and say, "Just do me a favor and take the nail polish off for one night." Sometimes they have the ability to create a heated discussion, so I'll try to avoid that. Plus, I love my mom, so if she's telling me to do something there's probably a good reason--or a highly opinionated uncle she's trying to save me from.
Why do you paint your nails? When did it start?
I paint my nails because I like the smell of nail polish. It started when I was a junior in high school. Someone painted them and I liked it.
How do people you know react to your painted nails? Any negative reactions?
People's reaction to it really depends, but some people judge, obviously, because we live in a constructed society that is afraid of gender fluidity.
My dad has asked me if I was gay, which isn't a bad thing, but annoying.
How often are your nails painted?
There's not a specific time or place. I just paint my nails whenever I feel like it.
Why do you paint your nails?
I paint my nails because I think it's fun. It makes everything a little more exciting. The flash of color as my hands move through the air always makes me smile. It's like little fireworks at the ends of my fingers. Plus, every time I paint my nails I'm a little closer to mastering a deceptively difficult skill and that is rewarding as well. I admit a part of me loves the attention I get for being a man with painted nails, and turning heads was definitely part of the reason I started painting my nails in the first place, but I've found that is no longer as compelling to me. Now I just like looking down at my hands and feeling that sense of accomplishment at a job well done.