On the 3/11 Sunday Advert, we showed “Manicures in the 1890’s,” and whilst conducting research, found that in its early years, starting circa 1925, nail paint/ polish/ varnish was applied in the “half-moon” style. Not only were the ‘moons’ near the cuticle not painted, but frequently, the tips were also left without color. See the example from Glazo from a June 1934 advert below.

Love the names of the colors offered: Natural, Shell, Flame, Geranium, Crimson, Mandarin Red and Colorless. Only 25 cents per bottle!

The marketing from Cutex says: “Are College Professors’ Wives Wearing the New Bright Cutex Nails?” again, from June 1934, accompanied by this photo:

Funny to see how much text or ad copy accompanies the piece in describing how to best wear the shades of polish they offer: “Natural… goes with all costumes, best with bright colors–red, purple, orange. Rose…is charming with pastel pink, lavender or blue frocks. Smart with dark green, black, brown. Coral…is lovely with white, pink, beige, gray, blue, brown and green gowns. Mauve…(new) striking with blues, beige, soft greens, gray, the new wheat and string shades. Cardinal…contrasts excitingly with frocks in black, white, pastels. Good with gray, beige, blue. Ruby…is a real red red you can wear with any costume.” Cutex Liquid polish sold for 35 cents per bottle.

This April 1932 advert is targeting ‘Debutantes’

The marketing psychology is fascinating and lengthy:

“The Popular Girl of 1932 is way past losing sleep over whether to wear her nails bright or pale. The deep question that every smart young thing today (and every smart old thing, too, for that matter!) is pondering, is which of five shades of nail polish is best to wear with which dress. Will she lure more men from the stag-line if she wears the white satin dress with Coral nails, or with Rose nails? Or the red crepe de chine with delicate Natural finger tips? Well–it’s a lovely game. and no great trick to win either, if you have any color sense and a little common sense. Besides, if you’re not bright enough to work it out for yourself, you can look up the answer in the chart on your right. But whatever you do, don’t be seen with the same color nails any more than you’d be seen with the same frock–7 nights in a row! In Other Words, one nail polish is n o longer enough…To be smart in any kind of youthful way, you’ve got to have at least two shades on your dressing table–a lighter one and a deeper one. And with color making your nails so much more important, you’ve also got to make a definite point of using a really flawless polish. These are known facts–that Cutex Liquid Polish not only dries in no time at all, but positively does not crack, peel or turn white, streak or fade, or strangely change its color under electric lights. And you’ll get solid comfort from the bakelite cap which wipes out the broken cork problem and keeps the brush (attached) neatly off the table top…”

The “color chart” for those “not bright enough”

What a fascinating look at the manipulation and messages of ‘not good enough’ that were being doled out to women 80 years ago. The more things change, the more they stay the same? Hmm. Ladies, how do you feel about this marketing message?

And as a side note, after living in the UK, I prefer to use the term nail varnish rather than polish. And I wonder if historically the US always used ‘polish’ versus the UK’s ‘varnish’?

One response to “Ladies Lounge: Manicures of the early 20th Century”

  1. Julia Rutland says:

    I LOVE this!!!!!

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