Long before the likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed flaunted their painted nails on stage—encouraging men in counterculture scenes ‘round the globe to do the same—Ancient Babylonian soldiers spent hours primping and staining their nails before battle to strike fear into their enemies.
And as history often does, it’s currently repeating itself. Hollywood elites (Brad Pitt, Jared Leto and Zac Efron, chief among them) are wearing colorful nail polish to film festivals; pro skateboarders are donning sparkles on their digits in solidarity with their daughters; and MLB catchers are consistently sporting neon nail polish to draw more attention to their pitch calling.
Unsurprisingly, the industry has taken notice. YouTube star Joey Graceffa recently launched his own line of colorful lacquers with men in mind; Former, a men’s clothing brand, sells its own brand of “Premium Violence” nail polish online; and designer Marc Jacobs has created a hashtag called #malepolish for no obvious reason, which is now attached to thousands of posts across the web.
With all the hype surrounding nail polish for men, we decided to get our nails done at Olive and June in Beverly Hills, the most female-centric nail salon we could find in all of Los Angeles. Case in point: They offer packages named “The Emma” and “The Chrissy.” (We got “The June,” a classic mani-pedi with polish.)
Olive and June is everything you’d expect to find in a place designed to foster indulgence. The walls are the color of bone. Steam emanates from individual cups of tea. And a Jack Johnson-esque soundtrack wafts down from the ceiling.
Apart from the two young hostesses who greet us with smiles, the rest of the salon’s patrons — all women — look at us as though we’ve just walked into the wrong bathroom. Before sitting down, we’re instructed to a pick a color from a wall of nail polish that could double as an art installation. We choose black and crimson, respectively.
Over the next hour, Blanca, one of our nail technicians, tells us that on average she sees five men a day come into the salon. “Guys usually feel more comfortable coming in with their girlfriends,” she explains. “It usually offsets how girly the experience might feel.” As to whether she has a preference between working on a woman’s hands and feet or a guy’s: “Not really.”
She does tell us that guys’ feet are normally in better shape than women’s because they don’t wear open-toed shoes or high heels. “They’re less callused. The bottoms of their feet feel like babies’ feet.”
The nail salon experience is many things — relaxing, uplifting and at times claustrophobic, since you’re confined to your chair and you can’t use your hands or your feet. One unexpected facet of getting your nails done: You have no choice but to chat with the person to your right or left. Margot, a 25-year-old woman from Paris, who pulls out her phone to show the nail technician the design she’d like to get, tells us that she’s never seen men at a nail salon before moving to L.A. “In Paris, I tried to convince a few of my guy friends to come to the nail salon with me. None of them would. Here, my guy friends will beg to come with me, or they’ll go by themselves.”
After nearly an hour, the experience begins to test the limits of our patience. Cuticle prep aside, who knew that a beautiful set of nails requires a base coat, a secondary coat, a sealer coat and about 30 minutes of drying time in which you feel completely paralyzed?
Still, we agree it was well worth the wait.
The thing about being a guy wearing nail polish is that everyone notices. And, perhaps surprisingly, most were envious. “I’d paint my nails all the time if it weren’t for my service job,” says one admiring male friend. “The black nail polish complements your style,” another adds. And one of our girlfriends was definitely a fan: “The red nail polish amplifies your tattoos.”
A few, however, aren’t so impressed. “I just can’t get used to it,” one of our dads keeps repeating every time he catches a glimpse of the nail polish. “You’re not going to do this regularly, are you?” asks a family friend.
Regardless, the experience left us with an entirely new perspective on what it takes to look your best. Which is why as we sit down to write this, nearly a week after our day at the nail salon, the polish on our hands is still fully intact, borderline pristine. Only those who have taken the time and spent the money to get their nails manicured understand the frustration and agony behind the statement, “Damn it, I chipped a nail.”
As to whether we’ll do it again once that happens… why not?