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How To: Nail Art Trends of the Past

Our obsession with nail art goes way (way) back. How far? The ancient Babylonians used kohl to color their nails in 3000 BCE. Today, of course, all you need is a bottle of polish (OK, maybe a sprinkle of glitter too). In honor of this month’s heritage theme, we’re taking a look at the trends of yesteryear and updating them for 2013.

VICTORIAN VIRTUES

Then: In the mid- to late 1800s, Victorian society prioritized purity and simplicity. A respectable young woman simply wouldn’t have dared to sport colorful nails. Manicures were popular, but rather than pigmented polish, nails were buffed, brightened with lemon juice or vinegar, and treated with oils for a clean, sleek look.

Now: If your nails are stained yellow from consistently wearing dark or bright polish, that old-time staple, lemon juice, still does the trick. Mix with a little baking soda and scrub nails with an old toothbrush to brighten, then apply JULEP Essential Cuticle Oil for soft, moisturized tips that would please even the most rarified of Victorian ladies. Top it off with an elegant pastel lacquer (though even that would have had the Victorians clutching their pearls).

THE CULT OF COLOR

Then: When colorful car varnish became widely available in the 1920s, it did more than excite legions of road enthusiasts—it inspired French makeup artist Michelle Ménard to imitate the look on people’s nails. Before long, her high-gloss opaque lacquers took off, and bare nails fell by the wayside. Over the next decade, Revlon began using pigments instead of dyes to create nail polish that’s similar to what we use today. By the ‘50s, red topped everyone’s list, thanks to stars like Rita Hayworth, who kept her long nails decked in crimson.

Now: As much as we love bright blues and wild neons, you can’t beat a classic red. Channel old Hollywood glamour with tenoverten Carmine, Deborah Lippmann My Old Flame, or Ruffian Red.

THE (NOT SO FRENCH) FRENCH

Then: Up until the ‘70s, Hollywood makeup artists repainted actresses’ nails to match each costume change during a shoot. Film crews breathed a sigh of relief when Jeff Pink of Orly created the now-classic nude and white look to complement any outfit. After bringing it to the Paris runways, Pink dubbed it the French Manicure.

Now: An old-school French mani can look a bit dated, but a flash of unexpected color brings it into 2013. Start with a neutral base polish like Ruffian Naked. But rather than painting your tips white, choose a saturated shade like metallic purple Ruffian Delirium or bright orange Floss Gloss Fast Lane. Shaky hands? When your base coat is completely dry, use Scotch tape or binder reinforcement stickers as stencils.

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