Welcome to our column “Hey, Quick Question,” where we investigate seemingly random happenings in the fashion and beauty industries. Enjoy!
In a recent Instagram live takeover for Calvin Klein, Machine Gun Kelly and Pete Davidson sat side-by-side at a nail salon, chatting about various guy stuff as they got their nails done. Like a lot of things that happened in 2021, if you’d strung the words “Machine Gun Kelly,” “Pete Davidson,” “manicures,” and “Instagram takeover” together a few years ago, we would have had a lot of follow-up questions. (And, to be honest, there are still a few loose ends we’d love tied up.) But something that made perfect sense? These two very famous celebrities, and their mutual love of manicures.
Just a few weeks ago, Machine Gun Kelly (aka Colson Baker) released his own line of nail polish, Un/dn Laqr. The line launched with 10 lacquers with names like “Mary Jane” and “Slippery When Wet,” all touted as genderless. MGK’s star has risen to new heights in the last year, thanks to a high-profile relationship with Megan Fox, a new album and a burgeoning acting career. And he’s rarely (if ever) spotted without an over-the-top manicure. So why not capitalize? The polishes quickly sold out after their first drop.
According to Los Angeles-based celebrity manicurist Brittney Boyce, who works with both MGK and Fox (she’s responsible for their recent headline-making chained-together look), the musician is extremely invested in his nail looks. “He’s always been into nails and we really got to step up his nail game together,” says Boyce. And like any good style partnership, their looks are fully collaborative. “Sometimes I’ll come up with an idea that I think would be so cool for him. Other times, he’ll share an idea he has and I’ll work with him to bring it to life,” explains Boyce.
In addition to MGK, Boyce has worked with celebrities like Travis Barker and his son Landon, the DJ Kayzo and TikToker Jaden Hosslor. She says she’s seen a shift, not just in who is getting their nails done, but how they’re getting them done, too. “There is definitely a noticeable uptick in male celebrities getting professional manicures with nail colors and even nail art,” says the nail pro. “Men have been doing their nails for a long time, but for photoshoots and whatnot, a lot of men wanted just bare, groomed hands. Now more men are open to expressing their creativity on their nails, adding cool designs or fun colors, and having fun with it.”
New York City-based celebrity manicurist Julie Kandalec, who has also worked with both MGK and Davidson, as well as Maluma and Joe Jonas, agrees that men are indeed getting more manicures, telling Fashionista that even “in just the fall and winter it’s grown so much.” And Los Angeles-based nail artist Tuguldur Erdenejargal (known as @nailboii) adds, “Especially for cis straight men, it’s increasing a lot. It is becoming more normalized — people want to get manicures.”
There’s no denying that MGK, along with the likes of Harry Styles, A$AP Rocky, Joe Jonas and Jason Momoa have ushered in a new era of men — well, famous cis men — wearing manicures. And if the sales say anything, the trend is only on the rise. A rep for the shopping app Klarna tells Fashionista that the number of manicure kits on wish lists has increased by 251% since October 2020, and of those saving nail products to their wish lists on the app, 10% are men. So while celebrity men have been making their way into the beauty biz for years (see: Pharrell’s Humarace skin-care line, David Beckham’s House 99 grooming collection), nail care has quickly emerged as an untapped market.
So it should come as no surprise that MGK isn’t the only guy to get into the nail game. Lil’ Yachty launched Crete, a line of polishes, earlier this year (although he’s reportedly already left the brand). And Styles — who is rarely seen without manicured fingertips — released his new beauty line, Pleasing, in November. The line launched with six products, including four nail polishes.
According to the brand, “Pleasing’s mission is to bring joyful experiences and products that excite the senses and blur the boundaries.”
Given the interest around men and their nails, it’s unsurprising that legacy brands are paying more attention, too. Jonathan Van Ness was Essie’s first non-female brand ambassador in 2019, and Orly has plans to follow suit in the near future.
“We’re actually working on an exciting limited edition collection full of rich, heavily pigmented shades with a prominent male personality,” Tal Pink, Orly’s vice president of business development tells Fashionista. And the numbers don’t lie: “Based on ecommerce analytics provided, we found a 20% increase in purchases from those identified by the analytics provider as male in 2021, compared to the same period in 2020, and almost double comparing 2021 to 2019,” says Pink, who adds that the brand has seen a “marked increase” in nail swatchers interacting with the brand on YouTube who identify as male.
Of course, men in nail polish is hardly a new concept. David Bowie wore blue nails during his Ziggy Stardust era. Dennis Rodman wore painted nails on and off the court. Even Carson Daly was known to wear black polish during his “TRL” days. And notably, the movement has direct roots to the queer and drag communities, many members of which have worn nail polish at their own peril throughout history. As recently as 2020, a Texas teen was kicked out of school for wearing nail art, prompting nationwide attention.
Just a decade ago, there was a controversy surrounding a J.Crew ad that featured then creative director Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toenails bright pink. “Lucky for me I ended up with a boy whose favorite color is pink. Toenail painting is way more fun in neon,” read the caption. Harmless fun, right? For some, it was seen as gender propaganda — and it prompted an uproar from some customers (and Fox News). “This is a dramatic example of the way that our culture is being encouraged to abandon all trappings of gender identity,” wrote psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow in a (deeply problematic) foxnews.com column criticizing the ad.
It begs the question: Why, in 2021, does the world finally seem ready to embrace men wearing nail polish? For one, TikTok’s love of beauty — and Gen Z’s love of TikTok — has fueled the industry across all genders. (In fact, TikTok star Lil Huddy also entered the nail game with a Glamnetic collab this year as well.) But there are larger elements at play, too: “I think that with everything that happened last year, it changed so much in beauty,” Kandelec posits, referring to both the pandemic as well as the Black Lives Matter protests. “Everyone is just being like, who cares? I’m going to wear polish, I’m gonna be me. It doesn’t have to be a [gendered] thing, it’s art.”
Boyce theorizes that nails are simply an extension of the overall direction fashion has been moving. “In general, if you look at red carpet moments in the past two to three years, you can see that fashion and entertainment are using these big moments to show that outdated gendered rules are obsolete,” she says. You see Billy Porter in gorgeous gowns, Harry Styles in heels and Eugene Lee Yang in gorgeous makeup and heels while wearing a suit for Met Gala.”
Meanwhile, Erdenejargal sees the democratization of nails as simply another way to accessorize. “It’s kind of like jewelry. Nail care has no gender,” he says. And the nail artist is all for celebs helping to lead the charge in terms of creating a more open-minded approach to manicures for all genders. “It’s helping change the mind of the general public. When celebrities start doing something, people start thinking it’s a ‘normal’ and ‘cool’ thing,” says the pro, adding, “I’m obsessed with Machine Gun Kelly’s nails. One day I would love to do his nails.”
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