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Nails Story of the Modern Manicure – Book Review & Polish

My first book review! This is “Nails – The Story of the Modern Manicure” from Prestel Publishing. Written by Suzanne E. Shapiro, a self proclaimed “fashion historian” she was drawn to the subject of nails when she moved to Brooklyn, New York. She noticed that there were a lot of nail salons and started to take an interest in not only the history of the manicure, but her own manicure history as well.

Nails Story of the Modern Manicure

Nails – The Story of the Modern Manicure Book Review

Nails covers 3,000 years of nails, detailing antiquity up through today. Each main chapter is dedicated to a certain era or decade. Here is a full outline of the chapters:

  • Introduction
  • Natural Beauty and Sophisticated Shine – Antiquity through the 19th century
  • The Rose-Colored Rebellion – 1900’s through the 1920’s
  • Starlets, Scarlets, and Defiant Glamour – 1930’s through the 1940’s
  • Reigning Red and the Pale Nail Revolution – 1950’s through the 1960’s
  • Flamboyant Fingertips and Professional Polish – 1970’s through the 1980’s
  • Adornment Unlimited – 1990’s through Today
  • Photo Essays: Runway Nails, Nail Polish Factory, Urban Nail Salon, Quinceanera Nails, Hipster Nails, and Tokyo Nail Expo
  • End Stuff – Notes, Further Reading, Acknowledgments, Reproduction Credits

My favorite part of the book is for sure the many colorful illustrations and playful captions that went along with each picture. I always like cheeky 😉 The entire last section of the books is filled with photo essays with tons of the best of the best nail art eye candy. One note however, I’m very picky about writing styles and this was not my favorite. I found the sentence structure to be a bit overcomplicated for the subject matter – but the facts are fascinating and most were new to me, I learned a lot!

Fun Nail Facts

  • A foot doctor named Sitts created the first real modern nail care. He created the orange stick so that women no longer had to resort to acids or metals to care for their nails – how harsh!
  • The first American nail manicurist, Mary E. Cobb, opened “Mrs. Pray’s Manicure” in 1878 – the first nail salon in Manhattan, New York.
  • The first diamond pierced nails were spotted on an American dancer named “Titenia” in 1899 – vintage bling!
  • In 1924 Cutex and Glazo made the first colored nail polishes – in a rose shade.
  • Nail polish caught on to consumers QUICKLY – by the 1930’s there were platinum tips, the moon manicure, nails to match your outfit and 85% of American women wore polish!
  • DIY beauty was most likely pioneered by the women of the great depression – they learned to do their own hair and nails when times were hard.
  • Nail art as we know it today became popular by the 1970s, especially popular with celebrities, such as Cher.
  • Japanese had traditionally gravitated toward simple nails until seeing the nail art of Californians in the 1970s.
  • The brand Hard Candy was launched off the color “Sky” a pale baby-blue color the founder, Dineh Mojaher, mixed to match her sandals which she in turn received a lot of compliments on.

Favorite Quotes

  • “The impulse to go above and beyond the norm has always spoken to create personalities who see a tiny canvas in the nail’s surface”.
  • “And when I die, I want my nails to be colored crimson red.” – Sachiko Nakasone (founder of the NSJ Nail Academy)
  • “For many, beautifully manicured nails mark life’s special occasions: proms, graduations, and weddings, not to mention the annual holiday cycle.”

Overall I really enjoyed this book. The photography and illustrations are amazing all the way through from the cover to the photo essays at the end. Any true nail nerd will love learning about all the amazing twists and turns that lead women from shaping their nails with acid to today’s diverse world of DIY nail art and over-the-top nail bars. Get your own copy on Amazon today.

Want to know more about the author, Suzanne E. Shapiro? Here are interviews and more information:

Find Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure

Buy on AmazonBuy on Barnes & NobleFacebookWeb

Purchase from these retailers (many have online stores – direct links given):

Other Blogger’s Reviews

Opi Switchboard Starlet

The exclusive Opi polish, “Switchboard Starlet” was made just for the books release. It’s a very pretty coral-red color that is a semi-sheer polish. The little tag attached to the neck of bottle reads: “A semi-sheer tribute to the first nail-painting women. Read Nails: The Story of the Modern Manicure by Suzanne E. Shapiro for decades of fingertip inspiration!” I thought there was nothing better than a splatter manicure to say “modern” and to show off the dimensionality of the semi-sheer polish. I think it looks like sugary sweet candy, or maybe modern art?

Nails Story of the Modern Manicure Bottle

Nails Story of the Modern Manicure

Nails Story of the Modern Manicure Side View

Modern Manicure Splatter Nail Art – Get The Look

For this look I used:

  • Sinful Colors – Unicorn
  • Sinful Colors – Mardi Gras (sinful shine)
  • Opi – Switchboard Starlet
  • Tiny black coffee straw
  • Seche Vite – Dry Fast Top Coat

Press Sample


  1. I have this on my wishlist for so long but hestitate to buy it xD
    It looks really cool, thank you so much for the review! I am quite picky about the writing style as well but since it’s in English, which isn’t my first language, I guess it shouldn’t bother me much xD But glad you’ve mentioned it!

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