History is actually repeating itself: Men have been wearing nail polish since 3,200 B.C. Following an excavation of royal tombs at Ur of the Chaldees in southern Babylonia, it was reportedly discovered that most men during that era wore nail polish, with different colors signifying different classes. Made primarily with kohl, the darker the color, the higher the class of the man, from warriors to leaders. Lighter colors were reserved for lower class men. In fact, prior to battle, warriors would take hours to primp and paint their nails just so. In 3,000 B.C., it's said that in China, nail varnish — which was made from a mixture of egg whites, beeswax and gelatin — was reserved for people in the higher classes regardless of gender. In Egypt, people of all classes were encouraged to paint their nails, again with color denoting status. Members of the upper classes, including icons like Nefertiti and Cleopatra, tended to wear red made from plant extracts. There's little documentation of how nail polish turned into a specifically feminine expression as the years ticked on. What we do know is that by 1800s France, it was primarily women who would paint their nails to signify their own cleanliness. By the 1930s, companies like Revlon were marketing red and pink polishes directly to female customers.
The counterculture brought it back: Flash forward to the rise of counterculture in the United States and artists such as Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain, Lou Reed and David Bowie, all of whom were notable proponents of painting varnish on their nails. All the men above were rock stars, rebelling against the gender norms their elders obeyed. In Bowie's case, critics just didn't know what to do with his androgynous look, since rockers of the past had been forced into being extremely hyper-masculine, sexual figures. The same happened with Reed, who, when he painted his nails with Bowie, was described as "freaky."
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