The increasing rejection of gender roles and stereotypes, and the rise of gender fluidity, especially in fashion, have also helped destigmatise men wearing nail polish. The number of male clientele at nail salons in the US and Europe is increasing every year.
Although male manicures remain slightly taboo in Asia, the demand for them is growing, thanks to the influence of C-pop/K-pop style and TikTok. The hashtag #guyswithnailpolish on the video sharing app has reached 1.5 million views, while #boyswithnailpolish has garnered a million views. Painted nails are also a common attribute of the e-boy fashion style that TikTok made popular.
Shanghai-based nail salon Tipsy Tips, estimates that over half of its clients are young men. While the co-owner of Hong Kong nail salon Tinted, Carroll Lee, said, “We wouldn’t say that it’s mainstream yet, but among the more adventurous and creative communities, we’ve seen an increase in demand.”
With more and more men becoming viable nail product consumers, the nail industry must be quick to leverage the vast market potential this new audience can bring. Given there are still few nail products or services specific to men only, early adopters can easily fill in the gaps.
Hollywood leads the push against societal norms
Male manicures were often previously regarded as a sign of rebellion in punk fashion. They have taken on a new meaning since the days of ’80s rock stars and their chipped black-polished nails.
Rapper A$AP Rocky, known as a fashion leader in his own right, has never been shy about his love of nail art and was among the first public figures to wear it often, especially in the masculine-dominated world of hip hop. In a recent interview, the rapper said, “I feel like men should be able to do nail art without feeling feminine.” His influence has paved the way for the younger generation of rappers to dress more freely, without adhering to traditional gender expectations.
“The rappers that I listen to who sing about guns, cars, and women are now into non-stereotypical things, such as painting their nails,” said Ija Imson, a 26-year-old sports trader from the Philippines who began wearing nail polish due to A$AP Rocky.
Among A$AP’s disciples is Puerto Rican superstar Bad Bunny. The rapper is one of the few straight celebrities who openly advocates for gender equality and the queer community in Spanish-speaking entertainment.
His bold style, combined with his outspoken attitude towards gender, has made a positive impression on his community and his fans. “I’m not telling people, ‘Hey, paint your nails or colour your hair, do this or do that,’ ” the rapper explained. “I’m simply saying do what makes you happy and never limit yourself.”
Another artist who is shattering traditional male stereotypes is Harry Styles. The pop star, who is now the face of gender-fluid fashion, turned heads when he debuted his colourful digits as the co-chair of the Met Gala in 2019. Since then, Styles has continued to push the boundaries of male fashion and was even the first man to grace the cover of Vogue alone, wearing a dress.
The ‘man-icure’ is not just limited to the West. Chinese and Korean celebrities are helping to drive the trend in Asia, too. BTS’ J-Hope, G-Dragon and Zhou Zhennan are just some of Asia’s biggest names who wear nail polish regularly.
How influence evolves into dollars
While many choose to wear nail polish, some male celebrities have also chosen to capitalise on the trend. Rapper Machine Gun Kelly announced in April that he would be entering the beauty world with his own line of unisex nail polish called UN/DN, in collaboration with Unlisted Brand Lab. Industry insiders say Harry Styles is working on a similar nail-related product, now that news of him filing a trademark for a beauty company has made headlines.
Longtime South Korean boy band Super Junior also collaborated with Kiss New York on special-edition designs of its Press & Go nail line for the group’s 15th anniversary. Their collaboration marks the first time an all-male group has represented the brand in Asia.
Beauty heavyweights are taking this trend seriously, too. Just last year, Chanel launched a collection of nail varnishes for men under its Boy de Chanel beauty line, although it currently includes only two colours – matte black and a clear polish. Mass-market beauty brand Zoya has also added a men’s starter manicure kit to its offering, marketed as promoting stronger and healthier nails.
Nail salon owners hope all this buzz surrounding male nail art will usher in new customers. Fellow co-owner of Hong Kong’s Tinted nail salon, Carmen Lau, said, “Seeing big celebs doing it definitely makes it less taboo, but we are also seeing more posts on social media, so there is definitely more inspiration, and a growing community of men who want to share their love of nail art.”
A nail salon in New York is marketing male manicures as a form a self-care, even designating Mondays as “Menicure Monday” to grow its male customer base. The salon is also encouraging couples to come in; every girl who brings in a male customer will receive a discount, too.
Taking male beauty beyond limits
As society continues to cross the threshold of gendered fashion, many perceive this trend as a sign that everything within male and female style will merge.
Reality shows, however, that this future is still far from reach. Last year, a 17-year-old male student in Texas was suspended for wearing nail polish to school despite it being allowed for female students. China’s latest ban on effeminate men in broadcasting indicates we are nowhere near a non-binary utopia.
While Gen Z is convinced wearing nail polish has nothing to do with sexuality, getting the wider society to accept it is more of a challenge.
Kathy Kong, co-owner of Tipsy Tips, said, “You can’t say that men who do their nails are all ‘effeminate’ or being ‘gender ambiguous.’ It is really more about an expression of one’s inner and whole self, regardless of gender.” She adds that broadening people’s understanding of what is beautiful, regardless of gender, is the key to changing their perception.
Men who choose to wear nail polish have reported varied reactions, especially from the older generation. Chinese fashion stylist Justin Hsu, recalled when a taxi driver showed disdain upon seeing his long, manicured nails, before commenting, “Why would you do this?”
Others have been questioned about their sexuality due to their choice of nail art. “People think that if you wear acrylic nails, you’re automatically gay or not straight,” musician Humza Syed said. “Most people who see me with nails assume I’m LGTBQ+ and when I tell them I am not, they are always astonished.
“It’s annoying because we should be able to express ourselves the way we want without misconceptions hanging over our heads. I do them because I simply love getting my nails done and love how it looks on me.”