One of the quickest ways to add polish and authenticity to a vintage ensemble is with a vintage manicure.  But just what is a vintage manicure and how does it differ from today’s styles? Candice Deville investigates.

Just like today, a manicure in the past was more than just a fancy way to finish your fingers.  It was and is an indicator of social standing.  Having highly polished and tended nails says, ‘ I don’t need to do all those manual things like housework, I can afford to lounge around flashing my jewellery on these stunning red-nailed hands’. That doesn’t make it true of course, but we can at least pretend.

The first indicator of a vintage manicure style is in the shaping of the nails. Where it is popular today to have nails squared off or squared with rounded corners, an oval shape was most desired in the past.  Think of an almond-shape coming to a gentle point at the end of the finger. This required careful filing to create the shape, and you will need a bit more care to keep your nails intact.  Filing the nail into this shape makes them inherently more prone to breakage, but you may find that with a good hardener they stand up to the task.

When it comes to colour you can forget you ‘vamps’ in black or blue; rose in all its various forms was the order of the day.  That is not to say that other colours were not available, (yes, even greens were around), but pinks, peaches, corals and reds were the most complimentary shades to the colour palette of the clothing at the time.

Companies such as Cutex, published charts of recommended shades, their suitability for different occasions and your social status.  While the softer of the rose palette was appropriate for day wear, reds, garnets and darker shades were appropriate for evening wear. When you’re ready to make a selection for yourself, choose which ever shade you please, just stay away from frost and metallic finishes to keep it authentic.

The most noticeable difference to today’s manicures is in the painting technique. It was considered to be a sign of good breeding during the late Twenties and early Thirties, to paint only part of the nail, leaving the moons and the tips un-coloured.

It may be more time consuming to achieve than painting the whole nail, but it does make the manicure last longer, particularly if you spend a lot of time typing!  This style was considered more conservative and left the painting of the whole nail to those women who were more considered ‘extreme’. By the late Thirties however, Helena Rubenstein was an advocate for painting the whole nail, moons and all, heralding a new look in nail fashion.

The basic steps of a vintage manicure are the same as those you would practice today:
• Start by filing the nails into into an oval or almond shape before soaking, so they don’t shred or tear.

• Soak the nails in a mild soapy solution. When the skin has softened, use an orange stick to push back the cuticles and remove any dead skin.

• Massage in cuticle oil, then remove any excess from the nail with a remover.

• Cover the whole nail in a clear, hardening undercoat and allow to thoroughly dry.

• Apply French Manicure strips to the moon and the tip area of the nail to create the blockout effect.

• Apply the polish slightly overlapping the strips. Apply two coats and allow to dry thoroughly in between.  You may also want to apply a hardener on the last coat.

• Before the final coat is completely dry, remove the French strips, to prevent any lifting or tearing of the polish should it be completely dry.

So now you have the perfect vintage manicure, time to get all femme fatale and spend much of the time gesticulating, leaning into your hand and looking smouldering over the top.  Try it for yourself, vintage nails really are the bees knees.

Candice, aka Super Kawaii Mama, one of Australia’s biggest vintage bloggers, has done a great little how-to video on vintage manicures. Don’t forget to check out here lovely website!


5 Responses

  1. June Peterson

    I like this website. It’s very comfortable and loaded with interesting facts.

  2. The Red Velvet Shoe

    I had no idea that they would only paint part of the nail~~a perfect solution for me, I can never seem to keep a manicure looking fresh & unchipped. Thank you for this informative post, I’m going to give it a try!

    Michelle @ The Red Velvet Shoe

  3. Lilac

    Ultimate vintage nail/hand accessory is probably a cigarette – although it’s un-PC to say so these days! ; )

  4. Rebecca Michelle


    Actually, filing my nails into an almond shape prevents breakage for me. Keeping a square or natural shape promotes fraying of the corners in my case.

    I have been wearing the vintage manicure for a long time, it is great. I don’t have to replace my polish every day!

    I prefer to paint the nail bed and leave the moon and nail edge exposed or without polish.

  5. A

    I can do these manicures freehand. I like to leave the moon and tips bare, and use a whitening pencil under the nail edge. The real trick is not to go from top of the nail to the tip like how we put on polish today, but from side to side. 😉 I find using those stickers are almost too perfect looking, when you learn how to freehand you can follow your natural moon and tip lines.