SIGN OF THE TIMES Michelle Markowitz with her blood-red nails
By MELENA RYZIK
Published: May 22, 2008
PITY the mothers and grandmothers. Visible bra straps, glaringly obvious roots — these are but a few of the grooming no-nos that have become yes-yeses in recent years.
Now there is another stylistic tic that would have been unthinkable on a proper lady in your Aunt Beatrice’s day. Over the last few years — since the era of the skull print scarf, let’s say, or the (metaphorical) rise of the Olsen twins — having streaked, chipped or just plain grotty nail polish no longer suggests drug addiction, manual labor or pure laziness. Like untied high-tops, thread-worn jeans and bedhead, it’s now part of a deliberate look.
And chipped polish is not sported solely by nail-biting school students and downtown punkers. It has been spotted uptown, in professional settings and gala parties, behind department store sales counters and even (gasp!) on beauty and fashion industry insiders.
Anyone can get caught between manicures. But now women no longer have to sit on their hands when they do.
“Before, when nail polish was chipped you absolutely had to run and get it fixed,” said Ji Baek, the owner of Rescue Beauty Lounge and a manicure doyenne who has noticed the Olsens and Lindsay Lohan with less-than-impeccable polish. Now, clients like hers are “wearing perfectly-tailored clothes, they have $5,000 bags and equally fabulous shoes, but their nails are chipped and they’re saying, ‘I don’t care.’ They don’t want to be too perfect.”
But, she noted, their polish “is so perfectly chipped.”
Being otherwise exquisitely turned out may be the key to making the undone-nails look work. (“Chipping is cool, but chipping in a schleppy way when you don’t have a $5,000 handbag is not as cool,” Ms. Baek said.)
Still, it’s hard to know where to draw the line. Are chipped nails appropriate for everyone? Can they fly during a job interview? A date? A wedding?
“I was raised that a lady should always have her nails done,” Joanne Cruz, a clothing designer based in Manhattan, wrote in an e-mail message. “But there are times when I let my nails chip and I’m perfectly fine with it because I think it looks kinda cool.”
Women have so much pressure to look put together, she wrote. “Now I think sometimes if you’re busy with your day and you don’t have time to get your nails done, it can add character.”
But Ms. Cruz noted that she would never go on a date with less-than-perfect polish, even with someone she had been seeing for a few months.
Kerry Diamond, a vice president for public relations at Lancôme, has watched grungy nails move from models to mainstream in the last few years, and crop up among people in her industry in the last few months. The trend parallels the fashion for more richly colored polish; when the predominant style was nude or pale pink nails, “you could still be wearing nail polish but you just wouldn’t really notice if nails were chipped,” she said.
Recently, a 20-something woman came to her for an informational interview, “beautifully dressed, Goyard bag, Louboutin shoes” with extremely chipped fire-engine-red nails. “It looked like she had definitely been wearing nail polish for two weeks,” Ms. Diamond said, sounding distinctly unhorrified. “This younger generation, it’s not that they’re more relaxed about grooming — they still spend time at the salon — but the grooming rules are different.”
And for people like Ms. Diamond and Ms. Cruz, whose mothers would be horrified at the thought of arriving at Lancôme — or anywhere — with imperfect nails, doing so suggests a level of busyness that’s emblematic of contemporary womanhood. Instead of signifying manual labor, chipped nails may now connote professional fabulousness.
“It’s not easy on your nails when you’re BlackBerrying all the time,” Ms. Diamond said.
Sending the message that your life is much too complex, darling, to bother with maintaining a manicure is exactly the point, said Michelle Markowitz, an aspiring actress sporting artfully eroded blood-red nails.
“When I get my nails done, I like how it looks,” she said. But she also likes less-than-perfect nails “because it shows you don’t really care.”