Over the past few years, A$AP Rocky has emerged as a fierce nail-art enthusiast. “I feel like men should be able to do nail art without feeling feminine,” the rapper told Vogue, his digits painted with Prada fall 2019 motifs, including the broken heart and Frankenstein. Emphasizing that a manicure is a statement of self-expression no matter your gender identity, the rapper’s new signature marks a telling shift in the culture of beauty; it also serves as a reminder that trailblazing men in the spotlight have helped make way for this moment for decades.
In the golden days of rock and roll, “man-icures” were everywhere. During his Ziggy Stardust era of the early ’70s, David Bowie’s teal nails were a cool contrast to his flamed-hair mullet, while Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler began sporting his now-signature nail art, accented by graphic black stripes. Setting the stage for style rebels of the decades that followed, chipped nail polish was a grunge mainstay for Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in the ’90s. In the aughts, Johnny Depp began to take a page out of his idol Keith Richard’s book with haphazardly applied cobalt digits; “Kissed by a Rose” singer Seal offered up a pristine alternative with a glossy slime green manicure.
As of late, there’s been no shortage of scene-stealing moments. Imbuing plenty of color into the equation is Marc Jacobs, who has joined forces with New York City nail wiz Mei Kawajiri on a parade of mesmerizing designs, as well as Lil Yachty, who received an array of cartoonish designs from Georgia-based nail artist Rosa Yee. And never one to shy away from a nail statement is LANY frontman Paul Klein, who attend Saint Laurent’s Fall 2020 show with a custom jet-black manicure featuring bold white lettering that teased the band’s upcoming album at the time, Mama’s Boy. “I’ve always taken a more unorthodox approach in the way I’ve dressed, and I feel like nail art just further elevates my look and kind of separates me from the pack,” explains Klein. Then, of course, there’s Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, who, throughout his rapid rise, has served up a dizzying array of vivid talons. “I’m not telling people, ‘Hey, paint your nails or color your hair, do this or do that,’” says the musician. “I’m simply saying, do what makes you happy, and to never limit yourself.”
Now, polished nails are becoming something of a red carpet mainstay for men. At the 2019 Met gala, co-chair Harry Styles sported a raven-colored manicure punctuated by pops of teal, and at the 2022 Met Gala, there was much to see, from Shawn Mendes’ matte navy-blue designed to match his Tommy Hilfiger look to Anderson .Paak’s tuxedo-themed black-and-white manicure. As the gender-neutral nail art space continues to expand and inspire, here, a retrospective of the famous men who have adorned themselves with colorful nails.
Machine Gun Kelly
Lil Nas X
From Vogue US