Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Men with painted nails: A statement or fun?

Men are painting their nails for different reasons.
Kate Brady/Flickr

For men and women alike, painting their nails can be a fun activity. However, because of gendered expectations, some people interpret men wearing nail polish as a statement, instead of a just for fun fashion detail. Other men take advantage of this assumption to make a particular statement or stand up for a cause.

Robert Crowley, a student at the University of Massachusetts, is an average-looking guy at about 5-foot-9 with curly, dirty blonde hair and a backwards baseball cap. His nails are painted thinly with black polish, with one dark purple nail on the third finger of each hand.

“I paint my nails because I feel like it,” he shrugs, glancing briefly at his hands and then putting them in the pockets of his jeans. He has some rubber and braided bracelets around one wrist and wears a baggy dark sweatshirt.

“I generally just like, don’t support any gender stereotypes or any criteria that anyone feels like they need to fall under,” he adds, somewhat offhand. “To anyone who feels like they need to act a certain way because they’re a certain gender, I feel like the two should be separate, as to like how you express yourself.”

Crowley pauses, looking down at his boots and shrugging again. “But like, I’m not painting my nails as a statement or as an affront to gender stereotypes.”

For men, wearing nail polish is not considered the norm. For those who may see it as just a fun activity, they are faced with the assumption that painted nails must be a statement of some kind. Crowley, although eager to express his opposition to gender stereotypes, isn’t painting his nails specifically to express that. Some men just want to do it for fun, without an attached meaning. The assumption of an inherent statement in some ways may reinforce the stereotype more, because it assumes that men would never do it just for fun the way girls do. At right, a photo from The Painted Nail Facebook page.

“I’m just doing it because that’s the way I feel about [gender stereotypes], and like, I don’t really think about it. I don’t even consider it,” Crowley says. “I guess it’s not really a masculine thing, but like, I’m already masculine enough.”

Glancing down at his body and clothing, he adds with a shrug and a quick smile, “It’s a great conversation starter.”

Maxwell Zaleski

Crowley presents the idea that gender presentation and personal self-expression should be separated. For some, perhaps those who feel very secure in their gender identity, tying their gender presentation to their fashion choices feels limiting, and feeling comfortable separating the two spheres results in a freedom. Additionally, people like Crowley seem to see it as a way to participate in something fun that doesn’t align with the other signifiers they use to indicate and present their gender.

For others, such as “The Guardian” writer Steven Thrasher, painted nails can be an important and meaningful signifier of gay identity and gender expression. In an opinion article, he “welcomed the discomfort of what having painted nails meant as a disquieting signifier of my gender and sexuality.” For those in the LGBTQ community, painting nails may serve the opposite role from Crowley’s and may be a very important part of expressing gender identity. Thrasher raises a lot of questions about what may be considered a masculine color, or a gay color, and everything in between. Nail-painting has been used as a signifier in this way in the past and as more straight guys are painting their nails these questions are suddenly raised in very different contexts.

So, is there currently a “trend” of men painting their nails? A quick Google search on men wearing nail polish pulls surprisingly diverse results. An article on “The Loop” shows many men’s Instagram posts with the ill-informed hashtag “#paintyournailsforbruce” supposedly to honor Caitlyn Jenner’s struggle as a trans woman, and often accompanied by hashtags such as “#lgbtqrights,” despite continuously mis-gendering Jenner and calling her by her former name. These ill-informed posts show a different side of straight men painting their nails: to specifically take advantage of the surprise to support a cause.

YGAP’s Polished Man Campaign also takes advantage of the conflict between expectation and presentation of gender norms to raise awareness about child abuse and child mortality worldwide. Below, a photo from Polished Man campaign Facebook page shows men and boys with one painted nail. This campaign encourages men to paint one nail as a conversation starter to raise awareness about the campaign, which is working to fight abuses against children.

Besides the trend in the form of a statement, many popular male singers and fashion or culture celebrities today sport nail polish. Within male gendered expectations, there does appear to be a divide between those in “artistic” fields and other fields. An article from Pulselive lists many popular celebrities with openly painted nails including Marc Jacobs, Jared Leto, Adam Lambert, Johnny Depp, Wiz Khalifa, Snoop Dogg and Seal. None of these men are in sports or science fields, although they show a great range of conformity or nonconformity to the typically expressed idea of “masculinity”. As more men start to wear nail polish who aren’t doing it to make a statement or express gender or sexuality identity purposes, there are certainly icons out there who are role models in the act of painting nails just for the fun of it.

Lydia Giangregoria can be reached at [email protected].

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  • D

    DaveNov 18, 2022 at 11:18 pm

    Started doing powder dip nails with color during covid lockdown and I do it all the time now. I am a straight, CIS-gender male VP in corporate America and this is a non-issue. Doesn’t signify gender identity in any way, shape, or form to me. It just looks nice and it is a lot of fun. It’s also yet one more fun thing that my wife and I can do together.

  • A

    AlanAug 12, 2022 at 3:22 pm

    Started painting my nails. For the fun of it. Get a lot of positive reaction’s from most people. But catch hell from men and women alike. Had a woman complain. Probably because. It was not what was said. But My nails were prettier then hers.

  • D

    Dennis PruittJun 5, 2020 at 9:36 pm

    I have found that a heavy metalic polish stops my raynauds syndrome.

  • B

    Bill GormanAug 7, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    I love a good pedicure with a masculine color. I think it shows I’m clean and well groomed, and yes it’s just fun!

  • H

    honey bakerJul 11, 2019 at 6:52 am

    **** stuff. men, do what you like

  • J

    JakeJun 16, 2019 at 10:41 pm

    I am glad that you mention that some guys just like to paint their nails for the fun of it. That certainly fits me. 100% hetero, married with three sons. I wear my toenails painted because I think it looks better than plain/bare nails. My wife actually got me started and I just liked the way it looks. And it encourages me to take better care of my feet and nails when they are painted because more people notice them. Advice to men: lighten up and enjoy a relaxing pedi. Try some color if you dare!

  • A

    ArneMay 29, 2019 at 10:02 am

    I wear it because it just simply looks nicer, nothing to do with making a statement or gender……I get them done professionally , my toes especially look nicer in sandals… wife likes it & I’ve gotten plenty of compliments……I will continue to do it

  • N

    NicoJan 27, 2019 at 10:11 pm

    It’s unfiar that people think it’s weird for men to paint there nails. As a male I have recently started and many people have started giving me weird glances including some good friend and co-workers of mine. I feel as that just since we paint our nails doesn’t mean we are weird. It’s just a way to express our self

  • T

    Tag heuer leather jacketDec 11, 2018 at 3:09 am

    Nice fashion style blog

  • P

    Peter KOct 18, 2018 at 8:04 pm

    I’m a straight guy and have been painting my nails for the past six months, I started with clear coats to help me stop biting my nails, but eventually progressed to darker colored polish because I really love the look compared to my otherwise dull nails!

    The best way I can describe it would be if I had only worn brown shoes my entire life, and then suddenly realized I had the option to wear all kinds of colors. I even like the process of applying it as I enjoy painting as an art form.

    It took me a while before going out in public (and work) with my nails painted, but surprisingly most of the anxiousness about the idea was built up in my head. People either don’t notice, are indifferent, or compliment me! I’m pretty confident as a person and was curious to see when I’d finally get a negative comment about it but surprisingly I haven’t had a single negative comment or reaction yet. This was similar to the experiences of a lot of guys on the r/malepolish subreddit.