Wednesday 14 August 2013

Men With Long Nails

A couple of years ago, my family went for dinner in quite an up-market restaurant. It was in a prosperous town famous for hosting international golf tournaments.

As the food came, the waiter had linen towels draped over his hands to enable him to hold the hot plates. But something caught my eye, and I had to wait for a couple more visits before I could be sure I was seeing what I thought. The waiter, a young man of maybe 25, and not in the least feminine-looking, had fingernails more than an inch long, and painted in sparkling metallic green.

I commented on this to my mother who was part of the group. She replied "Oh, yes. He always does that. He's a very nice lad." (As an aside, my mother doesn't know about this aspect of me, and I wryly wonder whether she would be upset to find out. If she ever does, I will be sure to let you know her reaction!).
His mother told him not to bite his nails.

I didn't get the chance to talk to him ("Excuse me. Do you by any chance dress like a woman in your spare time?"), and certainly not in front of my mother. However, it did strike me that what he was doing was somewhat impractical (carrying around plates and serving dishes all day must practically invite breakage).

Wikipedia suggests (and I am sure it is correct) that colouring the nails with a variety of colouring substances has been practised for centuries. I am aware that henna is still used as a nail colouring agent in some countries (and I think that intricate henna patterns on the skin of young women is absolutely gorgeous). But it wasn't until the invention of nitrocellulose lacquer in the early 20th century that modern nail polish really took off. Nitrocellulose lacquer forms a quick-drying, durable, flexible finish which can be polished to a high shine.

Nitrocellulose lacquer is the same stuff they use to make the paint on cars and other vehicles, and for the same reasons (ease of application, durability and lustre). Wikipedia suggests that nail polish was originally used to hide the grime under fingernails, and I can see the utility in that. On the other hand, polished, long nails imply that the owner doesn't have to engage in dirty manual work, so I can imagine that, among aristocratic women (and maybe men too), the display of delicate, long nails could easily be a status symbol. Look at me: I don't work with my hands. (In the same way, the delicate, pale skin of someone who doesn't work with their hands contrasts with the dark, tough, leathery skin of someone who does, giving rise to the idea that noble people have blue blood, because their blue veins can be easily seen).
And all for want of a nail...

As with Men in Skirts, the more I click around on the Web, the more I find out. It seems there are plenty of men out there who just like painted nails. They don't wear skirts, or shave their legs. They don't adopt fem names. They just like painted nails, and for some of them, the more elaborate, the better.

Sometimes long fingernails have a purpose, such as when a guitarist grows the right nails long to act as picks, and keeps the left nails short to fret the notes on the fingerboard. But when taken to extremes (as in this individual, who incidentally shows us long nails in men is nothing new), nails begin to curl around on themselves and form spirals. Admittedly, the sort of very long and curly nails illustrated here seem pretty rare, even on the Web. Most guys with nails have only moderately long nails, and go with the elaborate nail polish.

So what is it with the long nails? You might well ask: why do I dress as a woman? Well, because I enjoy it. More specifically, I enjoy two things about it. I enjoy the way it feels, and I enjoy the way it looks. So I guess men who enjoy painted nails might enjoy those things too.
He's totally nailed it.

For me personally, I like long nails when I am dressed because they are considered more feminine. I am fortunate that my nails grow quite well, and are quite strong, and look quite good when I let them grow out a bit. I have also experimented with stick-on nails and other substitutes. Let's be clear: I love the way they look. I find myself holding my hands in such a way that I can see the nails. They don't even need to be intensely coloured. I quite like, for example, the French manicure style. But having long nails when I wasn't dressed wouldn't feel right. On it's own, it's not enough to "do it" for me in a crossdressing sense; and it does feel a little strange to mix male and female behaviour (which is one reason I don't "underdress").

Even when dressed, long nails irritate me because of their impracticality. I can't easily hold things, type, use my phone, unlock a door, or do any one of a thousand fine tasks-- and my nails are very much towards the shorter end of the spectrum I see out there!

And I am really sorry. I mean no disrespect to people who grow their nails to huge lengths, but seriously, I think it's really quite off-putting to look at. How do they wash their hair? How do they avoid getting them caught in doors? How do they even shake hands, or sign their names?

On the other hand, slightly long nails, elaborately decorated, look fantastic. From a feminine aesthetic point of view, I totally get it. They are gorgeous. So why do men want to do it too?

Scott_F_Nails has a blog here about his nails (and these sparkly blue ones are his). He writes:
Come on guys, you know you want to get your nails done, now is the time to do it. You can be straight, not a rock star and have great looking nails.
Guy Purcella, whose blog is entitled It's Ok For Men to Have Painted Nails in Public, writes:
He's hit the nail on the... oh, forget it.
Society has led us to believe that for some strange reason, it is not okay for men to paint their nails. This is all silly thinking as painting our nails does not make us feminine, nor does it change us in any way, it is simply an expression of our sense of style. [...] This blog isn't about crossdressing or being fem, it's for ordinary guys who just happen to like painting our nails although we may discuss other emerging fashion trends for men.
Jim ("Guy Polish") from Hawaii (pictured here), whose blog is entitled Men and nail polish writes:
I am regular guy that just happens to like nail polish. Polish should be for everyone. I played Offensive Guard in college and may not be the stereotype of a male polish wearer.
So what is the stereotype of the male polish wearer? Is it someone like me, perhaps? Someone who wants to shave his legs and wear a frock? Or something else?

Steve Winfield at the blog Lacquer Man, writes:
I’m not saying that it “made” me a better man – but in that first week, I did a lot of thinking about how society defines masculinity, and what it really means to “be a man”. In a way, it gave me a different perspective on the issue, and it helped me to discover some of the absurd assumptions I had unconsciously accepted. By stripping these away, it helped me focus on and realize the things that really are relevant to who I am. [...] I’m more like the opposite of a crossdresser. To me, a crossdresser wears nail polish as part of an effort to appear female. His use of nail color depends on his acceptance of the premise that this paint is inherently feminine. I reject that premise. I wear colors that I believe enhance my masculinity as they demonstrate confidence and independence. I recognize that some colors are symbols of femininity – pink, for example, and many pastels – but it’s the color itself that is feminine, not the material that carries the color. [...]Man, it’s JUST PAINT! There’s nothing in the bottle that is inherently feminine, nothing that has any power to change you or make you less of a man. In fact, for a guy to wear nail color, he has to have an abundance of boldness, confidence, adventurousness, independence and a little defiance. These traits are at the heart of REAL masculinity.
All of these guys (and there are plenty more out there) seem to be clear that they simply enjoy having long, visually striking nails. The ones I have seen seem to spend ages on their nails; perfecting the appearance, experimenting with all sorts of different effects, comparing different brands and colours of nail polish.

And all of them seem to insist that there is nothing feminine about nail polish, and there is nothing feminine about a man who wants to paint his nails.

For all of these bloggers above, it seems to be about how it looks, rather than how it feels. They seem to be quite keen to point out that it isn't an expression of femininity. I basically agree with that: none of the bloggers I have seen seem remotely feminine in any other way, and if they did, I would simply assume they had autogynephilia.

So, to men who want to paint their nails: good luck to you all. If you have a particular perspective to offer, your comments are very welcome here. You might also be interested in the related topics, Men in Skirts, or Women with Beards, or that perennial question: what do men's underwear and Fight Club have in common?


Addendum: 30th September 2015

Well, I did promise to let you know if my mother ever found out about Vivienne, and now she knows, and has been amazingly accepting and supportive.


  1. Hi Vivienne

    I didn't realise there were so many men who enjoyed wearing nail polish without also enjoying the sense of femininity - but I'm not too surprised, and wish there were more men like that! I always think that makeup would be far less of a problem from a feminist point of view if men wore it too, if it wasn't so strictly gendered. After all, everyone can look better/more interesting with makeup, and surely there is nothing innately feminine about cosmetics?

    This brings me to another question I've been wondering about for some time. For men who like to dress as women, how do ideas of femininity actually relate to cosmetics, long hair etc.? Surely this is enjoyment in a purely social construct of femininity? As a woman I would never think of those things as having any natural or inherent part of my identity as a person or a woman, but I enjoy them in a sensual and social way. My guess would be that it's the same for men, but I'd be fascinated to hear what you think. And all the feminist theory I've read (and agreed with) distinguished sex from gender, considering the latter to be a social fact rather than a biological one. I know from your writing that you're familiar with these ideas, so I would love to hear your thoughts on how femininity works in this context.


    1. Hi Carina.

      Thanks for posting your fascinating questions and comments. If you thought there were a lot of men obsessed about nails, you should see the ones who wear skirts:

      I wasn't particularly aware that makeup was a problem from a feminist point of view; my guess would be that feminists think makeup is a way for women to make themselves attractive to men. My view would be that humans (and quite a lot of animals too) go to great lengths to improve their attractiveness to a mate, and this is true of both males and females.

      "Surely there is nothing innately feminine about cosmetics" makes me think of the Wodaabe in Africa, where it is the men who wear elaborate and striking cosmetics, emphasising the whiteness of their teeth and eyes. Apart from this very interesting and beautiful people, I must say I DO tend to associate cosmetics with femininity (although they could be used to cover disfigurements, for camouflage, for the stage, or to show allegiance to a tribe or football team, all non-feminine applications).

      When you ask about ideas of femininity relating to cosmetics, long hair, etc, I can only answer for myself. For me there is definitely a sensual pleasure in the look and feel of long hair, long nails, cosmetics, etc. Women's clothing tends to be softer, more luxuriant, more decorative; where men's clothing tends to be functional, practical, and drab. There are many exceptions in each case, of course.

      In my case, I am quite aware that crossdressing is emotionally satisfying too. It's about escaping from the masculine alpha-male role which I feel I am expected to enact most of the time.

      I think that it is absolutely true that the femininity I am aiming at is purely a social construct of femininity; the feminine gender. When dressed, I want all of it: the figure, the hair, the nails, the shoes, the cosmetics, the walk, the poise. It is absolutely true that there are many women who do not aspire to possess or express any of those things. I think the key observation came from Helen Boyd, who remarked that crossdressers don't want to be like women: they want to be like men think women are. (If you want to really feel like a woman, Boyd challenges, do a pile of ironing).

      If I were raised in some society where men and women dressed identically (or whether men and women were free to wear whatever they liked), how would my crossdressing manifest? Or would it simply go away? I cannot tell, though I spend a lot of time thinking about these questions.

      Please feel free to drop me an email. You can find my email address on my About Me page. I am enjoying your blog very much too.


    2. I am a guy that decided to let my nails grow out and they are very long with squared tips. They grow straight out and curve downward slightly. I don't like colors, designs, or other junk that takes away from the appearance of the nails themselves. I keep them painted with several thick coats of clear and they look like thick polished glass. I don't care what others think, but they look impressive enough for me to get compliments from women. Very few women have nail shapes that can grow nails this nice...and I don't care about that either.

    3. Hi Leo.

      Thanks for your comment.

      If you want to send me a picture of your nails, I will be happy to append it to this article. It would be great if you could comment a little on your motivation: what is it about the long nails which makes you do it? What about the practicalities of daily living with such long nails?


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  2. I really discovered my nails accidently when I was laid up for a month or so. I have small hands and narrow nails and they were growing straight out and curving slightly downward. Something about their shape attracted me enough to where I continued to let them grow. I remembered seeing black guys in the service let their nails grow a little long and painted them with thick coats of clear. The nails really stood out as a kind of finished, classy look. When mine grew out about 1/4 inch I painted them with thick coats of clear hardener. (It doesn't chip as easily as clear polish.)
    If you've ever stained woodwork and then coated it with several coats of clear polyurethane you know that it instantly transforms the wood into an expensive appearing lacquer finish. For anyone that wants their nails and hands to stand out, thick coats of clear is the answer. It shows off the nails and hands, very, very classy. They also stand out from their glassy shine. I always remark to women who ask about them, how attractive thick coats of clear make their nails vs. colors, designs, and junk that really detract from natural beauty of the nails and hands.
    I work on mechanic and carpentry stuff wearing gloves.
    My nails always look good, real good and I'm damn proud of them.
    At home I enjoy the ritual of removing polish, pushing back the cuticles (I use warm canola cooking oil), cleaning them with a nail brush and applying 3 coats of clear hardener. I'm through with mustaches, the latest haircuts, tattoos, and piercings.
    My nails are really unique. Oh, and did I mention they really look good!

    1. Thanks! Send me a picture and I will post it here. You can find my email address on the About Me page.


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    1. Thanks for dopping by to post your comments!

  4. I like this article about men with long nails. i am a men who like long nails, in fact they grow up in such a small time, like, for example, if i cut them in this moment (totally) maybe in 2 days i see a tiny white part of it, and 1 week later i can see it above of my finger, and in a time of 2-3 weeks they are pretty long actually, they grow up straight, but for my personal taste i like the stiletto style (triangular size), i just only painted in dark colors (black,grey,red) because i don't have interest in the pastel tones. Every person have the freedom of do whatever they want (provided that without hurt anyone, obviously), It's really funny when a person (men or women) see my nails they act like 'WOAH dude, cut that shit of nails' or other comments like 'dude, where are ur testicles?', and are person that say they are ''OPEN MINDED'', that type of reactions makes u think that the society is full of stereotypes, just only i like let my nails grow up ''longer'' doesn't mean i am gay or i want to be a women, its just only that i like how it looks on me and i don't know, in my personal opinion they give me power, or something like that (lol) , maybe a plus for my physical image, and thats it, doesn't need any intellectual or extensive explanation about it. maybe the world is kinda more ''openly'' but, the small stereotypes are the real problem, no the ''mainstream'' ones (like homophobic, racist). I feel damn proud of my nails and i don't care who doesn't like it.

    1. Thanks for dropping by to post your comment Dimitri.

  5. Vivienne, thanks for maintaining this interesting discussion about long nails. I have been totally mesmerized by long nails since I can't remember when (a young age). I enjoy seeing them on women but I really just like them on anyone as long as they are well-kept. I'd like to grow mine longer but I have a spouse who would not approve, thinking it is some kind of 'gay' thing. Why do so many people make that assumption anyway?
    Well, someday, when she is out of town, I plan to go have my nails extended to about 1/4" and maybe even get them painted too, just to see how it feels. In the mean time, I guess I will just have to be satisfied with admiring them on others.
    Any others who have a similar situation? it's a bit frustrating...
    - Jake

    1. Hi Jake.

      Thanks for posting your comments.

      You can buy stick-on false nails in ordinary pharmacies. If you clean your own nails with a bit of alcohol before you apply them, then they stick really well; certainly well enough to look nice and give you the sensation of having your own gel nails. But they are also reasonably easy to remove, so you could do it whenever you like.

      On the other hand, you could experiment with nail polish. A bit of acetone will clean it all right off when you are done. It's awesome watching your own hands when you eat, type, or whatever, when your nails are coloured.

      Good luck,


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    3. Thanks for posting your comment. However, I must say that I personally find long nails too impractical. I don't really enjoy them because they make my hands seem really clumsy. However, if long nails are your thing, you have nothing but my best wishes.


  6. Well, I'm a senior (by definition only) who has long fingernails and regularly wears nail polish (pink, emerald, sparkly, etc).
    I suppose I might be reacting to stopping nail biting a few years ago; my nails now project about half an inch past my fingertips and I am very happy to have them. Yes, I have had to learn to adapt to new ways of doing some things. It might make a difference that my wife is proud of me for having them and painting them too, but I don't feel inclined to claim any particular "manly" activity or history to mitigate my having them. I just think it's cool and, hey, I'm old enough now to not care what people think. It would be great if we all felt like that, but I understand those who feel stigmatized into subduing their desire to be different from the "norm".

    1. Thanks for posting your comments, and I hope you continue to enjoy your nails!

    2. Nice to hear of a senior who keeps his nails long. I like to keep my nails long, too.

  7. Being a "Crossdresser"...Wearing Nail Polish is just the natural thing for me to do !!!

  8. I am a guitar player and I let my nail grow on one hand, first time I saw them long, they look very great and are very solid. My girlfriend are jealous, my tips are also kind of natural White.

  9. I'm an occasional crossdresser in my late 60's. I've always loved the look of long (half to three quarters inches) nails, especially when painted a deep fuchisa. A lot of times though I don't bother with nails if I'm just going out to run a few errands. But I fantasize about getting acrylic nails and wonder if I could get away with someday wearing long nails all the time in my old age. My hands are already on the feminine looking side because even in male mode I wear 1 or 2 girly looking sterling silver rings and up to 15 shiny sterling silver bangle bracelets that appear very feminine. Added to that they slide around on my arm and make lots of clinking noises when I move my arm. I can imagine that people would take even more notice if I added long nails to that. But I imagine people probably already have formed their opinion of me from my jewelry so maybe the nails wouldn't change their opinion much more. Perhaps I should just experiment with 24/7 nails sometime, go visit a city where no one knows me and get some acrylics as an experiment.

    1. Thanks for posting your comments.
      One thing I'm increasingly coming to realise is that we only have one life, to live as best we can. If getting your nails done gives you pleasure, who gives a hoot what other people think?
      You don't need to wonder if you can "get away with" wearing long nails. Don't go to some other city--book yourself into a nail salon in your OWN city and get the nails. If it works for you, then carry on! If for whatever reason it doesn't work out, then you've literally lost nothing except a bit of money and inconvenience.
      But what's the worst that can happen? Maybe a mean comment or two? Just laugh them off!