Why is red nail polish so popular?

Walking to the store the other day, I found myself bored and unable to brain. Then a woman passed me wearing sandals (it’s summer up here, after all) and bright red toenail polish. That gave me something to do: I decided to count the colors on the feet of all the women who passed me until I got to the store and then to my place. The only criteria were that I had to pass the women on the sidewalk, going either way, and that their toes were exposed so I could see if they were wearing pollish and, if so, what color. Here’s the total out of 28 women surveyed:

  • 19 red
  • 3 no polish or colorless polish
  • 6 other colors: 1 white, 1 green, 2 purple, 2 blue

This is exactly the kind of experiment the great Victorian polymath Francis Galton, Darwin’s half cousin, would have done. Besides his huge contributions to statistics, he was always conducting crazy little studies to satisfy his curiosity, including surveying the women from various cities of Britain to see which city’s women were the most beautiful (as I recall, he had a card that he’d secretly punch when he saw a woman). You can see the winning and losing cities here.

My conclusion: women favor red toenail polish over other colors—by a large margin. I’m sure that one would get the same result if one surveyed fingernail polish, which I didn’t do. And, of course, it hasn’t escaped my notice that red lipstick is by far the favorite among colors. One might be able to get similar results simply by tallying the various colors on sale at drugstores or the beauty counters of department stores.

When I told one of my women friends this result, she said that she herself would never bare her toes without colored polish, and it was invariably red. When I said, “Why red?”, she answered “Because I like it.”

Well, that’s the proximate explanation, but I want to know why they like it. There has to be some reason why red is the most popular color. One explanation, of course, is simply that it’s the most visible or striking color, and thus calls attention to the toes, fingers, and lips. But then, why red rather than orange or bright yellow?

Now I’m sure that evolutionary psychologists have dealt with this question, and I’m almost as sure that the answers are varied. I would bet, knowing nothing about this question, that the answers involve either invoking the colors of berries gleaned by our ancestors, or the resemblance between the red color of the polish and the color of a woman’s excited nether parts (well, they’re not really red). Support for the latter hypothesis comes from the notion that the redder a woman’s lips are, the more sexual she is.

As for me, I’m content to have done my little survey, confident that the results are pretty general, and I’ll leave it to the evolutionary psychologists to provide hypotheses. Maybe some of them would even be testable. Can we color the nails of female chimpanzees or baboons and see what happens?

I would, of course, particularly like to hear from women readers, either adding to the tally or explaining their choice of colors (or why they don’t use color).



  1. Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

    I don’t use any because it’s an extra cost, messy and lots of extra work. I prefer spending my time thinking and working out that which puzzles me.

    • Scott Draper
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      “spending my time thinking”

      Well! That will drive the men away. We don’t like that sort of thing.

      • Damien McLeod
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

        Women who think are the best.

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          Smart is sexy.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

      I read “puzzles” as “pizza” so you know where my mind is.

  2. dooosp
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    First of all, I’m a thirty-three-year-old guy.

    I’m probably weird, but I don’t like colored nails at all. I prefer those glossy ones.

    Also, long finger nails with nail polish freak me out a bit, heh 😛 Just glossy ones, are insanely attractive though 😀

    So, listen up gals! 😛

    • Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

      “I’m probably weird, but I don’t like colored nails at all. I prefer those glossy ones.”

      I’m the lest weird. I find feet in general disgusting, and anything that draws attention to them synonymous with someone telling me they just farted.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

        Really? I find women’s feet fascinating and sexy — not to the point of a fetish, mind you (well, not an obsessive, problematic one, anyway 🙂 ).

        I feel the same way about women’s shoulders and knees, among other parts.

        • rickflick
          Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:22 pm | Permalink

          Makes you think, well, there’s man for every woman and a woman for every man.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

            And a foot for every man. Sometimes shushing that man. LOL!

            • charlize
              Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:49 pm | Permalink


        • gravelinspector-Aidan
          Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

          If it’s feet, it’s not a fetish, it’s a footish.
          Sorry. I’ve been recycling that one for at least 40 years and I don’t see any reason to not continue inflicting it on the innocent.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

            Ha! Keep recycling; as long as you don’t put your foot in your mouth.

            • gravelinspector-Aidan
              Posted July 2, 2016 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

              Never been able to do that. But I did have a friend – name of “Pete the Pervert” whose party trick involved … well, it’s a less than 1% of the population skill.

        • Posted July 2, 2016 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

          Stinky, dirty, fungus… I find all feet disgusting, including my own. This is not uncommon, most people I know don’t like feet, including my wife. I presume that’s why people with foot fetishes are considered so bizarre. And while we’re on weird shit subject, what’s with people, and nose rings? Don’t they realize the first thing people think when they see them is that they need to wipe their nose cause there a giant snot coming out? It’s not till you get closer that you see it’s a ring that’s probably coated in snot. :p

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted July 3, 2016 at 9:52 am | Permalink

            You’d lose your mind in New Zealand, where people are barefoot much of the time (according to NA standards) all over the place in public, even in winter.

            • Heather Hastie
              Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:19 am | Permalink

              She’s telling the truth – we are!

              It’s also often normal to take your shoes off when you go into a house. It’s something Maori do that has become something a lot of people do. Keep an eye out to see what everyone else does so you know what the practice is in that home.

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:55 am | Permalink

                Canadians also take their shoes off when they come in a house. It’s something Americans find weird about us.

                When I first visited NZ, I found that it was a lot similar to Canada in many ways, even how the highways are laid out. I actually felt more at home there than I did in some of the northern American states, which is a bit weird since Canada shares so much with the use wrt culture.

              • Cindy
                Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:57 am | Permalink

                I went with my mom to a breeder’s home to pick up our new baby Collie…

                The breeder asked that we remove our shoes when inside. The floor, in places, was dirtier than our feet and the puppies were peeing everywhere. I had to disinfect the insides of my shoes when I got home!!!

              • Diana MacPherson
                Posted July 4, 2016 at 10:20 am | Permalink

                Yuck! I hope you weren’t wearing white socks!

          • Ken Kukec
            Posted July 3, 2016 at 9:54 am | Permalink

            Geez, I’m cool with piercings, too. Little snot never killed anybody, I always say. I’m not that uptight about bodily functions in general, I guess.

            But, hey, such variations in taste make the world go ’round. Vive la différence!

      • wdbailey
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        I am a lifestyle barefooter and only wear shoes when it’s absolutely necessary. The reason that your feet and for that matter most people feet really are disgusting is that they are kept sealed away in a warm, moist enviroment where they will incubate fungus and become weak and deformed.

        So yes, I agree that feet can be disgusting just as anything at all will be disgusting if it’s ignored and not properly taken care of.

        Btw I stopped wearing shoes regularly in an attempt to cure numerous foot problems that I’d had and I’m happy to say that my feet are healthy and strong and quite handsome

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 3, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

          I envy you. I love being barefoot but I have such bad pronation that it is too painful to walk even a few steps without orthotics and now my damn metatarsals are starting to hurt. When I was a child, before my foot issues, I would be barefoot all the time when I was home and even went on hikes across fields in barefeet (often getting many a thistle stuck in them and once being stung by a bee I stepped on).

        • Posted July 3, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

          + 1

  3. Merilee
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Since you asked, although I wear a lot of red clothes, I have almost never worn red polish. On the rare occasions that I polish my toenails (almost never polish my fingernails – too impatient to let it dry properly and my nails also grow really quickly) I like coral or pink or clear polish. Same with lipstick : coral or pink.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      My fingernails break easily as they are very soft. I can painfully rip them down to nothing trying to put a key on a split ring. For this reason, painting my finger nails is futile. I don’t even need to clip them & didn’t realize people normally do this regularly. I just clip them of a bad split happens.

      My toenails don’t break as much probably because they are on my feet so not touching stuff all the time. I trim them every few months.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:41 am | Permalink

        You could always try my mother’s remedy – Knox Gelatin. Actually it doesn’t make your nails any stronger, but it could be fun in the bath tub.

      • Cindy
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:05 am | Permalink

        I have that problem, but not as bad. Take the vitamin Biotin. That will make your nails grow & make them stronger.

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 3, 2016 at 10:00 am | Permalink

          I’ve come to accept my wimpy nails. They work well enough to protect my finger tips and allow me to scratch so I’m down with it. I just try to find innovative ways to put things on key rings like asking others to do it or getting out a “tool”, like a key, to hold the ring open…..or of course abandoning key rings altogether which I’ve largely done, in favour of other key holding tools.

  4. Cindy
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    One explanation, of course, is simply that it’s the most visible or striking color, and thus calls attention to the toes, fingers, and lips. But then, why red rather than orange or bright yellow?

    Red looks best on all skin tones. You can buy bluish reds and orangey reds to match every skin tone.

    Also, contrast. Red offers better contrast than other colors. I personally prefer pale pinks and blues, but those look best with dark skin if what you are going for is contrast. A light pink on white skin like mine will be unnoticeable.

    Red is a ‘classic’ color. It has been featured in fashion magazines for a very very long time. I assume that part of the attraction is therefore a matter of tradition…

    And yeah, red is considered to be ‘sexy’ – slightly ‘dangerous’..

    Full disclosure: I am an OCD fashion-loving synaesthete so I am absolutely obsessed with colors and contrast. I have not worn nail polish in over 5 years, but I still have a large collection of over 500 shades in storage…I should haul them out someday and make some art!

    • Scott Draper
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

      “Red looks best on all skin tones”

      Hmmm, not according to color consultants. I’ve been forbidden to wear red, at least the blueish red that I love so much and what is most common on fingernails. I’m allowed to wear “true red”, but that sort of red looks pretty orange to me.

      • Cindy
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

        Well it is entirely dependent upon the shade of red. I originally thought of saying ‘most skin tones’ but there is a shade out there that will match your skin tone, it’s just a matter of finding it.

        I have a cool skin tone, so a blue red will look good on me, whereas someone with a warm, reddish skin tone will look best with a warmer, more yellow/orangey red.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

      Yeah and if you are wearing drabber clothes, red gives you a pop of colour.

  5. Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

    I regularly wear nail polish, and I prefer reds and pinks, on both toes and feet. The reason? Because I like it. A better question would be, why do I like it? It adds a dash of colour, and looks healthier than any cold shade of blue and green.

    When you’re cold, your nail beds turn purple/blue, and same when you have poor circulation, or are very anemic or unwell. If rosy nail beds are more attractive, signalling better health, to paint your nails red may simply be a woman’s way to accentuate this attractive trait, just like painting your lashes accentuates your eyes, or using concealer conceales and smoothens any blemishes in the skin.

    But I also think nail polish is used by women to impress other women: as a woman, I find that seeing a woman with painted nails tells you something about her, and garish colours like red and bright pink says something about her confidence. I remember seeing a female lecturer with bright red nails when I was an undergraduate, and I was instantly impressed with her, and thought she was someone who should be taken seriously, because she was signalling such presence with those red nails. 🙂

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

      Red in tooth and claw. Now I want to paint my nails as a signal to others not to mess with me 🙂

      • Merilee
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

        I think we already know not to mess with you, D😜
        I think another reason I avoid red polish is that I think chipped polish looks really tacky and it would show most with red. I have no patience to sit through any kind of ‘cures, either, and my hands are usually in and out of water and toes in and out of hiking boots so what’s the point? I seem to remember starting to put on red polish eons ago while restlessly waiting for a date to pick me up in college. Naturally he arrived while I was half done…

        • Filippo
          Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

          You would have been hard-pressed to object to and resist his helping you complete the task at hand – I mean foot – hmm? He would necessarily have to gently grasp your calf with one hand and ankle with the other in order to place the foot in just the right position, so as to be able to correctly, languidly, insensately, accomplish the required brush strokes, eh?

          • Filippo
            Posted July 4, 2016 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

            While, of course, you were partaking of Swiss chocolate, pears and champagne.

  6. Øystein
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been wondering about the same thing. I actually think nail polish in general and red nail polish in particular just looks weird (I’m male), but maybe that’s just me. I suppose one way of investigating it would be to compare different cultures and different times to see if red is always favored or if it’s just a current fashion. If it’s the former one could investigate whether there perhaps is a correlation between between the color of ones nails and some measure of health (perhaps undernourishment makes your nails go pale?), which may indicate that red nail polish is a kind of super stimuli for an indication of good health. Then one could manipulate the color of people’s nails in pictures of people’s hands to see if some color hues are consistently rated as being more attractive/healthy-looking etc.

  7. Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    “Can we color the nails of female chimpanzees or baboons and see what happens?”

    We all enjoy reading your website and hope to continue, so please promise us that you won’t try this.

    • Posted July 3, 2016 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

      I think this idea would never pass through the ethics committee.

  8. John
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Red = blood close to skin = flushed = aroused = attractive (unconscious, of course, but evolutionarily selected for)

    • Zado
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink


      • Billy Bl.
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:07 pm | Permalink

        Yes, engorgement. Everything is sexual.

        • DiscoveredJoys
          Posted July 3, 2016 at 4:31 am | Permalink

          I was just thinking that (in Western countries) the other interesting datapoint is that men typically do not wear nail polish.

          Then I remembered the striking penis sheaths of some ethnic groups in New Guinea.

          Perhaps cultural behaviour starts with appropriation of biological signals, but then takes on a more diverse cultural meaning of its own?

          • John
            Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:25 am | Permalink

            Nicely put.

            Perhaps once the particular appropriation is established it then could need extra support to maintain itself and maintain the value to its adherents in the face of revolutionary upstart competition from youngsters that are not invested in the establishment. That maintenance could be supported by the appropriation of other deep seated instincts in the form of “honour”, blasphemy and the like.

            I find this kind of speculation interesting and persuasive, but I’m aware of the charge of “just so stories” against evolutionary psychology. I’d be interested to hear any use of such things as game theory to support such hypotheses.

        • bobkillian
          Posted July 3, 2016 at 8:21 am | Permalink

          Engorgement seems probable, but add a dash of aggression. Assertiveness. I wonder if “red in tooth and claw” promoted the popularity of red nails, starting in Tennyson’s time?

          • Filippo
            Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

            “Engorgement seems probable . . . .”

            Yeaas, I consider (not dark) red nail polish quite gorgeous.

            I have bittersweet memories of a beguiling, auburn-haired lassie in her prime, a few years my senior. As the Old-Timer would put it, we took quite a “shine” to one another. I innocently enough told her I thought that red (what? – crimson? scarlet?) nail polish was the cat’s meow, but I certainly didn’t say it with any unreasonable expectation that she OUGHT to apply it to the toes of the well-formed foot which seemed to fit nigh perfectly in and complement the palm of my hand.

            Well, I guess she aimed to please, as one is wont to do when taken with another though IIRC, she did mention that the color she wore – something of a pale champagne pink (my poor description) – was more complimentary of her hair color and skin tone.

            Not long after, out of the blue one of her friends (well-qualified to be the proverbial “village scold”?) came up to me and (maybe not so?) congenially lectured me that red was not this dear lassie’s color. IIRC, I responded to the effect that I wanted her to do what pleased her about such matters, that my personal preference was NOT her command.

            Zounds! It doesn’t take much to get into trouble, eh?

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:38 pm | Permalink

      My own uneducated (at least, with respect to this particular question) opinion is that you’ve “nailed” it (sorry, couldn’t resist). And, that the unconscious selection manifests itself as a cultural preference.

    • Posted July 2, 2016 at 9:08 pm | Permalink

      Yes, definitely says, “Ready for attention and action”.

  9. Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    I wear polish on my toenails in warm weather, and I favor light but subdued pinks. I don’t wear color on my fingernails. Reds are popular and considered classic, but I’ve always found them garish.

    As for the larger question, asking whether women choose red polish because they like it is a bit like asking whether they wear skirts or their hair long because they like it. It’s already bound up with too many conventions and prescriptions for the choice to be a simple, conscious one.

    • Posted July 3, 2016 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      Caitlin–are you related to Wylie? Wylie Burke’s on my dissertation committee, and something about your reply (besides the last name) reminded me of her. It may have been the sensibility you expressed.

      If you don’t know who Wylie is, ignore me.

      • Posted July 15, 2016 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

        I am! (I wasn’t ignoring you; I just don’t check in here consistently 🙂 ) And my WordPress picture isn’t the best representation, but if you see me in person, you’ll no longer have any doubt about a relationship.

  10. Andrea Kenner
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Mine are usually hot pink or bright orange.

  11. Grania Spingies
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I don’t wear nail polish on any of my nails, nor do I get manicures, pedicures or any other kind of ‘cures. I have better things to do with my spare time and money.

    In any case, I don’t think women do it to attract men. It’s just a grooming ritual, one you either decide to get into because you like it, or you don’t.

    • Jamie
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:22 am | Permalink

      I think you are right. We do a lot of things involving dress and grooming for our selves… because we like how it feels. Reactions of other people are secondary. I think this applies to both men and women.

  12. ploubere
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Were all the women caucasian? Nail polish red seems to me to invariably be a dark red, which would have a high value contrast with light skin. Red retains its identifiable color better at a dark value level than other colors, especially cool colors. That may be part of the explanation.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

      Good point. And, there has *got* to be some study out there somewhere tabulating the usage of different colors of nail polish among women of various skin colors.

  13. Scott Draper
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    Women like pink a lot, but this is apparently a recent cultural preference, starting in the early 20th century.

  14. Scott Draper
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    ” most visible or striking color,”

    The usual explanation by evolutionary types is that red is the color of blood, which makes it a visually exciting color that goes beyond mere visibility. This is why red means danger.

  15. Hal Broker
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

    Maybe because the lips are naturally pink/red and women don’t want to change that but enhance it with more vibrant red tones. Then it follows if they want to match the lips then the nails get the red polish. Just a thought.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:35 pm | Permalink

      Yes I always try to match my lips to my toenails. 😜

      • Mark Joseph
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        Sounds like you are quite the contortionist! 😉

        • Diana MacPherson
          Posted July 2, 2016 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

          Taking ballet while growing forever changed my pelvis so yes, I can put my toes up to my lips but who’d want to? Maybe as an amusing way to shush somebody.

          • rickflick
            Posted July 2, 2016 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

            Ha! Gotta love it.

          • Mark Joseph
            Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

            You may want to track down and read Nancy Kress’ 1993 novella Dancing on Air. Excellent look at the effects of what trying to excel at ballet can do to a person.

            • Diana MacPherson
              Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:54 pm | Permalink

              Yeah good thing I didn’t try too hard but I do have life long injuries from a maniacally evil ballet teacher. It also destroyed what little self esteem I had because no matter how hard I tried, the ballet teacher would yell at me. Negative reinforcement was how things were done in the 70s.

  16. Jonathan Dore
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:51 pm | Permalink

    No mystery about red lips — it’s an accentuation of their natural colours. Fingers and toes though, I’m as much in the dark as you are.

  17. Robert Seidel
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    > I would bet, knowing nothing about this question, that the answers involve either invoking the colors of berries gleaned by our ancestors

    This can be tested: Introduce a group of women with red nail polish (and control groups without nail polish and with nail polish in a different colour), to a group of either heterosexual women or gay men (to account for the “excited nether parts” hypothesis) who’ve never seen a woman wearing nail polish, and record their desire to nibble on the women’s toes.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

      Great test. I think the Templeton Foundation would cover that.

  18. jrhs
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I don’t wear nail polish because my nails look fine just the way they are and I don’t like to draw attention to myself.

    My guess is that red nail polish, just like black dresses, is considered classy. I don’t know how something becomes
    classy though. Or maybe red is the best cover up color for unhealthy nails.

  19. rose
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

    Ok may polish my toenails now I have never before might be fun. Might be difficult but not a red color.

  20. Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:25 pm | Permalink

    Whatever the reason, the preference for red goes back a long way: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipstick#History

    • Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      (Yes, that is for lipstick, not nail polish. :->)

  21. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    Red can be a demanding colour so if I’m getting a pedicure that’s the one I go with. However, I hate sitting around getting crap done to me (except massages) so I never paint my toes and think they look fine naked. But, when I do, it is red because I like red in general and often seek out red things. I have a red car, a red travel cup, a red wallet and I’m sure lots of other red things.

  22. keith cook + / -
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    Cindy Lauper told me in song that ‘Girls just wanna have fun”
    and nail polish manufactures just wanna make money.
    I personally think it has something to do with ripe fruit, red, shades of, a colour with deep evolutionary selection, in a forest of green it signals ‘here I am! eat and disperse my seed’ a time of plenty, a cognitive high and rewarding times.
    With fresh fruit and other foods readily available there is time for hanging out, socialising and bonding and perhaps rearing of young.
    On the other hand it is also used for warning indicators as in, I see red, anger stay away, danger, holding that red is a evolutionary stand out colour that makes sense… or, look at me, I’m confidant and assured and don’t mind being noticed, a power colour?
    Ok that’s my shot at it, Prof(E) you are a funny fellow.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

      Then there is the red able eve nibbled on in all innocence.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:44 pm | Permalink


  23. Erp
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

    No nail polish here, but, I do wonder how much of it is cultural (whether to use polish and what are the desirable colors). Certain cultures also painted their teeth black though in the US the emphasis seems to be on whitening teeth.

    • boggy
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      Teeth were never painted black, the consumption of betel nut turned them black.

      • Steven in Tokyo
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        Beg to differ. Teeth were painted black in Japan and other parts of East Asia, for a very long time.

        • boggy
          Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

          My error obviously, and thanks for the link.

  24. Jim
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I am male, so I dont know if my data is relevant, but I’ve been painting my toenails on and off for 15 years or so. I tend to use offbeat colors: greens, blues, red with black shatter coat, etc., and never the same color on both feet. I like them to be interesting, and I am in no way (consciously) trying to attract mates.

    • Katey
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:20 am | Permalink

      I’m a firm believer that nail polish is for everyone, and glad to see guys wearing it too. I generally wear offbeat colours as well.

      • boggy
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:17 am | Permalink

        Perhaps this is similar to Richard Dawkins wearing odd coloured socks, a practice that in my opinion should be followed by all atheists. It is always useful to know when meeting someone which way they lean faith-wise.

      • Filippo
        Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

        IIRC, Penn Gillette paints one fingernail a dark color.

    • Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:43 am | Permalink

      Thanks for chiming in. I was wondering what the lads did but didn’t have the courage to ask. I’ve seen men with fingernails done, but never the toes, and I’ve lived a looong time.

      • Posted July 3, 2016 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

        Have you watched the movie/musical “Hair”?

        • Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

          No, I haven’t. I wasn’t living in the US during that time. I also haven’t seen “Cats” either in spite of the ample opportunity. Broadway shows by and large don’t interest me. I must confess to a Streisand fetish though, she was Ga-Ga *way* before Ga-Ga. I have known gents who are cross dressers, but I can’t recall seeing them barefoot or in an open toed shoe. I’m a paradox that way, I guess.

          • Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

            A post script to my comment:
            Since everything is on the dubya dubya dubya of the internets I searched a video of Hair, the musical. I maybe missed something of value. I imagined it to be people plaiting each others hair and doing their nails, and fomenting cultural ennui, but no. It started with 7 minutes of indeterminate noodling in a Grateful Deadish way while cast members lounged in the background. There was a segue into “The Age of Aquarius” followed by dialogue that sounded like someone was taking a painful dump through a tin horn. My curiosity abandoned me at that point.
            I’m sure it wasn’t the same as the original. Does anyone have a link to the script I could read?

          • Posted July 4, 2016 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

            In the musical, a recruit for the Vietnam War must undress completely but refuses to take off his socks. They are removed by force, and it turns out that his toenails are painted bright read. The scene is in the very beginning of this video:

          • Filippo
            Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

            I confess that I myself am particularly taken with – for starters – Streisand’s versions of “When Sunny Gets Blue” and “Any Place I Hang My Hat Is Home.”

            • Posted July 5, 2016 at 8:58 pm | Permalink

              Indeed. Or two of my favorite things, Babs and Bocelli, “I Still Can See Your Face”

  25. Ann German
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I read all of the comments, waiting for an update that PCCE was hauled off by the coppers for some sort of foot fetish stalking behavior. I have never admired nail polish, as it signals that the wearer doesn’t like getting (down and) dirty. I also assume that it has a sexual signalling effect . . . I am not sure why Penn Jillette wears it.

  26. bluemaas
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:14 pm | Permalink

    Finished this http://www.prettygirlscience.com/2015/02/sinful-colors-flight-patterns.html (‘Navy I Do’) this morning. I have a protocol so as to minimize time spent at this endeavor: off on Thursday evening, let air a day, first coat on Friday night with a full hour of drying time whilst reading onscreen, then early Saturday morning the second (& usually final) coat while same onscreen. Only fingernails. Rarely, if ever, toenails. Do not bare toes; wear in warm weather moccasins, slides or mules instead of sandals or flipflops which I find painful; just preference. Never had a manicure or a pedicure; likely shall not cuz of inability of such environments to autoclave their stuffs including baths. Self – done. Lasts at least three weeks’ time. At least.

    Why ? Never could (as kiddo, mother loathsome thereof, $, time) before — till very, very recently in my lifetime. Counterintuitively, by the way, painted nails retain more moisture than bared ones do. Horse hoof – nutrient of biotin is key to strong, healthy proteinaceous keratin of length which I happen to also have.

    And for me, color is big. Truly, truly gargantuan. Paint, both fingernails and lips (KleanColors), is done / chosen for self: for season or event or honor or celebration. ‘Navy I Do’ by $so cheap$ – yet – lovely Sinful Colors is cuz of my very favorite USA – holiday next week ! Many men including my third kiddo, 36 years old and terribly harsh (my opinion only) on all pieces / parts of his integuments cuz of his daily activities, paint their fingernails with this tinge. Micah Abraham Zebulon paints his toenails this one, as well.

    Just came off of satinized sunshine / canary yellow, ‘BananAppeal’, this week in honor of the darling people who came in to my sphere on their vacation last month. ‘Exotic Green’ I paint for springtimes, for Marches, of course, and for Grandkiddo Iris Genevieve’s Louisville Slugger identification (her favored color with, as well, her birthday in May). Octobers will be ‘Courtney Orange’ to celebrate Grandkiddo Ani Willow’s birthday. And All Hallows’ Eve, of course.

    Rarely do I paint reds. But, yes, usually that, ‘Cross My Heart’ = a tomato – red only and never a blue – red, is done for Junes and tart harvest (upper Midwest / USA) off of Chickabooma Cherry Tree then.

    And one of my favored hues is a quite muted one actually, the one I apply in between all other events or celebrations and take to the gym wintertimes including Decembers and Januarys and Februarys (through what some may religiously believe should be a reddened deal): a silverized sparkle named ‘Secret Admirer’ which is a charcoal gray.

    Ms Grania is correct in my view: a ritual done for self cuz I like it. The palette I like. Interesting survey, Dr Coyne. Next one is ____ ?


  27. Kevin
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:50 pm | Permalink

    I hate red but red toenails look pretty awesome. Short painted nails always look better than long nails. To me long really long nails are equivalent to wearing a baseball cap backwards on a man.

  28. eric
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 7:59 pm | Permalink

    Support for the latter hypothesis comes from the notion that the redder a woman’s lips are, the more sexual she is.

    the notion? Okay, I’m as skeptical of Ev Psych as the next person, but I think we can grant them the fairly mundane claims that (1) a variety of emotions (embarrassment, anger, and yes, sexual excitement) sends blood to the face, and that (2) humans are pretty good at picking up on the fact that someone else has a flushed face.

    Incidentally, red is generally considered a “power color” for men’s ties too – so it’s not just women using the color to get attention.

  29. alexandra moffat
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:16 pm | Permalink

    In earlier parts of the 20th century, red nails were considered tacky and “common”, just as any makeup or dyed hair was in Victorian times, designating one as a fallen woman. (Parallel with actresses).By after the war (#2) as women felt their freedom, maybe it became a sign of overt individuality & liberation. And since lipstick was red, it, the color, migrated to the nails.
    That is a guess, not science. Obviously.

  30. rickflick
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:17 pm | Permalink

    Looking at the popularity of nail polish generally, I think almost everyone has noticed that there are a lot of Vietnamese nail shops around. There’s a reason for that:


  31. Randall Schenck
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 8:21 pm | Permalink

    The only thing that must be red is that Ferrari I cannot afford. Polishing the nails is fine but try to stay away from the tattoos if possible or anything that won’t come off in the shower. You just might not feel the same tomorrow.

  32. Posted July 2, 2016 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    For special events like weddings and parties, I use only the softest pearlescent pink (finger/toenails). My lipstick is generally a bit brighter, such as soft pink or a hint of copper. I used to wear bright coral lipstick and nailpolish but no more.

    • Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      I wear whatever nail polish and lipstick I like that also go with my skin tone and clothes, and is not garish (for me). So it could be a close match with an outfit (such as coral or pink) or a neutral or pastel colour like palest pink or buff.

      These days I have no time to fuss and muss with nail polish as I’m an avid gardener! Chipped nail polish is distasteful.

      I rather enjoy seeing the colours flashed about by other people. It’s clear that many women go with what’s trending and follow the seasons. That is, the hues of the reds will generally deepen in the Autumn and brighten in Spring, as do clothes colours. No surprise that bright red is back this summer.

  33. Hempenstein
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

    Grania up @11: But I also think nail polish is used by women to impress other women:
    That seems likely to me. At least, I’ve yet to hear a guy say anything like, “Man, did you see the nails on her!”

    Otherwise, history and technology are what interest me the most, and for that in re. this, go here – seems the Chinese started this in the last quarter of the current interglacial, aka 5kY ago: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nail_polish

    • Grania Spingies
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      It was Josephine that said that, not me. But I largely agree. A lot of men of the heterosexual persuasion do not notice things like new hairdos, nail polish or handbags. The married ones tend to have been trained to though. 😉

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 10:18 am | Permalink

        Bah! I never care if men notice things. I point out crap I want to talk about to everyone anyway and there are always women to find to talk about new shoes, jewellery, etc. I’m happy that there are a few more women than usual at my current workplace as working in IT, you usually don’t have so many.

  34. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    There’s an increasing trend among some women to paint one fingernail on each hand a different color from the rest. This trend started (or at least I first noticed it) maybe 8 or 10 years ago.

    Not that many women know or care, but I approve. It’s kinda cool.

    • Mark Joseph
      Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

      There’s one woman at the office where I work who always has her fingernails painted one color, but with a design overlaid on the ring finger of both hands.

      • Katey
        Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:24 am | Permalink

        That’s what’s known as an accent nail. The design either could be from using a vinyl decal or what’s called “stamping.” I won’t get into the specifics, unless you really want to know (I try not to go on and on about nail polish to non-nail polish people because it can sound boring or weird. Or both.)

        • Mark Joseph
          Posted July 3, 2016 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

          That was just right. Thanks!

    • Filippo
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      I’ve noticed that occasionally 3rd-5th grade girls will alternate two colors on their toenails. If it’s two red/three green on one foot, it will be three red/two green on the other foot. I’m moderately fascinated how they receive their pop culture cues informing them that it’s “cool” and “in” to do such things.

  35. Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    My guess is red pigments have been much more available and affordable since the early ages. Probably women wanted attention and they went for the red colors owing to easy access to the pigments. I bet this will change in a few thousand years in the future and we’ll see different colors dominating their nails.

  36. Posted July 2, 2016 at 10:13 pm | Permalink

    No polish for me. What’s the point?

    In my 20’s, I paid for nails and pedicures, but I realized what I enjoyed about doing so was being touched. Now I frequent nail salons for pedicures without polish. I don’t bother with my hands.

  37. gravelinspector-Aidan
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    I have a sinking feeling that a “match the painted toenail to the contributor competition is looming”. I’m now trying to remember when I last looked at one of my toenails.

  38. lonefreethinkers
    Posted July 2, 2016 at 11:32 pm | Permalink

    Watching women’s legs and their nail polish, fun for me, women who have fair skin bright red matches, dark skin light colors match, my opinion !

  39. Posted July 3, 2016 at 12:44 am | Permalink

    Anyway, if you colored the nails of baboons, I’m not sure any of the males would notice, given the incredible display of the females’ behinds when they are in estrus.

    • Posted July 3, 2016 at 12:45 am | Permalink

      Hey, maybe that is why female humans paint color their lips and nails!

    • Filippo
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:31 pm | Permalink

      Am reminded of male Mandrills.

  40. Helen Hollis
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 12:52 am | Permalink

    Red toenails gives me the reaction I have when someone types with cap lock on. It’s shouting out loud color. If this survey was done in the US I would not be surprised that it was chosen due to the holiday weekend. I can not wear open toed shoes in public without having my toenails painted, so I do give more thought to this than I should. Friends my age that have lived in the same area have looked down upon red nails of any kind as dated. Most going with greys and putty colors or anything in the nudes. The lazy way to go is a french manicure because it will go with anything you could possibly be wearing. I’ve also noticed more holographic types of polish lately with younger types. It is simply a time waster to do it properly. With prepped nails that have been soaked, cuticles pushed back and groomed, clipped and filed then removing the natural oil off the surface and any removal of ridges by buffing, then base coat and maybe even a coat of peel off “protection” to keep stray strokes off the skin then minimal two coats of color and then a final top coat… it takes a lot of time.

    • Katey
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:44 am | Permalink

      I take a lot longer than most people I know, but I think a lot of the time gets shaved off when you get used to doing it so often. Also, quick dry top coat.

  41. Katey
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:40 am | Permalink

    I haven’t counted in a long while, but I have around 700 bottles of polish. I change it frequently, and use all sorts of different colours and finishes. I don’t change my toe nail polish as often, but I do keep polish on them, mostly as a way to justify just a little bit having that ridiculous amount of nail polish! I rarely have them painted red (doesn’t prevent me from having at least 2 dozen or so- probably more- bottles of red polish, and they’re ALL different- similar, not the same!), but oddly, was planning on that colour tomorrow as I haven’t used it in awhile (I try not to use 2 similar colours so close together). I’m also really seasonal about colours- you wouldn’t catch me wearing neon pink in winter, or something dark and vampy in summer.

    For me, nail polish is just a small (well, it was before I started collecting) fun thing you can do for yourself, playing with colour and getting creative with different techniques (gradients, accent nails, stamping, etc) and if you don’t like it or get sick of it, it’s an easy fix with a cotton ball and some acetone. And while it’s always nice when someone notices my nails, I do it for me.

  42. Posted July 3, 2016 at 4:28 am | Permalink

    No nail polish here, on fingers or toes – and no lipstick or other make-up either, as it happens. I have great admiration for those who can wear make-up and look good but it is a knack I never really wanted to acquire. In my teens in the early 1980s I often wore nail polish, though only on the fingers, never the toes, and usually an unusual colour; black was a favourite. Red was too grown-up and “normal”. Once I started getting into archaeology, what my fingernails looked like quickly became a moot point. My feet are weird and disgusting and I try to avoid baring them.

  43. Lauren
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 5:19 am | Permalink

    It’s what guys notice!

    Having gotten my first professional pedicure in years yeasterday, in preparation for an Altlantic crossing on the Queen Mary, I was worried that the only “in” colors would be black, green, etc. Being 60, I was brought up on the long, red nails of all the stars of my day – “the look.”

    I was so relieved when the nail care professional told me that for summer, red was still it. Of course, it’s not called “red” as there’s at least 10 shades to choose from. I’m now sporting Amsterdam Tulip, named for a city I’ll visit next week.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

      “I’m now sporting Amsterdam Tulip . . . .”

      I guess that that beats Distressed Pumpkin.

  44. chrism
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    I have always assumed pink and red were popular because they take the normal colour of a (white person’s) nail and amplify it, just as lipstick does for lips. If this were correct, and we had a population of black people unaffected by western culture telling them how they should look, I would expect them to prefer brown nail varnish. As it is, red seems to win out there.
    I do find that in recent years colours that were always considered impossible for nails have become popular, such as yellow and lighter blues. I really dislike this, and indeed anything that removes the fiction that the polish is a natural colour. Having an accent nail, a design or the truly evil reverse French manicure with black tips is nothing but off-putting to me.

  45. Stuartg
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 5:33 am | Permalink

    I spoke to my wife: “apparently red is the most popular colour for nail polish. Why do you think that is?”

    “Because it is.”

    Being male, I decided that was a sufficient answer not to investigate further.

    I prefer safety to controversy.

  46. Cindy
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    I always paint my toenails in the summer. I don’t always paint them red, but do lean toward the red “family”. And I never thought about why. I guess it’s because those colors look best on toes.
    I don’t generally wear red on my fingernails, though. I wear different colors or no color and usually paint a design like flowers or shapes. One time I even painted a garden with a picket fence.
    I guess I am not as creative with my toes because they are too awkward to reach.
    Interesting survey.

  47. Cindy
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    The Cindy commenting here is not me, it is another Cindy. My only comment here was about how reds look good on most skin tones – every other comment made by “Cindy” is not me. Me being the Cindy who regularly comments on regressives.

  48. Historian
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    I haven’t noticed anybody commenting on the role of the cosmetics industry and its marketing efforts. As part of the fashion industry, it certainly contributes to what is “in” at any given time. Of course, to maintain its revenue stream it needs to convince women that what was “in” last year is now passe even if the new “in” fashion looks barely different from last year’s.

  49. William Bill Fish
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    My daughters painted my toenails(their Dad) red, many moons ago. I went to a swim meet and got many strange looks while standing on the starting blocks and walking around the deck. Got some smiles but no comments.

    • Filippo
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

      Sounds like a good charity fund-raising activity.

  50. Vaal
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    I remember reading an article about magazine sales from a Magazine editor, and at one point he addressed why the magazine often used the color red. He wrote that magazine publishers were aware that red attracts the eye like no other color, so it was common to get that color on to a magazine cover to attract the eye.

    After reading that, the next time I visited a magazine store I was amazed to see how right he was. It was just a sea of red. Most magazines seemed to have worked red on to the cover somewhere, be it lettering, background, a red object or whatever.

    • Peter Austin
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Ah! Maybe that explains that left bar here then!


  51. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    I’ve always had a thing for women who didn’t mind getting their hands (and feet) dirty. OTOH, I certainly understand when a woman wants to keep those appendages well-groomed and maintained.

    That dichotomy has led to more than a few conversations along the lines of “Hey, hot shot, you wanna drag me to muck around in a swamp Saturday morning, then still have me pulled together when we go out Saturday night, you can spring for a spa in the afternoon.” As a consequence, I’ve spent a minor fortune on manicures and pedicures over the years.

    Been worth every penny.

  52. Carrie Riley
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    I believe red is used because women consider it to be a color that attracts the eye of other people. Not just for a sexual look but it just pulls the eye. And it goes well with any skin color.

  53. Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    I have never painted my toenails. Some ladies around me say that it is poor taste to wear sandals if one’s toenails are not painted, but I pretend not to hear.
    In my younger years, I’ve tried painting my nails pink. I liked how they looked, but it was too much work putting the polish and then cleaning it, and not environment-friendly. To boot, polish gets damaged very soon if you work hard. So I stopped it. I’ve never experimented with red or another bright color. Some of my students are brave, use red, yellow, green, blue, different colors on different colors, or paint whole artworks on their nails. I like it, but do not regret never trying it. To each his own.

    I was sad to read above a comment about not liking feet, even one’s own. As I’ve written before, I’d wish people to love their bodies more. Let’s condition ourselves to see beauty in them!

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 3, 2016 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

      “To boot, polish gets damaged very soon if you work hard. So I stopped it.”

      Well there’s your problem – working hard. You should stop that. 🙂

  54. Marella
    Posted July 3, 2016 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    My mother, who was a nurse, said that blue nail polish made you look like a corpse. Maybe red makes you look healthier because it shows good circulation. Pale fingertips are caused by poor circulation, and presumably imply poor health.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 4, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Yeah, when my fingernails get really pale, I know I’ve become aenemic and better start upping my iron intake. When they are nice & pink, I know things are good. When they are blue, I know I’m cold.

  55. Eli Hershkovitz
    Posted July 4, 2016 at 1:47 am | Permalink

    I’m surprised to see no mention of the ‘toxic trio:’ toluene, dibutyl phthalate and formaldehyde found in most nail polish. TPHP (triphenyl phosphate), a suspected endocrine disruptor, is absorbed through the nailbed.

  56. Posted July 4, 2016 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I would guess it is to “match” lips, which are in turn supposedly to match the other lips – but I am not sure I buy that either.

  57. Posted July 5, 2016 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    I love green and blue toe nail polish. I’m not a big fan of red in general, and I don’t like the way red looks with my pale skin (though it does look good with some pale skin tones, especially on women with dark hair in my opinion, but I’m blonde). I will occasionally do a hot pink polish though.

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