Trends in fashion and beauty can be charming to some, alarming to others. In the '70s, designer jeans raised a few eyebrows when they started appearing--on women and men--in offices where denims were considered far too informal. About the same time, a trend toward long, long fingernails was just beginning. Women grew their nails past the one-inch mark, painting them blood-red, maroon or scarlet. Critics viewed them as claws, but others saw them as a vestige of femininity in a world gone unisex.
Calvins have come full circle from status wear to casual clothing, but many feminine hands still end with nails that extend well beyond the fingertips. In Southern California, colorful talons have become something of a regional trademark, like sun-streaked hair.
But in Paris, Milan and Rome, artifice is out. The manicure of the moment features short, natural-looking, soignee nails, buffed or stroked with glossy clear polish. If there is color, it is traditional: pristine pink or perhaps a classic red.
This approach is strictly Old World, according to many Southern California manicurists. In and around Los Angeles, where many of the newest techniques and styles are generated, manicurists are offering outlandish nail accents such as genuine snakeskin, inset gems (real and faux ), and even 14-karat-gold chains attached to the nail on one end and to a small pinky ring on the other.
For the holidays, manicurists with a sense of the absurd will attach voice-activated flashing lights to clients' nails.
In some salons, artists are painting unicorns, chrysanthemums--even portraits of the clients' husbands or boyfriends--on fingernails .
Sharon Csiszer, who has won 13 national nail-art competitions in the last two years, paints pictures on nails at the Nailers salon in Lancaster. She says most of her clients request "snowmen and Christmas trees during the holidays, and Garfield the cat all year-round," but an intricate undersea illustration--with treasure chest, mermaids and sea horses, painted on 10 three-inch nails--won her a prize earlier this year.
Pictures may seem tame contrasted with one of the most recent trends. "Covering nails with real snakeskin is the fashion statement for fall and winter," says Pat Nation, a spokeswoman for Nail Technicians of America and a charter member of the California Nail Fashion Committee. "Some clients want all 10 nails covered, and others want the snakeskin combined with colored polish and rhinestones," says Nation, a manicurist at Olivera's in Corona del Mar. Three years ago, Betty Hulsey and Brenda Kilman of San Bernardino founded Nocturnal Nails, which sells sheets of cured and dyed snakeskin for nails, but Hulsey admits that it took a while for the look to catch on. Now, 38 shades are being sold in the United States, Canada, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.
But no trend goes unchallenged. Jessica Vartoughian, owner of Jessica's Nail Clinic on Sunset Boulevard, says natural is best. Vartoughian, who gained celebrity status when People magazine mentioned that First Lady Nancy Reagan was among her clients, forbids any form of fake fingernails in her salon. "High-level fashion is tailored and beautiful. The hands must look equally elegant," she says. "Very long nails, acrylic nails, air-brushed nails, snakeskin nails--these are not elegance."
Of course, not all trends can be considered elegant. Witness, for example, the "Flashdance"-inspired torn sweat shirts that became one of the most ubiquitous styles a few years ago. Nails dressed in reptile, modern art or artificial gems are signs of the times--fashion expressed by the masses. Such fingertip kitsch has a endearing elegance all its own.