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Essential Classics: Manicure Set

There was probably a time – no matter how worldly, cultured and open-minded you consider yourself now – when you looked down on the manicure.

No, not the women’s manicure – the MANicure.

We’re talking about shaping up those scraggly claws of yours and buffing them like a favourite pair of dress shoes. We’ll forgive you for once thinking it was only something your girlfriends did when they needed some ‘me’ time. Nowadays, more and more evolved gentleman are seeing nail maintenance as a regular part of their grooming routines, right up there with shaving, deodorant and putting product in their hair.

To get the look without the hassle and expense of heading to a salon, you’ll need today’s essential classic: a manicure set.


manicure1Although plenty of 21st-century men are squeamish about the idea, male manicures have a history that goes back thousands of years. Ancient Babylonian men manicured and coloured their nails with kohl to denote class. The lowest classes were green, while the upper echelons sported black. The Babylonians were also responsible for the world’s first manicure set – a lavish affair with tools made from solid gold, dated to 3200 BC.

The ancient Egyptians were also no strangers to the manicure. Egyptian pharaohs were fond of the treatment, and even had official nail art masters who attended to them. Archaeologists have excavated ancient Egyptian manicure sets and exhumed mummies with polished nails. Early Chinese Royals and members of the Ming Dynasty followed in the pharaohs’ footsteps, creating tints out of a mixture of egg whites, wax, vegetable dyes, gelatin and other materials.


Manicures continued to be popular, but only for the wealthy, all the way up the early 19th century. It was then that a doctor of King Louis XV performed a procedure on the royal’s finger and was inspired to create a manicure set for the common people. It was not an immediate success, but by the 1920s manicure sets were firmly on-trend. Some from that date can even be found in museums today.

Nail care was considered important in the world of business at the beginning of the 20th century. Manicure sets could be found in most shops, and were much more common amongst men of the era than they are in modern times. But all trends are cyclical, and once again high-powered and highly fashionable gentlemen have embraced nail maintenance as part of their grooming routines.

In Popular Culture

Manicure3Few things that existed thousands of years ago house changed so little, and yet remained in such widespread use. Tweaks happened here and there – small nail scissors no longer play double-duty as sewing scissors, emery boards were invented in 1830, and you won’t find a lot of solid gold tools these days – but on the whole, the manicure set remains largely untouched. What has changed is society’s acceptance of male manicures. They’ve gone from popular, to reviled as effeminate, to popular once more. Now that they’re back on top, consider investing in a manicure set to keep your cuticles clean and under control.

Where To Buy

Mr Porter


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