For the past several years, nail art has proven a creative power move for men and women alike—and the proponents are as outspoken as their communicative manicures. Take A$AP Rocky, for example, who has opted to exude self-expression via his nail game for years now. “I feel like men should be able to do nail art without feeling feminine,” the rapper told Vogue in 2019 while sporting a manicure built of Prada motifs. In 2021, Harry Styles brought his jaunty sense of style to the nail game with Pleasing, the brand defined by poppy hues and playful application. The desire for the aforementioned performers to rock individualized manis marks a telling shift in the culture of beauty; it also serves as a reminder that trailblazing men in the spotlight have helped make way for this moment for decades.
In the golden days of rock and roll, “man-icures” were everywhere. During his Ziggy Stardust era of the early ’70s, David Bowie’s teal nails were a cool contrast to his flamed-hair mullet, while Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler began sporting his now-signature nail art, accented by graphic black stripes. Setting the stage for style rebels of the decades that followed, chipped nail polish was a grunge mainstay for Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain in the ’90s. In the aughts, Johnny Depp began to take a page out of his idol Keith Richard’s book with haphazardly applied cobalt digits; “Kissed by a Rose” singer Seal offered up a pristine alternative with a glossy slime green manicure.
These days, musicians of all genres (from rappers like Lil Nas X to boy bander Joe Jonas) rock nail art in their regular rotations, while designer Marc Jacobs offers a press on nail kit featuring designs crafted in collaboration with stylized nail savant Mei Kawajiri. LANY frontman Paul Klein is a fan of the spirited polish job, too, often incorporating nail art into his soft-slash-irreverent aesthetic. “I’ve always taken a more unorthodox approach in the way I’ve dressed, and I feel like nail art just further elevates my look and kind of separates me from the pack,” explains Klein. Then, of course, there’s Puerto Rican rapper Bad Bunny, who has served up a dizzying array of vivid talons over the course of his career. “I’m not telling people, ‘Hey, paint your nails or color your hair, do this or do that,’” says the musician. “I’m simply saying, do what makes you happy, and to never limit yourself.”
Polished nails are becoming something of red carpet mainstay for men, too. The 2023 Brit Awards saw Harry Styles donning a pale lavender manicure (painted by nail artist Jenny Longworth), while the 2022 Met Gala saw Shawn Mendes sporting a matte navy blue designed to match his Tommy Hilfiger look.
As the gender-neutral nail art space continues to expand and inspire, here’s a retrospective of famous men who have adorned themselves with colorful nails.