Getting a manicure

Photo via Internet Archive Book Images / Flickr (Public Domain)

A new nail salon is trying to appeal to men with leather chairs and dark woods.

Masculinity seems to be in a fragile state, with men going to extremes to protect their neck(beard)s from all that is pink, floral, and otherwise lady-like. So biweekly, we’ll dive into the ways men are guarding themselves from a feminized society, as we ask, "Are men OK?"

Last week, I was elated to see a man walk into my local salon and ask for a pedicure. It’s not the first time that’s happened while I’ve been getting my own nails tended to, but it’s a rare occurrence. Most of the time, I chalk it up to men being under the impression that getting a manicure or pedicure necessitates colored polish (which also is a cool thing more men should free to get into!), but also that men are not encouraged to care for their bodies the same way women are. It’s a shame, really. 

A few salons, however, are trying to change that.

CBS2 recently spotlighted Hammer & Nails, a new salon in Hollywood that caters to men. It provides all the services of a traditional salon—manicures, foot scrubs, massages—in an environment that skews toward more masculine tastes. There are leather chairs, big TVs, dark woods—not to mention word play on big, heavy tools. On its website, founder Michael Eliot says that he was uncomfortable with “the pastel colors and the television blasting Real Housewives” he found at other salons. “As Michael observed his surroundings, he felt discomfort. He wanted hand and foot grooming, but he also wanted to feel at home, content with his surroundings.”

Plenty of salons have offered “MAN-icures” and other male-centric services for some time—though hardly the array that’s traditionally offered "for women." The chain Bliss Spa offers three services (a manicure, a pedicure, and a facial) in its “For Men” category, plus things like a “cheeks he-wax,” which costs the same as a regular “cheeks wax” but is presumably 15 percent more masculine.

It would be one thing if Hammer & Nails was solely focused on making an uber-masculine nail-care experience; Eliot is right that most nail salons adopt similar design schemes, so it’s admirable to provide the market with something different. However, while Hammer & Nails’ website insists that its design is “gender neutral,” oddly, this description is under a section titled “Women.” For them, “gender-neutral” means they don’t use nail polish, won't allow children, and won't provide flip-flops.

It seems gender-neutral is often shorthand for whatever is not traditionally womanlike (such as having children). Zara’s “genderless” clothing line featured gray sweatshirts and jeans, and not a single dress. “Unisex” baby clothing is devoid of pink, sparkles, or anything feminine, but filled with primary colors and black stripes. So what would gender-neutral really look like?

Earlier this week, CoverGirl announced its first CoverBoy, 17-year-old James Charles. The partnership was a huge step in recognizing that beauty products and services are not, nor have they ever been, for women-only. We can point to men wearing wigs in Versailles, the long tradition of shvitzes and scrubs in Russian baths, and the entirety of glam rock. Beautifying isn't gender-neutral as much as it is available to all genders.

Maybe in the future, spokespeople like Charles will make it so that leather chairs and no-nail-polish does not signify “man-centric.” It’ll just be for anyone who likes to be pampered while sitting in a leather chair, which sounds like a pretty gender-neutral activity.

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