Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Harry Styles with Tracee Ellis Ross (left) and Kendall Jenner (right). Stars like Styles are helping to make nail art and nail polish for men mainstream. Photo: Getty Images

Stars like Harry Styles are making men’s nail art and polish popular, and normalising something seen as for women only until now

  • Nail salons are attracting a new clientele – men – and the likes of Chinese rappers Zhou Zhennan and Kris Wu are helping drive the trend in Asia
  • ‘Nail art is just another way of self-expression, like tattoos,’ says the co-founder of a Hong Kong salon

In May, Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox caused quite a stir at the Billboard Music Awards in Los Angeles for their outré appearances and public displays of affection.

The looks served by the musician-actor, who had dyed his tongue black, and Fox (in a barely-there Mugler dress) were so distracting that you would be forgiven for not noticing that Kelly was also sporting immaculate nail art. A few days later, his talons were unmissable at the iHeartRadio Music Awards.

Machine Gun Kelly is one of a number of famous men leaning into nail art; rapper A$AP Rocky, singers Bad Bunny and Harry Styles, comedian Pete Davidson and model Anwar Hadid have all had their nails painted for fashion campaigns, magazine covers – or simply because they can.

The micro trend is pushing into the mainstream and a growing number of nail salons in the United States and Europe are drawing a new clientele – men who are looking for something different for their hands.

Machine Gun Kelly’s black tongue distracted many from his nail art at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards. Photo: Getty Images
Machine Gun Kelly sported long talons at the iHeartRadio Music Awards. Photo: AP

“It’s definitely a real trend – we see more men coming to the studio and asking for nail polish and now nail art,” says Amy Ling Lin, founder of Sundays, a nail care studio in New York that’s focused on wellness. “It’s interesting that guys are not limiting themselves to using safe colours or art; we’ve seen men asking for pure black to bright blue, or painting their toes all white. We’ve had clients also requesting evil eye nail art and also minimalist designs.”

Lin points to A$AP Rocky as a celebrity who has done a lot to normalise nail art for men and help make it a trend, saying the rapper “does a good job of expressing himself and making his nail designs an extension of his outfits”.

8 of the top nail trends for 2021 that we’re looking forward to

It’s not just in the West that nail art is taking off – the likes of Chinese rappers Zhou Zhennan and Kris Wu are helping drive the trend in Asia, too.

“Nail art is growing in Hong Kong,” says Carroll Lee, co-founder of Tinted., a nail salon in Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island. “We wouldn’t say that it’s mainstream yet, but among the more adventurous and creative communities, we’ve seen an increase in demand. We feel like nail art is just another way of self-expression, just like tattoos.”

Nail art and nail polish for men is not new. From the late 1960s onwards, members of glam rock, punk and metal bands often sported painted nails as part of their stage outfits. For music legend David Bowie, they were an important element of his rock alter ego Ziggy Stardust. Fellow singers Marc Bolan, Iggy Pop, Ozzy Osbourne, Keith Richards, Robert Smith and Kurt Cobain were all notable fans of nail polish.
Chinese actor and hip hop singer Kris Wu wears nail art. Photo: Shutterstock
A$AP Rocky has done a lot to normalise nail art for men and help make it a trend. Photo: Getty Images

As a result, painted nails for men have been seen as the rebellious quirk of a rock star, not something fashionable or a form of expression.

What’s changed is the plethora of nail salons that cater to men just as much as they do to women, and the rise of social media. “Seeing big celebs doing it definitely makes it less taboo, but we are also seeing more posts on social media, so there is definitely more inspiration and a growing community of men who want to share their love of nail art,” says Tinted.’s co-founder, Carmen Lau. “Two hashtags that we follow are #malepolish and #mensnailart, which have no shortage of inspiration.”

Nail salons have also been making themselves more attractive to male customers. “We actually launched a campaign called Menicure Monday where we were offering 20 per cent off manicures for guys and, if a girl brings a guy, both would get 20 per cent off services. We wanted to promote the idea that nail care as a form of self-care is for everyone, not just girls,” say Lin.

Nail salons now cater to men just as much as they do to women.
The growing acceptance of gender fluidity (remaining flexible about gender identity and not committing to a single definition) among young people, and the rise in fluid fashion and beauty products are other drivers of the trend in men’s nail art.

Underpinning this is young men with fewer hang-ups about what is deemed masculine or feminine in fashion, who have the freedom (or at least the appearance of freedom) to be more creative with their personal style.

Nail art for men has the potential to become a lucrative business for beauty companies. Last year, Chanel launched a line of nail varnish for men, while Machine Gun Kelly is launching his own line of nail polish, UN/DN.
A model wears Boy de Chanel nail polish.

“‘I think it’s going to become more popular as more men become comfortable with the idea of going to nail salons,” says Lin. “This, coupled with more male icons trying nail polish, will lead to a trickle-down effect – but we are still a few years away from seeing it on men every day.”

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Male stars embrace nail art and manicures on the red carpet and beyond