The short answer is, you don’t do anything about it if you don’t like. Now read on for more; Etiquetteer is exercised.
There is no one crueler than a child. There is no one crueler than a child. The teasing and taunting that goes along with school days is, so far, an insoluble problem in the human condition. So Etiquetteer was deeply disturbed to read yesterday about the experience of kindergartner Sam Gouveia, mercilessly taunted for his bright red nail polish. This was entirely unnecessary and should not have happened. The taunting, that is!
So let’s talk about manicured nails for men, and how we react to other people. The latter is really more important, so let’s get the nails out of the way first.
There’s a long history of men getting manicures and pedicures, and there’s nothing wrong with that. “A man’s hands are his business card,” and they should be maintained to look Perfectly Proper, whether he does it himself or has a manicurist do it. This is not just clipping one’s nails and filing down the rough spots, but also grooming cuticles and buffing.
Nail polish for men has had less universal acceptance, to put it mildly. A man’s hands may be his business cards, but that doesn’t mean they should be the first thing one notices about him. Esquire Etiquette of 1953 makes the point “. . . if you can’t keep up with [cuticles], you ought to cultivate a manicurist. But don’t let her put polish on your nails! A good buffing is healthy, and the gloss added by a buffing powder is clean looking, but any and all sorts of liquid polish are apt to give you a scare once you step out into the harsh world beyond the barber shop.” Amy Vanderbilt agreed in 1963: “If he has his nails professionally manicured, they may be buffed but should never have any colored or even colorless polish applied.”
Why on earth this aversion to nail polish for men?! The association of cosmetics with femininity would account for colored polish, but wouldn’t clear polish be, well, clear? Clear polish manicures were not unknown - Etiquetteer likes this writer’s recall of his grandfather’s clear manicure - but somehow not considered Perfectly Proper, and vaguely associated with the underworld. Eddie Mars, the sharply-dressed gangster in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, gets called out for his clear polish, and fans of Barbra Streisand have already recalled her deathless lyric “Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein, Nicky Arnstein . . . he has polish on his nails!”*
Where does that leave us in 21st-century America? It leaves us in a nation of freedoms in which there is a lot more license to appear outside the norm than hitherto, and if you don’t like it, the most Perfectly Proper response is to hush your mouth. What someone else does with their nails (or hair, or anything) is none of your business. Avoid them if necessary, but keep your opinion to yourself.
Which brings us to what happened to Young Master Gouveia at kindergarten. His father Aaron Gouveia, who tweets at The Daddy Files, put it best: “My wife and I spent five years successfully preaching tolerance, acceptance, and the importance of expression and your kids unraveled that in one school day.” Let’s look at “the importance of expression.” Everything is new to children, and that means exploration and questions*. Unfortunately that often means swift criticism for something different and outside the norm. And like it or not, colored nails for men are still far outside the norm. And unfortunately, that created a Perfect Storm at kindergarten.
So that’s what happened. Taunting and bullying start to stop happening with Education and Example. Education at school, at one’s house of worship, and especially at home. Example from role models, parents above all others. Mr. Gouveia gets Etiquetteer’s vote for Father of the Year. His passionate defense of his son irresistibly reminded Etiquetteer of another courageous father, Nils Pickert, who donned a skirt in solidarity with his own young son back in 2012. It can’t be easy, but it’s so important.
The unsung hero in all this is Young Master Gouveia’s one friend who stood up for him. How undervalued is simple loyalty! Etiquetteer salutes this young person, too.
Will bright red nails become the norm for men? Etiquetteer really doesn’t think so, but who knows?! Once it was unthinkable for a lady to go without stockings, or for the middle class to accept tattoos, but in the last 25 years both those things have become so standard they barely raise an eyebrow. In the meantime, Etiquetteer hopes it won’t take Young Master Gouveia two years to grow claws - Jungle Red!
*For the uninitiated, Nick Arnstein was a bit of a gangster.
**Etiquetteer will never forget innocently commuting home at the back of the bus one evening and being besieged by a class of eight-year-old students who had never seen a bow tie before. Etiquetteer had to demonstrate how to tie it right there on the bus.