Fingernails have long been symbols beauty — specifically as indicators of wealth. The cleaner, the longer, the more well-manicured, the more they distance the wearer from manual work. Long nails, even if natural fingernails, are unnatural — and the really long “dragon lady” fingernails are sexy because they are so removed from the norm they become exotic.
We may no longer be digging roots out of the ground, grinding corn by hand, or banging laundry against rocks; but (most of us) still wash dishes, scrub floors and type on keyboards — all which wreak havoc with our nails and manicures. And so, whether we “do less work,” pay for our manicures, or just wear gloves to protect our hands, manicures, and pretty hands in general, remain “beautiful” because they and/or the high maintenance of them indicate wealth.
Image credits: Chen-Yu Nail Polish for Vogue, 1939; photographer Horst P. Horst. Via.