Nail Care Part Two: Your Visual Guide to the Classic Manicure


Oh I just love the weekend atmosphere. It is not only apparent on the streets but also online. People post about their plans and happenings. If you are like me, you don’t go out every weekend, and what better way to spend the time, than pampering yourself? If you’d like to check out Nail Care Part One, it’s HERE.

I will be using two books to try to explain the simple, vintage manicure procedure, one from a book for on Cosmetology for Beauty School, published in 1967 and the other from a series of beautification guides from 1950. Together, they complement each other not only in technique, but in great tips and background to the adornment of fingernails. Before beginning, the beauty book states a few things one must do to have the “perfect” home manicure are:

1. Time. If you are rushing, you are not taking care. According to Charles Revson (who was Revlon’s creator) said that in the Revlon Salon, a manicure took 1 hour, therefore, when at home, it should take you about the same amount of time. Though, in an “emergency”, the process can be sped up.

2. Proper Set Up. A steady table, good lighting, all your tools/products at hand will be ideal.

3. Do Nothing For An Hour After. This applies if you had applied nail polish, in order to extend the life of your completed manicure. (I will share some insights on how to cut this time by A LOT!)

Now that the rules are laid out, so to speak, let’s begin!

manicure vintage style

According to the beauty book, early manicuring dates back as far as 2500 B.C. Egyptian papyri. In ancient Rome’s luxurious baths had a special area devoted to nail care. In Asia, centuries ago, women colored their nails via organic dyes in to the matrix of their cuticle line. Colored nail enamel, though, hasn’t been around as long. In the 1950 book, Mr. Revson states that nail enamel was only around for “a few short decades”.

First thing’s first: you must figure out which type of nail shape will suit you best. This will allow for a more natural effect, and is important because as everything in this world, its not a one size fits all type of choice. Here are the most common shapes of nails:

vintage beauty four shapes of nails

The cosmetology textbook noted that the oval shaped nail, that is nicely rounded at the base with a slightly pointed tip will suit most individuals, being the universal style. This brings me to an interesting observation: in my personal experience of going to nail salons, the most popular shapes of nails are round and square. Maybe in the last two or three years, the “stiletto” nail shape and pointed nail shapes have resurfaced, but I feel like when I go to the salon, the only options I have are the square or rounded.

In terms of the method of filing in to each of the desired shapes, neither book pointed this out. In my case, I like the oval and pointed look, so my nails are a balance of the two. When I think of classic manicures, I see almond shape, which is basically the oval shape. I do think it is the most flattering since it makes the fingers look longer and more delicate.

nail care equiptment

The Procedure

1. Wet a cotton ball with nail polish remover. As figure 1 shows, you have to then take the cotton ball and press firmly on to the nail, wait for a moment for the enamel to start dissolving, and slip off your nails. If you have any polish left over, wet a new cotton ball and go over the areas of the leftovers.

removing old nail polish

2. Filing. Using your nail file/emery board, file your nails in to your desired shape. Always file in to the same direction; it is not recommended to file in a “see-saw” motion, since this will cause your nails to chip or break. (Personally I always do the see-saw motion, I think its easier). Also, the advice is to not file deep in to the corners, since allowing them to grow out a bit on the sides will make them stronger and more graceful looking.

nail filing

3. Buff your nails with either powder or paste buffing polish. Honestly, I don’t even know if this exists anymore, this step is recommended since it helps your nails grow faster due to increased circulation. It also helps remove any access. I sometimes buff my nails using the nail file with multiple sides, which says ‘shine nail”.

buff nail

4. Get a small bowl or container, fill it with warm water. you can add some mild soap or body wash to it. Soak the nail area for about five minutes.

soak nails

5. After soaking, rub the finger tip area, and start to push back the cuticle area, gently. This is actually recommended every time you dry your hands, to make your hands appear more slender. I think if you have nail polish on, I wouldn’t recommend doing this, since you might ruin it.

push back cuticle

6. Dampen the end of the orangewood stick and wrap a little bit of cotton and you can either apply cuticle remover, or as I did, I applied some Burt’s Bees hand salve, to aid in beautifying the cuticle area. I like the salve because it is very greasy if just applied, so you can’t do anything with it, but in the case, you are allowing it to be absorbed, to make your cuticle are look fabulous. Be very careful to do the pushing gently, since too much pressure may cause damage to the nail, and slow growing.

orangewood stick to push cuticle

7. You can massage the nail cream or the hand salve in to your nail area.

At this point, I used cuticle nippers to trim off the access cuticle.

message nails

8. Repeat all the steps on your other hand.

9. You may use a nail brush to scrub your nails, or as I do, use an old tooth brush. This will help remove any access cuticle or any residue of polish.

scrub your nails

10. Now the nails are ready for some color! Before beginning, Sweep the nails with polish remover, to clean the nail from any residue.

remove access from nails before applying nail polish

11. If there are breaks, in the 1950s, there were “Nail Fix tissues with Nail Fix”. I am not even sure if this is sold anymore, you’d have to check your local beauty supply.  In my experience, nail salons would just apply some nail glue on the break, if it is possible to fix it. Usually if I have a break, I end up filing down all my nails, then apply nail hardener.

apply nail fix if needed

12. Apply base coat. It is recommended to do the “difficult” hand first, so if you are right handed, paint the right hand first, and vice versa if you are left handed. I used Sally Hansen Nail Thickener as my base coat. Let this dry for a few minutes.

base coat

13. Apply first layer of nail polish. This is the schematic to follow:

method of applying nail polish

It is very important that between each layer, you allow for the nail polish coats to dry. Usually 1-2 layers of the colored polish are sufficient. Also another important tip to note: when applying the polish, do not flood your nail with it. It should be a thin coat each time. This is because the top of the polish dries fist, and it might not thoroughly dry and peel much easier.

top coat apllication

14. Apply your top coat the same way you did the color coats. I don’t always do this, but lately I’ve been really in to the matte look, so I apply one coat of the matte polish, and voila! You are done! When the polish dries completely, you may apply some of your favourite hand cream, to really soften up your hands.

apply hand your favourite cream

Here are a few photos of my nail pampering set up:

my manicure set up

nails before

nails before

soak nail

Burt's Bees hand salve

cuticles with hand salve

after removing the cuticle

for the half moon

cut the strips in half

apply stickers for half moon

apply the polish

remove access polish

Use tweezers to remove

before matte coat

finished result left hand

finished right hand

Tip for nails to dry faster: Run the cold tap water until it becomes really cold and allow the water to go over your nails, in about a minute, your nails will be dry. Though I am still a skeptic, I take it easy until they’re definitely dry!

There you have it, a classic manicure right at home. 🙂

the vintage cat




  1. What a great tutorial. I love the look of the almond shaped nails, but tend to keep mine square and shortish as anything else is just too difficult (filing? Nope – too hard LOL) unfortunately half moons don’t look as nice on square nails.

    Loved this series. My key to making sure my nails don’t smudge is doing my nails in the nude LOL….I drink a lot of water and I found that I was always smudging my nails going to the loo….ok that was wayyyyyyyyyyyy TMI

    • Hehe it’s like the universe is against us when we do our nails! I know exactly what you mean, as soon as you have the polish on, suddenly you absolutely need your hands for something! 🙂 I used to do my nails square all the time, if a nail breaks, I simply trim them and have them square until they grow out, and I slowly shape them. It really is time consuming!

  2. Pingback: Autumn Vintage Finds Part II: Books, Brooches & More | The Vintage Cat

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