A couple of weekends a month, Tom McMahon, 44, a federal government budget analyst who lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., joins his wife for a special indulgence, squeezed in around brunch and his regular Sunday touch rugby games: simultaneous pedicures, complete with nail polish as the finishing touch. Mr. McMahon, who is 6-foot-4 and weighs 270 pounds, typically chooses a decidedly bold color for his toes, often either China Glaze’s Gaga for Green, a hue that brings Kermit the Frog to mind, or Gargantuan Green Grape, a pastel by OPI.
“I stay within a range of colors,” Mr. McMahon said. “I like the greens and oranges. I stay away from the blacks — it looks medicinal when you do that. I choose the colors by the title of the actual color.”
“For me, it started off as being fun and kitschy,” he added. “I’m very comfortable wearing it.”
Of course, even a brightly hued pedicure is, in a sense, discreet, since it’s covered up by shoes at the office. “It’s kind of my secret thing when I go to work,” Mr. McMahon said, pointing out that his five tattoos are also concealed during business hours. “I’m highly doubtful that they know I paint my toenails.”
Mr. McMahon is one of many men these days who wear nail polish on their fingers or toes, in statement shades or in quieter transparent ones. At Townhouse Spa in New York, more than 80 percent of male nail clients opt for polish, said the spa’s owner, Jamie Ahn, from a simple matte topcoat to a more pronounced color, usually on the feet. Over half the men’s treatments in the Essie nail area at the Samuel Shriqui Salon are finished with nail polish, usually clear. Similarly, about half the men who come into the three locations of Jin Soon Hand and Foot Spa choose polish, typically clear, occasionally a single coat of sheer pale pink on their fingers, and, frequently, a dark shade of navy blue or gray on their toes.
“Guys getting a colored or clear polish is sort of a natural progression from going to get a manicure or pedicure,” said Will Welch, a senior editor at GQ. “The change is guys being like, ‘Some of these things that are traditionally for women only are actually OK for me now, and I’m not self-conscious about it.’ Once that door’s open, the idea of clear or colored polish is sort of in the room.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that a handful of nail lacquers aimed specifically at men have emerged. EvolutionMan, a Los Angeles-based collection of men’s skin-care products, offers a selection of polishes ($14 apiece), both in two clear versions and in colors like a matte deep plum. When 11 of the brand’s products were featured on the flash sale Web site HauteLook in March, its clear Pure Matte polish was one of several items that sold out. AlphaNail, another men’s line, comes in a chunky marker-like pen (now on sale for $9.95) that is perhaps more comfortable for larger hands to manipulate than the traditional tiny bottle with a delicate brush tucked inside the cap.
Some popular women’s brands also offer polishes specifically for men. The Essie line includes Man-e-cure, a semi-shiny clear polish that, although transparent when applied, is the color of a margarita inside its black-capped bottle.
Orly has had sales increase by 20 percent in the last year for Nails for Males, a similar item that leaves a much flatter but still noticeable finish, said Carina Breda, the company’s senior vice president for marketing.
Nonetheless, many men stress that statement polishes on fingernails are accepted only in certain environments. Ravi DeRossi, 39, who owns and operates several New York bars, is comfortable wearing black nail polish on his fingernails to work every day, and night. “I don’t think about it that much, but people might think of it as one of my trademarks,” he said. “Everybody’s been, like, ‘That’s kind of cool.’” Outside of his establishments, however, he does sometimes get an unwelcome reaction. As he put it, “When I am at the bank, I probably do get some weird looks that maybe make people think, ‘Do we really want to give this guy money?’”
For men who opt to wear quieter polish, the feedback is often more encouraging. “Patients notice it and it’s always been positive feedback,” said Dr. Eric Scardina, 48, an internist in private practice in New York who wears a clear topcoat regularly. “They notice the integrity and well-being of my fingers and my hands, and it makes them reassured.”