The nail polish index.

Ellyn Davidson 02/13/12 - 1:45 pm

Have you heard of the “lipstick index?” This is a term created by Leonard Lauder during the 2001 recession. As the economy went down, Lauder posed, the sale of little, cheering luxuries like lipstick went up. 

But in our current economic downturn, the news is all about nail polish. According to Time magazine, lipsticks sales are only up 14 percent this year, but the sale of nail polish has risen 54%.

This might simply be a fashion trend. Or it might be because nail polish is cheaper than lipstick. (In other words, even lipstick is too rich for our blood these days.)

But here’s a positive spin on the news: I think good nail care is a boon for women. At Brogan & Partners, we even bring in a manicurist once a week to give our employees some free pampering and—if they want it—polish.

This is a perk, yes, but I also think it’s a sound business decision.

I know that sounds a little bizarre, but hear me out.

When you think about it, your hands are one of the first impressions you make in a business meeting. You thrust out your hand and shake. And while men might focus on their grip, women think about their grooming. Manicured hands—with neatly shaped nails and no ragged cuticles—show that you’re put together. You’re conscientious, even meticulous. You’re on top of the little details. And you’ve got style!

All that conveys, and inspires, confidence. And this is no small thing in the business of marketing. After all, we’re not just marketing products and ideas. We’re marketing ourselves.

Not that polish is all about putting on a show. It gives the wearer a lift, too. How many times a day do you glance in the mirror? Maybe three or five?

 But your hands are always in your sightline. When I type, gesture, or drive, it gives me a little lift to see a flash of color and shine. Does it boost my confidence? Who can say? I’ve been a diehard nail-painter since the age of eleven. I barely know myself without a coat or three of lacquer on my nails.

I do know that when I was going through my breast cancer treatment, I was appalled when I heard I might have to take off my nail polish for surgery. In her amazing memoir, Geralyn Lucas wrote why she wore lipstick to her mastectomy. I didn’t care much about lipstick when I went for mine, but my polished nails felt like the utmost symbol of my dignity. (And yes, I got to keep my mani.)

Nails might seem like a frivolous detail, but I think they’ve got some significance—in life or at work. So, even though it’s a sign of bad economic times, I’m kind of glad women are finding a pick-me-up in nail polish these days. In my book, it’s one of the better boosters out there.


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