In the 1950s women often matched their nail colors to their lip colors. Lipstick was often fire engine red.
Although Mad Men begins in 1960, it's before the characteristic 60s fashions have come into vogue (the mini, mod styles, go-go boots, "swinging" London type stuff).
In the episode "Maidenform" from season two, the boys at Sterling Cooper brainstorm to come up with a new campaign for Playtex bras. After striking inspirational gold at a bar, Paul comes up with the idea that every woman is either a Jackie or a Marilyn (to put it really bluntly, either a Madonna or a whore). Understated and sophisticated or boldly sexy. The episode shows us the epitome of these two classifications in two characters: Betty Draper and Joan Holloway. Betty is Don Draper's childlike wife. She dresses in what I think of as "50s housewife chic." Beautiful swing skirt dresses and lots of florals. She's always sexy, but her sexiness is always downplayed. She's a Jackie.
Joan, on the other hand, always, always, always dresses in form-fitting frocks, pencil skirt style dresses. Her hourglass figure is absolutely killer. She's the office manager at Sterling Cooper, and she runs the office with an iron fist and a huge rack. She's absolutely gorgeous, oozes sex appeal, and men always flock to her. She's a Marilyn. Or, as one of the Sterling Cooper boys says, "Marilyn is a Joan." Heh.
So if Betty is a Jackie and Joan is a Marilyn...what do they have in common? I think you've already guessed if you looked at the images above: their nails. These women dress differently, have hugely different demeanors, yet they wear the same color nail polish: bright, screen siren red. Red has the potential to be sophisticated or wild, safe or daring.
Here's Marilyn Monroe matching her red lips to her nails (toes too!).
I can't really claim that Jacqueline Kennedy, the epitome of minimalist chic (she hired Oleg Cassini to do her entire presidential wardrobe...*swoon*), wore red nail polish often for a couple reasons. First, because a lot of the pictures I've found of her are black and white, understandably. Second, because she was often wearing little white gloves--ADORABLE. I like to think that Jackie was a little sassy in her own way and wore red nail polish sometimes. At Martha's Vineyard or something. Or maybe after she married Mr. Onassis and hung out on Europe's beaches. But here's a picture of her anyway. Fierce.
And so I bring you Essie Lacquered Up from the Spring 2009 collection. Whether you're a Jackie or a Marilyn (or all of the obvious shades of gray in-between) I think you can still pull off this shade. This red is not shy. It's a bright, true red creme, like a ripe tomato. It's sexy and daring, but classically beautiful at the same time. Essie describes this color as a red hot crimson, and I think that's a great description. If I could describe it in one word, that word would be retro (but in a good way!). The formula on this is really fantastic. I used three coats here, but I think I would have been fine with two. I am back home in Pleasantville, Ohio, by the way, so these pictures were taken with my camera. I'm not sure if they're any better. Merp? Sorry for the bad application.
You may be wondering why I chose a color that seems so...well, boring. There's just something about Lacquered Up. I love it. I don't like reds like this, I really don't. My favorite reds are usually deep, vampy, wine-colored shades. When I saw this one at Ulta I couldn't resist it. They were having a buy two get one free deal for Essie, and this was my free one when I bought Sag Harbor and Greenport in the spring.
When Betsy and I were graduating we both thought long and hard about the colors we would wear. Our graduation gowns were black and no one would be able to see the cute dresses we wore underneath, so we thought the only way to make a statement was with makeup. We both ended up with shades of red, I believe. I decided on Lacquered Up. For one of the most important days of my life! I've worn this a few more times since that day in June, which is really saying something. I have a lot of polish, so I don't often wear the same thing more than once or twice. For me, wearing it more than three times is the mark of an exceptional polish, one that I love. Lacquered Up and other irresistible reds have withstood the test of time. So whether you're a Jackie or a Marilyn, a Betty or a Joan...go rock that red, girl.
Also, I know this is kind of awkward to stick in this post, but it's appropriate, although in a tangential way. I'm pretty sad about Ted Kennedy. Although his personal life was speckled with questionable incidents he was a an extremely influential political figure. Ever since his son, Patrick, lost his leg to cancer he was a strong proponent of healthcare for all. In his memory let's keep fighting the good fight.
[Mad Men images courtesy of AMC.com, Jackie image from Time]