Nail Polish for Boys?

Purple with glitter on the left; fire engine red on the right
Purple with glitter on the left; fire engine red on the right

Yesterday was a lovely lazy day for my family. It was a gorgeous day—sunny and breezy—and we lounged around on our deck and in the backyard for much of the day. As part of my lounging, I decided to give myself a mani-pedi, including a relaxing foot soak on the deck. And that’s when the trouble began.

Both of my sons, ages 3 and 5, have become really curious about nail polish as of late. Our new au pair painted her nails while they were around, and they both asked if she could paint their nails. She initially demurred, but I eventually gave my permission—at first for a single nail (they each just wanted their index fingernails painted) and then later for their full hands when they begged for more—knowing full well that my kind-of-conservative Southern husband would not react very positively to it. That day, the boys chose a light blue color—pretty boyish, and because she didn’t give them the full treatment including a base coat, the polish started to come off within hours, given how rough they play. And while my husband rolled his eyes at me when he saw their nails, he didn’t say anything about it to the kids.

Yesterday, they asked for more polish—and my collection had only reds, pinks, and purples in it. Our au pair was enjoying some much-deserved time-off, so I didn’t want to bother with asking for the blue color again—and really, does the color matter much when a boy has his nails painted? I remember all of the hullabaloo from J. Crew’s Jenna Lyons‘ ‘Toemageddon’ scandal of 2011, when she was shown painting her son’s toenails a neon pink and how ridiculous it all seemed to me at the time. Should painted nails on a boy mean anything other than that he likes the color? Should it say anything about his sexuality—especially in boys so young? Personally, I don’t think so. And yet—I‘m mindful that my sons, my older one at least who is entering kindergarten this fall, can be susceptible to others’ teasing (and I struggle with that versus encouraging him to do whatever makes him happy). I explained to him that some other kids might ask why he had his nails painted or comment that only girls paint their nails, but he replied calmly and sensibly that he would tell them he’d had it done because he wanted to, plain and simple.

And so my older son chose purple nail polish, complete with a glitter topcoat. My younger son requested bright red (the same red that I later chose for myself when I was finally done playing manicurist) and has also requested pink toenails, although we haven’t gotten that far. My husband wasn’t thrilled—but he also hasn’t grabbed the polish remover and taken it off himself. I think that we’ll remove it in time for the start of school next week, but for now, I’m happy to let them admire their brightly colored nails as they play “monster and robot” and chase each other around the yard with water guns.

What’s your take on nail polish for boys? Are you OK with it? Is your partner? What would you do if your son requested painted nails?

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Melanie Monroe Rosen is a Brooklyn-based freelance writer and mom of two boys, ages 3 and 5, who is currently expecting her third (and very much final) baby in early 2013. A former senior editor at, Melanie was surprised to discover that all of her experience breastfeeding, homebirthing, babywearing, co-sleeping, and cloth diapering actually counted as professional experience. She’s a big fan of reading both Scandinavian mystery novels (to herself) and favorite chapter books from her childhood, like those by Roald Dahl (to her kids).

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15 Comments on "Nail Polish for Boys?"

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Nothing wrong with painting finger nails and toe nails, wearing skirts and makeup too. I mean it will all come off. Is not a big deal. Let them wear high heels while at it. At the end, is only self expression. And we want to bring our children free and besides it is fun while they are young. The problem is not now, the problems is that you are impacting their ability to choose their gender while they grow up. It is like giving alcohol to children, or drugs. They are way too young and their little brains are not… Read more »
Is it not emasculating to imply that a boy (or a man) could be so suddenly and easily confused about his own sexuality, by the mere application of and/or color of PAINT? For those against the nail polish on boys, I’m going to assume most of you have the same opinions regarding long hair/jewelry/makeup, etc. So keeping that in mind, now think of your favorite actor in your favorite war movie, or your favorite male country singer, or basically ANY entertainer, and guess what, 9 out of 10, those men were wearing AT THE VERY LEAST: MAKEUP. How many overtly… Read more »

For those that are saying that painting boys fingernails is demasculating is wrong. It’s a form of self expression and on matter male or female if a person adult or child likes something they should be able to do it.

It seems rather trivial that anyone would make an issue about a boy wearing nail polish. Really people, let’s recognize that everyone has to find their place in this world and if having a little color on their nails, girl or boy, makes them feel good, then why not? It certainly is not going to hurt them or anyone else (though some of the preceding comments seem to indicate otherwise..). I tire of some people who seem to be trying to inflict their own (sometimes narrow) beliefs on others. Hey, live and let live!! The more color the better as… Read more »
there is no such conspiracy that supports the theory, crazy as that sounds, to emasculate men to support gender equality. that is pure unadulterated homophobia and gender bias kicking in loud and clear is all. dude says that all these girls will need strong men to defend them when they get married. what a load of nonsense is that? seems to me that bucking what everyone else, well, just the perceived everyone thinks says way more about strength than being a sheeple that mouths dysentery that is part of the collective belief system. omg, I cannot imagine being married to… Read more »
I’ve been letting my, now 5 y/o, son wear polish for years now. It’s not everyday and it’s not all the time. But when he requests it, I let him. He sees me and my daughter put it on. It’s fun and why deny him? I also let him try on and play in tutus. Told him that he has to wait until he’s older to decide to get earrings – a little more permanent than tutus and nail polish. He’s recently been requesting superhero stuff, so I’m starting to make him and my daughter capes to play with. What… Read more »

boys can paint their nails too. Who decided that only girls can paint their nails, who makes the rules?


i m a boy and i also pain my nails i love it. feel beautiful

Kari Richards

@at jane, it’s because of closed minded people like you, using horrible words like [deleted], that it’s a big deal.. It’s a little polish, it will come off, if you don’t make a big deal out of it won’t be a big deal. A little nail polish isnt going to turn a child gay, he/she is already gay, the nail polish is just fun… And so what if a child is gay, nothing wrong with that!


i am all for it! my boys ask for it on their toes and they are 5 and 3. what’s the big deal – they are kids and they think its fun so why not? i despise people who judge others for their choices – especially if it is not harming anyone! why make rude comments as jane and vivian? worry about your own life. the people who judge and comment negatively are the people who are insecure in their own life and with themself. that is the sad part.

I have 2 very girly girls. If I was ever so blessed to have a boy, and he wanted his nails painted because his sisters and mom was, I would simply say: boys don’t wear nail polish, girls do. I asked my husband a former Army Sergeant and here are his thoughts on this. “Our culture is emasculating men in an effort to force gender equality.” He continues to say, his two girly girls are going to need strong men to marry someday. Mothers of boys have a responsibility to teach their boys how to be men, how to treat… Read more »
So, what shade of lipstick would they like? Blue? After all it is a boy color isn’t it? Oh, but I’m thinking someone. Ight comment and say that blue doesn’t necessarily have to be a boy color. True! The fact of the matter is that boys are being demasculated in every which way now-a-days. It’s ok for everyone to have the same rights.but this is feminizing of men, demasculating them. Don’t women feel more appealing, sexy, pretty(whatever other feelings women get) when they put on that pretty skirt, wear that eyeshadow, eyeliner, heels, nail polish, get your eye brows done,… Read more »
Kaela T

I don’t want to say what you did was wrong as we each choose how to handle situations with our own children and deserve to do so without criticism from others. However, for my situation I think I would explain to him that nail polish is for girls. I know that my husband would flip his lid if we had a son and I/he/or nanny had painted his nails. I’m sure it would turn to a here a cool things boys get to do that girls dont conversation. Again, we each handle things in our own ways. 🙂

I took my 4 yr old with me to get a pedicure, and he got his nails painted green. I recently bought a bottle of green polish to redo his nails, and paint my 2 yr old sons nails. He caught a lot of criticism, and I was very irritated that people even thought anything of it, other than the fact that he likes green and sees me get my nails done. He doesn’t see anything wrong with it, so why should everyone else? I was mostly mad at others, specifically my close friends and family, for pointing that out… Read more »

My 3 boys ages, 4,3 and 19 months ask all the time.. I do not think its a big deal. I put little dots on thier nails and they sit still and wait for the dots to dry. My husband dosent mind. I think its completly normal and not a big deal at all. I wouldnt send my child to school with polish on, but, its just something fun for them to do. Just like painting on paper.. whats the big deal??? No worries.