Is it unprofessional for string players to perform wearing nail polish?

August 22, 2016 at 11:42 PM · Hi everyone,

I just wanted to know some opinions on wearing nail polish as a string player, and if it's seen as unprofessional. I keep my nails short and paint them, so it doesn't interfere with my playing at all, but I see a lot of professional female violinists performing with bare nails.

Replies (25)

August 23, 2016 at 12:17 AM · I prefer bare nails...or a clear polish...but as long as it's neat and tidy (not chipped or worn) I don't think it's unprofessional.

Fashions and trends come and go. Nail polish has been fashionable for a long time. Certain colours are trendier than others. Clear polish and pale pinks are barely noticeable.

August 23, 2016 at 01:19 AM · You can do whatever you want. If your orchestra has preferences for such things, you might want to follow those. Plenty of performers wear fairly wild things (just look at Nigel Kennedy) and people keep paying to see them.

August 23, 2016 at 02:21 AM · It's fine. I don't wear nail polish, first because I don't like the look on very short nails and second, because I'm too lazy. But I have seen it on colleagues, though I do think those who wear anything noticeable are a minority.

August 23, 2016 at 03:57 AM · Hilary Hahn wears appallingly hideous long dangly earrings. Sometimes I wonder if her precious antique violin's varnish is in danger.

I was thinking about getting some of those executive style yoga pants for my gig outfits.

August 23, 2016 at 04:15 AM · Just for fun I'd like to weigh in.

While - believe it or not! - I don't wear nail polish ;-) I don't see anything wrong with it. If it's not unprofessional for a woman classical musician to wear makeup, why not nail polish?

Maybe this is something of a cultural thing. I haven't discussed this with my female colleagues but I've noticed that most American colleagues don't and more Russian ones do. Maybe some of those who don't like it feel that the most professional aspects of themselves come down to their fingers on the instrument and that maybe it might be seen as distracting from the musical message somehow. Though she's in the minority these days, one of the best and most serious-minded violin virtuosos, Jennifer Koh, from what I've noticed, always keeps her nails polished.

PS I also like HH's earrings!

August 23, 2016 at 05:53 AM · As it happens, Hilary Hahn also occasionally wears nail polish:

August 23, 2016 at 10:55 AM · Why on earth not?

August 23, 2016 at 06:28 PM · On the subject of scratching finishes: my wardrobe is built around tops that don't have buttons or zippers. But sometimes my cotton pull-over sweaters aren't warm enough. Does anyone know if non-virgin wool will scratch the finish? In particular, fisherman's knit sweaters.

August 23, 2016 at 07:28 PM · "Maybe some of those who don't like it feel that the most professional aspects of themselves come down to their fingers on the instrument and that maybe it might be seen as distracting from the musical message somehow."

Or maybe I'm not the only one who's just too lazy to bother? Probably best not to overthink this. I suspect female professional violinists are pretty similar to any other cohort of females in our society matched for education and age when it comes to how much money and effort we expend in decorating ourselves, with the obvious exception that long nails (real or fake) are out. Some care a lot, some care very little, most fall in the middle of the spectrum.

August 23, 2016 at 08:22 PM · I don't think it is seen as unprofessional. At least personally I've seen very good violinist that perform wearing nail polishing.

But as a man, I not only approve their use, but I encourage it! I love when women use black nail polish. I suppose that's something personal.

August 24, 2016 at 11:30 AM · ยท "Maybe some of those who don't like it feel that the most professional aspects of themselves come down to their fingers on the instrument and that maybe it might be seen as distracting from the musical message somehow."

Or maybe I'm not the only one who's just too lazy to bother? Probably best not to overthink this.

Maybe I'm overthinking this but what I said reflects conversations I had with two female pianists long ago. In the first case, back at school (somewhere in the Jurasic period!) a pianist with nail polish on her fingernails was looking upset and I asked her what was wrong. She said that her teacher - also a woman - had taken her to task for this, saying that it wasn't professional. I tried to console her saying that in my opinion it was just fine.

Years later at a chamber music party, a pianist with her shoes and socks off, sporting a nice pedicure, playfully asked everyone "don't you think this makes me look hot?" I said "Yes, and I think you should do your fingernails, too." But she demurred, saying more or less what I said above.

August 24, 2016 at 01:43 PM · I've heard two teachers, both older men, express in masterclass settings that they thought fingernail polish was unprofessional - they also said the same about watches and rings, disliked women wearing ballet flats, and one of them had a lengthy diatribe about how people used to show respect by dressing up for their lessons. With the benefit of hindsight, I suspect it was a mixture of personal preference and a rose-colored rearview mirror.

August 24, 2016 at 01:47 PM · ...even I miss people dressing up...and I'm not even from that generation...I'm from the blue jeans, sweatshirts and runners one...

I'm rooting for Hipsters, maybe they'll bring the fun of dressing up to the mainstream again...

August 24, 2016 at 02:53 PM ·

August 24, 2016 at 03:36 PM · Demian, no need to elaborate - your avatar says it all!

August 24, 2016 at 04:36 PM · How about LED's on the fingernails, and the performance in a darkened room?

August 24, 2016 at 04:56 PM ·

August 24, 2016 at 05:42 PM · every fingernail has to be of different color, so you get into trans when playing fast, say perpetum mobile. Sort of self-hypnosis.

August 24, 2016 at 07:59 PM · The fingernail LED's could could flash, change color with dynamic changes, project a moving light pattern on the ceiling, lots of options. :-)

August 24, 2016 at 08:35 PM · Print the scores on the nails. :)

August 25, 2016 at 03:46 AM · I would like to ask , if anybody knows the process how to become a professional violinist ? I started to learn to play the violin when I was 23 , now I am 34. Is it possible to make it around my age? My level of playing is around book 7 Suzuki method . Thank you so much ;)

Ps , I studied violin only 4 years and finished book 4, after that until today is self study .

August 25, 2016 at 07:15 AM · Mary Ellen - I also fall into the category of "too-lazy-to-paint-my-nails" :) Though I quite like how it looks, it's too much of a hassle for me to keep up. Also, nail polish often interferes with the act of playing violin, for me. The nail polish remover wreaks havoc on my callouses, I can't play for a while after painting my nails, the polish on my thumbnail always chips from contact with my bow, etc. So, most often, I just don't bother.

To add to the general discussion, I agree that clear and shades of peach or pink are nicely understated. I also like the spectrum of dark plum, grey, and black, though I find black to be bordering on the edge of unprofessional. Just as long as it's nothing neon, I think it's generally fine, though.

August 25, 2016 at 04:42 PM · Well, I hope I get proper credit when the LED fingernail thing catches on big time!

August 26, 2016 at 01:51 PM · Frieda - I was in my teens at the time, so not the best judge of age, but I'd guess mid-60s. I think the thought process was that ballet flats weren't dressy enough.

August 26, 2016 at 04:44 PM · Francesca, all wool is virgin wool.

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