“People do look at your hands, and men tend to have ugly toenails because of football and army. Having neat nails leaves a good first impression,” says a high-flying bank executive. In his 50s, he makes it a point to have his nails trimmed and buffed professionally once a month.

Despite the frequency of his routine, he is uncomfortable when women are present during the grooming process, and declines to be named in this feature as he does not want to be “misconstrued as being an overly vain metrosexual”.

He wouldn’t be alone in wanting to remain anonymous. Shirley Gan, owner of nail spa Summer Haven, points out that although a number of males patronise the company’s three branches, they request only for the basics and beat a quick retreat when the treatment is done. Even though manicure services at Summer Haven include buffing and shining, some men prefer not to do those, opting to just get their nails trimmed and cuticles cleaned.

A Change in Perspective
Their reluctance may be traced to effeminate associations with the word “manicure”. The Oxford Dictionary defines it as a cosmetic treatment of the hands involving shaping of the nails, removal of the cuticles, and softening of the skin.

However, thanks to a predominantly female clientele, a manicure is usually thought to come with a coat of coloured polish. It doesn’t help that a good number of nail salons sport pastel, feminine interiors. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that men, even those who want to groom only their nail beds, are averse to being spotted.

Yet, getting a manicure and pedicure goes beyond pure vanity; there’s a practical need too. Studies have shown that well-groomed nails signal good hygiene practices and come with health benefits. During the procedure, a manicurist can check hangnails, the torn skin at the end of a fingernail, for fungus. Cleaning of cuticles, moreover, prevents the accumulation of dirt.

To draw male customers, nail spas are stepping up their game to make themselves less intimidating.

For instance, Guys Grooming, a male-only grooming lounge in Perth, Australia, has changed the word “manicure” to “nail detailing” on its service menu to highlight the nail cleaning and health aspects of the treatment. The space is also outfitted in steel, with magazines and beers to promote the idea that getting one’s nails done is a masculine experience.

Closer to home, nail outfits like Summer Haven and Hands + Feet Studio are introducing neutral shades to their interiors. That their shops are located farther away from the densely populated malls in Orchard Road is also convenient, as men are more inclined to seek out quieter outlets for nail grooming.

These efforts to change perceptions seem to have worked. Hands + Feet Studio owner Caryn Lim reveals that she saw around five male customers a month when the spa opened in early 2012. Today, that number has doubled. Her clientele consists of business executives aged between 35 and 55, who come for nail grooming.

In the city centre, St Regis Singapore’s Remede Spa has introduced Pedi:Mani:Cure Studio by international pedicurist Bastien Gonzalez, and gained a male following as a result. “Most men have no qualms getting their nails done as Bastien’s service promotes the natural restoration of the shine of nails,” says hotel spokesman Jesmine Hall. In fact, 25 per cent of the spa’s male customers request Gonzalez’s signature manicure or pedicure services.

He’s Got the Look
If one looks at the bigger picture, the rise of the male manicure should come as no surprise. The grooming industry in Singapore has been thriving for the past few years, as local men become more image-conscious.

“The modern man works hard to get a chiselled face and a fit body to match his success,” says Gerald Teo, CEO of Spa Club At Beach Road. Last year saw the rise of male-grooming hubs such as barbershops We Need A Hero and Sultans Of Shave. The former was set up when lifestyle group Spa Esprit noted a 20 per cent year-on-year increase in male customers at its waxing boutique Strip and brow- grooming outlet Browhaus since mid-2000.

Spas such as Chi at Shangri-la Hotel and Spa Club At Beach Road are also offering more facial and massage options for men. “We noticed that men are more receptive to facial treatments and buy skincare products, possibly due to the greater exposure of products that are specially formulated for men, in the form of advertisements and media reviews,” says Siti Alawiya Amin, director of Chi.

At the end of the day, being well-groomed is really more than just for vanity’s sake. It’s all about leaving a good first impression.


Read about our writer’s first pedicure in the digital version of The Peak via Magzter.