Nail Polish: My $8 Escape

“… The emotional pull of beauty for its own sake cannot be underestimated.”

– Robin Givhan, The Washington Post

Being a big girl in 80s and 90s suburbia was rough. The dress code was conventional, preppy and label-heavy. Thrifting was only an option for those who wanted to stand out, and at 5’9″ and just under 200 pounds in Lexington, Ky., all I wanted to do was fit in. Or at least look cute.

Wearing a size 16 kinda killed that (mind you, this was before the body-positive movement).

As a girl with a grown woman’s body, I was forced to shop in the misses’ department, and often had to pray there was something left in my size. The only thing I had in common with the models in Sassy magazine that I desired to emulate were my size 11 feet — which ruled out cute shoes.

Existing on the margins of consumer culture of the most basic sort was trying, but I found ways to deal: Purses and polishes.

I’m no handbag aficionado, but honey, may nail polish collection is the stuff of legend.

Where Lerner’s New York and The GAP failed me, polish always came through.

While I don’t carry my purses much these days (it’s more efficient to shove stuff into my Timbuktu bag and K.I.M.), I’m never at a loss for nail polish. Even when I forsake color at my fingertips, my tiny toes sport some shade at all times.

Nail polish (along with cosmetics, but more on that later), is my latte factor, the sum of small purchases that add up to big money I could be saving toward my retirement. I spent years avoiding spending on clothes and shoes, mostly because I couldn’t find things I liked in my size. I diverted that money to the best lacquer money could buy.

In college, friends would come to my dorm room to rifle through whatever bag or box I’d stored my collection in, incredulous that I’d pay $6 for a bottle of OPI (ah, the good ol’ days).

My nail polish collection has helped me bond with some of my best friends. We’d make a date of sitting on my living room floor, trying out different colors and chatting about nothing. Friends can count on receiving a bottle of birthday varnish, and on being tsk-tsked and invited over to get themselves together if they show up with chipped nails. Every now and then, I delight them by purging my collection in foolhardy attempts at minimalism.

But as I read through a copy of David Bach’s book about automating your savings a few days ago, I realized that it’s time to put a freeze on this particular purchase. I’ve got more polish than I’ve used, and rather than spend on more, I’m going to use what I’ve got as a tool to write more. I’m blogging about my nail polish.

I can’t promise pretty pictures or even perfect manicures, just snapshots of the color I’m wearing each week, and a little write up of the beauty I find in half-ounce bottles.


Here’s the first one, my last nail-polish purchase for a while, Lord be my help. I snagged this one while waiting for Target to transfer a prescription. I love this pale mint green; I look at it and think of retro-poolside glamour on an Italian vacation. Yep, I see all of that in this nail color: A white bathing suit meant more for sunning than swimming; a simple cocktail; cat’s-eye shades and big straw hat to take in the Positano sun. Perhaps I’m using it to visualize a vacation of my dreams.

Can you see it? Think this:

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(hello, #bodygoals)

Plus this:

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And this:

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Yep, all of that from a $3 bottle of Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Extreme Wear nail polish. Mint sorbet, to be exact.

As I swipe it on, this shade colors in the daydreams of an Italian escape I didn’t even know I wanted. The semester just ended, and I’m harried from having to correct a bunch grades (DEATH TO BLACKBOARD), and coming to the realization that there is no such thing as a “vacation” for a tenure-track faculty member. A mental mini-break is in order.

So this particular polish stands in as a cheap, quick remedy for addressing an uncomfortable moment in my life. Not every color serves this purpose. Some I put on out of celebration, others to complement my mood. I’ll tell you more about them here.