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Naturally dyed red nails

Romantic nostalgia from the old days in Korea

Sept 12,2004
Here’s this week’s tip on Korean language and customs:

Q:
I’ve seen a number of Korean women, from young girls to matronly ladies, wearing bright orange nail polish. At first I thought nothing of it, but I began to wonder about it, because the color and the way they wear the polish are a bit unusual.

A friend tried to explain to me that it’s an old custom in Korea, but I didn’t quite understand. Can you explain it to me?

A:
An old Korean springtime custom was for young maidens to dye their fingernails with the popular garden blossoms called bongseonhwa (balsam). A handful of bright red petals were smashed in a bowl with a bit of alum powder, which facilitated the dying process. The dye lasted for a long time, gradually fading to orange.

The sight of maidens with their brightly colored nails enchanted many a poet in the old days. The color red was originally meant to ward off evil spirits, but it was also the romantic wish of young maidens that their Prince Charmings would appear by the day of the year’s first snow.

As Western-style fashion prevailed, this custom disappeared, until recently women of all ages began to revive this Korean-style fashion statement.


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