Once upon a time, mob dons and sissies were believed to be the only male candidates for cuticle snipping, nail shaping and buff jobs.
Now, all kinds of guys fret anxiously about matters of critical global importance such as: "Do my nails look okay?"
Not to mention the terror and shame of unbecoming toenails.
Yet, despite great grooming strides by the ragged-hooved sex, men have yet to achieve salon chair parity.
Todd Murray felt about as welcome as a female reporter in a locker room when he redeemed his gift certificate for a pedicure this year. "It was embarrassing to sit in public while this little woman cleaned my toenails. Your feet are such a private part of your body. To have these women I didn't even know scrubbing them was ... humbling," shudders Murray, 26.
Manicures, however, are a different matter for the actor and singer. "As you come up the ranks, you find it's much more common," says the midtown Manhattan resident. "At auditions, I always notice the producers have manicures. A manicure is like a good haircut: It shows you're well-groomed, that you take care of yourself. I'm on stage with a mike in my hands and I want to look good," says Murray.
Although the stigma is dwindling, it still exists. "Men who think nothing of having a woman give them a massage don't think it's macho to get a manicure," says Murray.
If subtle discrimination isn't enough to dissuade a man, there's always the price: Many salons routinely clip men more than women for fixing up their digits. Where's the Human Rights Commission when you need it? "It's really not fair that they charge men more than women," grouses the actor.
"We charge men a little more because they usually do not come once a week, but every two or three weeks; we have to do more detail work," responds Michelle Lee, owner of Mademoiselle Skin Care-Nail in Manhattan. A man's pedicure at her shop runs $25 ($20 for women), a manicure $10 ($9 for women), and buffing $5. "When they come to the salon, they're a complete mess," Lee tsks.
Men are also a little more difficult because they tend to opt for a time-consuming and all-revealing nail buffing, rather than a polish.
Lia Schorr, who has a sizable male clientele, says salons catering to testosterone-charged clients have to take special pains to make them feel comfortable: They like having other guys around, and evening and weekend hours are a must.
While many men still prefer the androgen-rich bastion of the barber shop, wives and girlfriends are increasingly acting as agents for Schorr: It's not uncommon, she says, for couples to schedule visits at the same time.
"The men don't gossip as much," confides Roget Resca who owns the salon that bears his name. Resca has watched male business triple in the last five years.
His male customers seemed to go under the buffer after noticing a boss or colleague whom they would like to impress has manicured nails. "They compete," says Resca, to meet the grooming standards of their superiors. So far, acrylic nails for men have yet to make a big scratch in New York, but Jackie Randolph, owner of Nail Expressions in Washington D.C., has a thriving business doing tips and overlays on teen-age boys who let their pinky fingernails grow long. "Why they do it, I can't tell you," she sighs of the fad, but any historian can tell you that excessively long pinky fingernails traditionally serve as a flag of a cocaine sniffer.