Sometimes I had an idea for a specific nail design and by the time I am done I realize it is just such a pain that I end up only doing one as an accent. I am not alone, if it’s really hard to do a design on a nail that looks totally awesome, most women will just do it on one nail (this is what I call the accent nail). They then paint the others a solid color.
There are people though that do paint their nails and leave an accent nail, here are the reasons I’ve seen people say they do it:
- You can add a specific pattern of polish to your look, like you always have your pinkies done in black. It’s your thing, or you have your favorite symbol or shape on those nails, or it’s your accent color that matches your favorite clothing color or your jewelry or whatever.
- They think it adds variety and interest to the nails.
- They want to play with nail art but don’t want to do the whole hand, because that would take forever and be hard to do by themselves, and it would be expensive to do at a salon.
- They want to see what a certain color or pattern looks like without committing to 10 fingers; if you hate it, you can just take off the polish from the one nail.
- They want to do some extremely complicated nail art and couldn’t do a good job if it were all the nails. Some women go to a lot of trouble with that stuff, like painting nail polish on plastic, letting it dry, cutting out little designs from the painted plastic, and then peeling off the plastic to make a little decal made out of nail polish for their nails. Another complicated nail art job if applying newsprint to the nails with plastic and solvent to transfer the printed words. It can take forever just to do one nail.
- They want to emphasize the jewelry on that finger – they have a nice ring on, so they paint that nail a brighter color to draw attention to the finger and thus to the ring.
- They like the look of a kind of polish job, but it would be overwhelming if it were on all 10 fingers. Imagine two hands full of stripes and glitter and little gems. It’s not just distracting for people around you, it can distract you as you type, and the gems in particular catch on things.
- Other people are doing it and it looks fashionable, cool, whatever.
I don’t know where it came from. As far as I know, it wasn’t a certain celebrity or fashion magazine that started it. Certainly celebrities and fashion magazines discuss it now, but that’s because it’s been trendy off and on.
There may be nothing beyond a trend for some people, but there is a case of painting a single fingernail as a means of symbolism.
(of the comedy/magic duo Penn & Teller) paints the ring finger on his left hand in memory of his mother.
When he first began performing, she told him to get a manicure because people would be looking at his hands. So he snarkily painted all his nails red as a joke in response. He maintains the single painted nail in her memory.
He’s been doing it for a long long long time. I greatly doubt he kicked off this recent trend. As another commenter said, likely a side effect of playing with nail art/colors and sharing it through instagram and the like.