As I stood facing a row of nail polish strips in my local drugstore, contemplating whether to buy the leopard print or lace pattern, I suddenly thought, “How the heck did I get here?” After all, loud nail designs are a major departure for someone who typically gravitates towards sheer pink and nude polishes. It’s not really surprising, though, to anyone who pays the least bit of attention to the beauty industry or pop culture. In the past few years, nail art has gained mass appeal and become a practice that’s impossible to ignore—if not for the eye-catching patterns decorating women’s nails, then for the trend’s ubiquity alone.
Backing away (sloooowly) from the glitzy strips, I decided to explore subtler ways I could experiment with nail art. My goal is to play with the style while flying under the radar of my conservative colleagues and even more conservative Jewish mother. As a bonus, I hope to protect my future self from any embarrassment I may cause in the form of seemingly immortal Facebook photos (the jeggings I’m currently rocking will surely cause sufficient shame). I developed a few rules to follow so that even shy ladies can dip their fingertips into the nail art trend:
• Keep it short. Long nails are tricky to pull off, even with natural-looking polish. Ideally, your squoval-shaped nails should just reach the tips of your fingers. Even if you go with a super sassy design, a shorter nail length will allow the look to pass for cute, not crass. Patterned emery boards are fun to use, but tend not to last as long as basic ones such as Revlon Compact Emery Boards ($2.25). I like the Diamancel Fliexible Diamond Nail File ($28) because it lasts for ages and it is actually encrusted with tiny diamond particles.
• Clean it up. Your polish must be perfectly applied. If you’ve never mastered a tidy mani, now’s the time to ask the pros—or a friend with a steady hand—for help. Don’t forget to take care of your cuticles, too (you wouldn’t hang a Monet in a splintering wood frame, would you?). Before you polish, moisturize your cuticles with a nourishing oil such as Sally Hansen Vitamin E Nail & Cuticle Oil ($5.59) or CND SolarOil ($7) with jojoba and vitamin E. My personal favorite is No Lift Nails Cuticle Oil ($7), an avocado and olive oil blend that I accidentally discovered at my local beauty supply store. After you’ve conditioned your cuticles, gently push them back and carefully trim excess skin for immaculate fingertips.
• Start with neutrals. Using muted shades like nude, pale pink, light lavender or greige as a base for your nail art will keep the overall effect from being too garish. As an example, I love what Camille (the mastermind behind Pshiiit.com) did in the look below. She started with Rimmel Bare Necessities and created an accent by painting a coat of glitter polish on her ring finger. So chic, and appropriate for any occasion!
Essie, your neighborhood nail salon’s favorite polish, is a great brand to turn to when looking for neutral shades. Recent additions to the line include Miss Fancy Pants ($8) and Yogaga ($8). Jazz ($8) and Topless and Barefoot ($8) are two more subtle, yet beautiful colors to try from the iconic brand.
• Play with tone and texture. Another way to prevent your nail art from distracting, say, your boss in a meeting, is to keep the colors you’re working with in the same family. Blogger Jasmine Smith created a stylish speckled look for Refinery29.com, pictured below, by mixing two shades of blue nail polish.
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I’ve also seen nail art enthusiasts play with matte and glossy polishes of the same hue. (Keep in mind that matte polishes don’t wear as long as traditional formulas.) Zoya, a pioneer in the toxin-free category, is a popular brand among nail artists thanks to more than 300 shades in various finishes, ranging from sophisticated Natty ($8), a smoky, deep steel blue, to playful Mitzi ($8), a funky, light lime green.
Personally, I am looking forward to accenting Ilamasqua’s “rubber-finish” Vice ($14), a deep, cherry red, with Scarab ($14), another deep red but with a metallic sheen. This nail polish combination, perfect for fall, is sure to impress my stylish friends and, hopefully, earn a nod of approval from my mother.