I'm calling it – the American manicure is way more elegant than the French

Fingers featuring American manicure
(Orin Carlin)

A classic is a classic for a reason, right? For the most part, I'm inclined to agree. But I've had my head turned by the American manicure, and I'm not alone in my new nail crush.

The one beauty stalwart that I've never quite fallen for is the French manicure. Salon sacrilege? Perhaps, but it's just not my vibe.

Super skinny tips or a non-traditional colour palette, I can get on board with. But I find there's just something about Tipp-Ex-white tips that feels too stark and, dare I say, cheap.

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The antidote to my grievance comes in the form of the American manicure. Not yet acquainted? Allow me to introduce you.

What is the American manicure?

Fingers with American manicure
I am currently hooked on the American mani (Orin Carlin)

Sometimes, all it takes are a few small tweaks to elevate a classic and give it a fresher, more contemporary feel.

The American manicure is a more muted take on French tips, offering a more understated, subdued effect that gently emulates the natural makeup of the nail.

How does the design differ from the classic French manicure?

French manicure
The French mani is one of those nail trends that feels utterly timeless (Instagram / @rachaelmilne_nails)

The styles are similar in principle, both featuring a neutral base with a white tip overlay. But the key difference is that a French manicure has a crisp, often opaque, white line. Whereas the American tip is translucent and usually tonally closer to your natural nail. French tips tend to be thicker and more imposing, while the American is milkier and less clear-cut.

Fingernail with nude layer being applied
The look feels milky and subtle (Orin Carlin)

Many nail artists layer a nude shade over tips for the American, softening the boundaries between the shades. "A classic French mani is all about having your nails look done, whereas the American mani focuses on enhancing the natural nail for a more wearable and 'quiet luxury' look, explains senior nail artist Rani Narayan of Shoreditch Nails.

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Why is it so popular right now?

Nail with white tip being applied
The tips are more muted than the classic French (Orin Carlin)

Like many beauty trends, the American manicure has actually been around the block a fair few times. It's one of the most requested looks among brides and, as Rani rightly pointed out, it's distinctly understated, making it a stellar choice for those who work in industries where the dress code dictates that nail art must be kept to a minimum.

But on a cultural level, the design's resurgence feels aligned with the trend for unshowy elegance. Minimalist, expensive, but never, ever overt. The American mani feels aspirational but in a slightly unbothered, effortless way. (Aka the best kind.) "It ties in with the preppy, Old Money fashion of the late 90s and early 00s - think Cruel Intentions!" says Rani.

For me, that's certainly part of the appeal. When I visited Rani at Shoreditch Nails' Dalston location, we were both evangelical about the your-nails-but-better aspect. It's giving no-makeup makeup, whereby on the surface the result is categorically beautiful, but the true effort and exertion is only discernible by those in the know. I'm sold.

How long does it last?

Fingers with American manicure
The effect is luxe and understated (Orin Carlin)

The style is a great choice for those who want their nails to look polished, but don't want to worry about visible regrowth. "It's definitely the go-to for the low-maintenance person - or those who want to appear low-maintenance," Rani advises.

Guilty as charged. In selecting a base shade that is similar to your natural nail plate, growth is virtually imperceptible – ideal if you need your mani to go the distance between salon trips.

How to achieve the American manicure at home

  • All about the base. "You will need a soft sheer nude that compliments your skin tone and a slightly off-white polish that will mimic the colour of your natural tip," Rani says.

  • Tip top. "First, apply the off-white colour using a liner brush to create the tip."

  • Finishing touches. "Once that has dried, add a coat of the sheer nude colour all over the nail to create that soft and subtle American mani look. You can add another layer of the sheer nude shade for an even more natural finish."