While manicure choices are largely dictated by personal taste, there’s no denying that the ‘quiet luxury’ lifestyle dominating aesthetic trends right now has reached our fingertips.
The collective desire for your-nails-but-better is symbolic of understated elegance, with a minimal manicure becoming a status symbol expressing effortless healthy beauty at large, whispering ‘clean’ as well as ‘class’.
It's even become a surprise accessory for the 'Barbiecore' trend – something synonymous with kitsch and camp. For Margot Robbie's multiple outfit changes during the movie's UK and European press tour, her nail artist Michelle Class "chose a creamy, opaque almond milk base colour so that it worked with every Barbie look". As she demonstrates – like her fellow A-listers including Cate Blanchett, Hoyeon Jung, Jodie Comer and Anya Taylor-Joy who have all gone colour-free with simple polished manis this year – the look is never incompatible with an outfit or event. “A clean, natural nail compliments everything; it’s a classic look that won’t look out of place at work or for a special occasion,” leading nail technician Metta Francis tells Bazaar.
Naturally, the your-nails-but-better look is a mainstay for brides too, given how the simplicity and elegance serves to enhance any wedding dress and theme.
Take Sophia Richie, who has famously adopted the ‘quiet luxury’ aesthetic this year. The star's spring wedding saw her nails groomed into a short length with a soft square shape and painted with Bio Sculpture’s Gemini Nourishing Nail Polish in Sweet Candy Breath, a “peachy/pink but still a sheer nude,” according to her nail artist Georgia Rae.
But this manicure is not just for brides and Barbies, it's for all. “More and more people want to achieve this 'perfect' hand and nail look – and much like skin, have a desire for healthy, glowy nails,” notes Francis.
On the one hand some are opting to go polish-free with manicures, though their naked nails are still highly buffed and maintained. On the other, a perfected exaggeration of ‘natural’ nails have filled our feeds (think: Hailey Bieber's nail equivalent of her signature dewy ‘glazed donut skin’, Margot Robbie’s Oscars-worthy ‘American manicure’, and ultra-plump 'lip gloss nails' – which have all been trending on social media). As Liana Thomson, beauty expert at Nails.co.uk points out, while these designs are ‘done’ they still “showcase elegance and understated sophistication, aligning with the minimalist aesthetic of ‘quiet luxury’”.
But right now lots of us sit somewhere in the middle between au naturel nails and the hyper-glazed.
What defines the your-nails-but-better manicure trend?
Unlike the block colour of a traditional ‘nude’ nail polish, for this trend nail colours – matching the wearers’ skin tone – are semi-transparent or super-sheer. The opacity should show the contrast between your nail plate and the tips, but in a subtler way than if your nails were naked or painted with whiter tips a la a traditional French manicure. The polish tends to have a high-shine, glossy finish. In line, “hydrated hands, including the skin around the nails and cuticle are key” says Francis.
In terms of shape, “a short-medium soft ‘squoval’ or rounded nail defines this look,” Francis adds. “When trying to decide on which shape to go for, mimic the shape of your cuticle area,” she advises. “The intention is for the nail to look natural and effortless” – although as with most seemingly low maintenance beauty trends, it’s not.
The best nail polishes for the your-nails-but-better look
If you opt for a gel formula, which will last up to three weeks, Francis favours the CND Shellac nail polishes. “Bouquet is a gorgeous shade on lighter skin tones. It has a cool undertone so if you’re after a slightly warmer shade, Satin Slippers is perfect.
“Veiled is a gorgeous shade with warm undertones and would suit those with a darker skin tone. In addition, “CND Plexigel in Oatmilk is an incredible shade for darker skin tones, as is Porcelain, which has cool undertones.”
A benefit of seeing a professional like Francis is that they can create custom shades to suit your skin tone, by layering polishes.
If you prefer regular nail polish over gel, Francis recommends looking at the following brands and shades to find one that mirrors your skin tone. “CND Vinylux in Bouquet and Satin Slippers, OPI in Bubble Bath, Nails Inc in Get Discovered and Knightsbridge Nights Out, Hermès Nail Enamel in Rose Coquille, and Essie in Ballet Slippers.” For a look like Robbie's Barbie mani, "I’d recommend Sally Hansen’s Good Kind Pure Nail Polish in Almond Milk," says Class.
She explains that “one coat of polish will create a gorgeous, sheer clean, natural look while two coats will provide a slightly more semi-opaque look”.
How to maintain a your-nails-but-better manicure
Francis schools us that you can best maintain your mani “by applying cuticle oil twice daily and moisturising your hands regularly, especially if washing and using hand sanitiser frequently”.
At least once a week, “use a hand scrub and mask to keep hands looking and feeling smooth and plump.” This will help to reduce dead skin build-up, she says.
“You can also gently push back the skin at the cuticle area after a bath or shower, when the skin is softest, keeping this area nice and clean-looking.”
Inspiration for the trend
Below, see some of Bazaar’s favourite takes on the trend to try yourself or to show to a pro:
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