An investigation: Are French manicures cool again?

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Pre-2015 it was unconsidered very un-chic to wear a French manicure. It’s the kind of thing French Women Wouldn’t Do in a Parisian how-to guide. If you wore a French mani, you were one of two things: a stripper or a bride.

So why is it that just when you think you’ve made your mind up about a trend, fashion’s tastemakers can confuse you all over again? Because the simple act of painting your nail beds with a pale pink polish and a line of white on your tips is one of the most polarising things you can do to your hands.

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Once upon a time, a French mani was the only thing you’d only ever pay to get done at the salon. This was in the early 2000s when nail bars weren’t on every corner, and acrylic fake nails reigned. You wanted to get your money’s worth and it was the obvious choice to get something a little tricked up that you couldn’t easily do yourself.

But now there are several things suggesting that there’s been a seismic shift in the perception of the formerly daggy, suburban mum French manicure.

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Firstly, the therapist at the uber-cool Japanese nail salon I frequent was just last week rocking a French mani. I couldn’t stop looking at it. It was puzzling. Now, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here – the girls that run this shop know all about nail trends. I’ve had intense discussions with them about the best cuticle oils from Italy and the best hard-to-import underground topcoat polishes from Japan. If there’s a new nail trend emerging, they were already wearing it yesterday.

Secondly, this article, Are French Tips Cool Again? appeared on beauty website Into The Gloss. Talk about a snap moment for me. The beauty writer also knew someone cool who was shunning everything we’ve ever known to be true by sporting a French mani. She’s also confused about what all this means.

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Thirdly (and yes there is a thirdly, I’m taking this very seriously), I think we can squarely blame normcore – that blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion movement no one really understood – for the French mani’s resurgence.

Just like in the ’90s when it became cool to shun anything with a motif and carry around copies of Naomi Wolf’s anti-consumerism bible No Logo, normcore was about being anti-fashion. Ironically wearing normal clothes: New Balance sneakers, Kmart tracksuits, Birkenstocks, in a non-ironic way. In short, everything that wasn’t cool became cool again. It translated from the streets to the trend forecaster’s reports to the catwalks and back to the streets. And now it seems that normcore has hit nails.


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But wearing a French mani in 2015 is problematic. For one, when you’re a nail trailblazer you risk puzzling the people who are trying to catch up. Are you the suburban mum who has been unknowingly wearing it for years? Or are you shunning conventions by championing our right to wear pink and white together? 

We’re living in tricky times friends. And even after writing this I still don’t know where I stand. So it’s with full disclosure that I reveal that the last time I wore a French mani was at my wedding seven years ago. This resurgence is making me regret it slightly less.

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I asked Essie’s Nail Director, Ali Magliveras, for her thoughts on this Very Important Issue. “A natural French manicure is classic, groomed and understated,” says Magliveras. Although she recommends staying away from harsh bright white polish for the tips, and instead using a sheer white like essie’s Waltz or Marshmallow. 

If you’re wanting to create a French manicure with a little attitude, file your nails shorter and more square and paint them with your two favourite shades. An ultra-modern finish that I think is trans-seasonal is a white nail and a grey or metallic tip,” says Magliveras. 

Take a peek at the nails on the catwalk at New York Fashion Week, which is happening right now, and you’ll see the French mani is definitely emerging. At the Houghton show, the OPI team painted on straight-line French manis. While at Diane Von Furstenberg, nail artist Michelle Saunders painted on a French manicure but emphasised the model’s half moons with essie’s sheer white polish in Waltz.

At the TIBI and Tadashi Shoji shows, a smudgier version of the French mani prevailed. I’m calling it the accidental French manicure, and maybe this is the key to wearing the trend in 2015, making it look like a mistake.  

Over to you, French manicures: rad or bad?

If you’ve been waiting YEARS for this trend to come back, then you’re probably going to need some new tools. Check out the gallery below for all you need to create an at-home French mani.