The Most Basic ’90s Manicure Is Back


But it’s not what you think. We’ve seen French manicures all over the runways for the past few seasons now — but basic they are not. Gone are the white tips with nude-polish topcoats that were a staple in every sorority from the ’90s to the aughts. Instead, we’re seeing manicurists breathe new life into contrast tips thanks to colors, metallics, graphic shapes, and negative space.

And it’s trickling down from the catwalk to the nail salon. “We’re definitely seeing a recurrence of the French manicure,” says Eleanor Langston, CEO of Paintbox. “But it’s more updated and modern. We’ve done many evolutions of this design over the past year-and-a-half.” (Like the one pictured here.) Ahead, we take a look back at where the French mani came from, how much it’s changed, and the endless possibilities to come.

Natural nails with white tips date all the way back to the 1800s, when women would use a bit of lemon juice or vinegar to brighten just the tips to a crisp white (they were all about purity back then). But it wasn’t until the 1970s that the term “French manicure” was born — and it wasn’t in France.

Rumor has it that the founder of Orly, Jeff Pink, first created the white tip with a nude overlay so the ladies of Hollywood could have one nail look on a movie set that would match all their costumes. He then took the nail to the Paris runways, where it became the top choice of designers as well, and thus he named it the French manicure — though some people say he did it because adding the descriptor “French” to anything instantly makes it seem chic.

When you think of the ’90s, all the cool-again things that we’ve been revisiting, like chokers and brown lipstick, may come to mind.

But let’s not forget that French manicures with major (often square-shaped) tips, like the ones Jennifer Lopez is sporting here, were a thing, too.

The trend continued into the aughts. Here, even in an all-black outfit, Jessica Simpson went with the ultra-fem nail style during her pop-star reign.

fm4Spring 2013
As the Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, and *NSYNC era began to fade, so did the French manicure. Though we did see it pop up at Chanel on the 2013 spring runway, in its most virgin form.






wp6Fall 2015
But despite the trendsetting capabilities of Mr. Karl Lagerfeld, the classic version was out. As nail guru Miss Pop tells us: “The classic nude-and-white French isn’t making a comeback. It’s being reimagined.” The look at Tibi that season was close to the classic, but the tip was wider and had a wavy pattern.

fm7The manicurists at Tracy Reese fall 2015 kept models’ nails neutral, but opted for red and yellow tips that wrapped around the nail bed.

fm8“The French manicure, in any color, is an extremely flattering design on a round or oval nail,” says Miss Pop. “Because it is so natural, it’s a shape I often draw inspiration from.”  Looks like the Rebecca Minkoff fall 2015 show did just that, too.






The nails at this Tadashi Shoji show prove that an updated French manicure can work on square tips, too.

wp10“The majority of Paintbox’s nail-art designs are actually inspired by a French manicure,” says Langston. “It’s one of the fundamentals of nail art that will always be evolving and becoming more modern and chic.” Here — at Jeremy Scott fall 2015 — it’s certainly both modern and chic.

wp11Spring 2016
“We find that our simplest designs are often our most popular ones, as many of our clients are new to nail art,” says Langston. “A French manicure in a new, updated way is a great entry into nail art.” At Monique Lhuillier, we saw the perfect gateway nails: French manis with green Morgan Taylor Lacquer tips.





wp12At Nicholas K, the manicurists opted for lazy-edged (in the best way) gold.

wp13For the second season in a row, Tibi went with a modern French manicure — this time around, with eggshell-blue tips.

wp15The nails at Rodarte were courtesy of Miss Pop herself, using OPI. “I created a gold French tip combined with a silver ruffian French, or reverse French, along the cuticle line,” she explains. “Together, the two framed the nail in a two-tone metallic… I then added a sheer, peach nude wash over the entire nail to tone down the bright metallic and make the nails seem like vintage jewelry.” Gorge.