How nail art became a thing for grown-ups

Photo: Paintbox Nails

Swirly rainbow designs have made way for something simple, sophisticated and, more importantly, easy to do yourself

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By Elle Turner on

If you've relegated nail art to "things best left in the 90s", along with hair mascara and roll-on body glitter, no one could blame you. Intricate designs, kitsch patterns and fluro colours are a strong look and I salute anyone who has the patience and chutzpah to pull them off. For most of us, however, it's all a bit much, having slipped off our fingers and into the past. Until recently, that is. A pared-back, more stylish look has crept back into fashion and – who'd have thought it – it's all rather good. Nail art has got grown-up.

"Some of the coolest, tastemaker women have started to wear it as an accessory," says DryBy's co-founder, Krisztina van der Boom. In fact, Fearne CottonAlexandra Shulman and our very own Frankie Graddon have all been wearing them. Simple shapes like dots and lines are taking off, while new takes on old classics are seeing a return. "A lot of the nail-art looks trending at the moment are modern twists on timeless looks, such as the French tip and half-moon manicures," says nail expert and founder of The Illustrated Nail Sophie Harris-Greenslade. 

While the more complicated designs are best left to the pros, the good news is that there are lots of simple designs that are easy to do at home.

7 styles to try:

The GOLD Stripe

Make sure your nails are thoroughly clean, then apply a base coat (Sophie recommends OPI tinted Nail Envy treatments such as Bubble Bath or Samoan Sand to even out your nail colour and strengthen and condition your nails at the same time). Once completely dry, take some nail tape, cut it to size and place it horizontally across the bottom third of your nail. Once you're happy, push it down to set it in place. To create the gold dots, just cut off little pieces from the tape and stick them on your nails in a line.


The minimal dots

Paint the base of your nail in your chosen colour, then dip the end of a kirby grip (where the little bobbly plastic bit is) into a different coloured polish and dot it on to your nail to make little circles. For a more precise finish, Olivia Tripp at Shoreditch Nails recommends using a dotting tool: "You can find them for £1 on eBay or Amazon. Simply dip into a nail polish and dot on top of your nail."


The EASY EmbellishMENT

They look great (although possibly aren't the most practical). For very special occasions, however, you could try giving embellished nails a whirl. Paint your nails as you would normally, then blob a bit of nail glue to the back of some mini pearls (which you can find very cheaply on Amazon). Leave the glue to dry for a few seconds, then, using a pair of tweezers, place the pearls at the bottom of your nails and gently push down to set.



You can give French nails a modern twist by extending the white tips further around the sides of your nails. French manicure guides are really handy for this as they provide an easy template to paint around. But, if you're finding it tricky, you can always paint straight on to false nails, says Sophie (that way you can use both hands), then stick them to your nails using a nail glue. 


THE Painterly EFFECT

"The easiest thing to try at home is colour-block," says Krisztina. "Work with two colours that you love to see together. Paint one down as a base, as you would a standard manicure, and use the second colour to add some random shapes – dots, lines etc." To get the below effect, dip a small paintbrush into the colour of your choice, then, starting just over midway on your nails, paint back towards the edge of your nail.



A tinted base coat applied to clean nails will even out the colour and make nails look a bit more polished. To get a crisp line of colour at the bottom of your cuticles, manicure guides will make it a doddle. "Just turn it around," says Sophie. Place the guide a couple of millimetres up from the base of your nail, then fill in the gap below. A metallic silver over a nude looks especially pretty.

The Colour clash

Again, you can use manicure guides, placed further down your nails to create a wider tip. You could always cut into a couple of manicure guides and place them strategically across your nails to create more interesting shapes like this swirl effect. Choose two shades you like, paint your nail all one colour, then apply the second just to the tips.


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Photo: Paintbox Nails
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