The year 2020 was particularly trying and interesting for the beauty world as a whole, but it was especially so for our nails. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw closure and timid re-openings of nail salons, an increase in eczema due to preventative handwashing, a call to end nail-biting in fear of contracting the coronavirus, and an uprising of at-home manicure techniques like press-on nails — all in less than one year. Seeing as we're all in the dark about what 2021 will hold for our "normal lives," the same can certainly be said for nail trends.
Even nail artists and manicurists aren't totally sure what to predict of the future, but they are confident about one thing: DIY nail trends are going to remain every bit as popular, even as professional manicures once again become a routine part of life. We asked them to break down which nail colors, art, and techniques are going to be big next year — based on their feedback, it's going to look nothing like what we had predicted last year.
Here are the biggest 2021 nail trends to watch out for, according to the experts who know.
Learning to think outside the box was a necessity in 2020, and in 2021, people are going to apply that mentality to their manicures by painting each of their nails a different color. That's what nail artist Elle (whose clients include Blake Lively, Emilia Clarke, and Laverne Cox) predicts. "This is for those that want to make a bold statement," she tells Allure. And because the only skill this trend requires is knowing how to paint your own nails, it's the easiest way by far to draw attention to your nails.
Plus, there's no end to the different potential takes on this trend: Keep all of your polish in the same color family to create a light-to-dark ombré effect, use a color wheel to pick out complimentary shades, or let some of 2021's new nail polish collections curate shades for you. Essie's latest creation, the Not Red-Y For Bed collection, is a line of red, pink, and muted blues in glossy and metallic hues (and it launched early online). OPI and Olive + June will also be launching collections within the first couple of months of the year, so there's plenty to look forward to.
With stress at an all-time high, people are looking for new ways to express themselves, and that's why runway and editorial nail artist Gina Edwards foresees a spike in calligraphy and other hand-lettering on manicures soon. Given the A-list people who are already fans of this growing trend, she must be spot-on. Jennifer Lopez wore calligraphic nail-art to the American Music Awards in November, as did Billie Eilish in her "Therefore I Am" music video.
"Achieving this look at home works best on a press-on nail if you want to amp up your skills," she advises. "If you don't have a steady hand or the patience, a decal sticker is your next obvious choice."
Static Nails make full sets of transparent press-on nails in all sorts of shapes and sizes — you can add your own hand lettering with nail polish and a fine-tipped brush. Otherwise, you can take the easy route with nail stickers in the font of your choosing (this old-English style from Amazon are intensely trendy).
Speaking of press-on nails… this easy DIY manicure technique made a major comeback in 2019 and only flourished more when we got caught at home in 2020. While salons were shut down, nail artists began commissioning custom press-on sets to send directly to their clients — in 2021, people are going to be trying it more on their own.
"These are going to be big because of the easy application — they deliver salon-quality nail art, which would normally take hours in a salon and be costly, at home," Elle explains. "They are easy to change the shape, style, and shade, and last just as long."
Kiss press-on nails are a favorite of both Elle and Edwards. We'd go with styles that already have a little bit of flair that you can add small details to. Glam Fantasy Nail in Parasol, Gel Fantasy in Be Jelly, and imPress nails in Ten Different Looks are a few of our favorites.
Nostalgia has also been a key factor of 2020 for obvious reasons; according to nail artist and OPI educator Sigourney Nuñez, that's not letting up in 2021, either. "This is why there's been a wave of a retro revival through manicures that give a nod to the '60s and '70s aesthetics," she says. "This is expressed through rustic shades paired with pastel brights and graphic, swirly patterns that are therapeutic to execute."
Some examples of shades that Nuñez has combined to create one of her groovy designs include OPI's Alpaca My Bags, Coral-ing Your Spirit Animal, You’ve Got That Glas-Glow, and Suzi Talks with Her Hands — together, they create a soothing combination of beige, muted teal, and bright orange.
You don't need a particular tool to pull this off, by the way, as Nuñez demonstrates in a recent IGTV video. If you don't want to purchase a fine-tipped nail brush, you can use the brush that comes in your polish of choice and simply tilt it to the side while painting your design.
As Elle points out, celebrities have been leaning toward bright colors with muted undertones — she lists sage, melon, and buttery yellow as examples— in recent months. "Celebrities gravitate towards these colors for red carpets, cover looks, and everyday wear because they complete any look without a glaring statement. They are also calming colors that have a feel-good mood."
Here are a few polishes that have the specific muted quality she's talking about: MiniLuxe Pure Polish in Little Miss Sunshine, Esse Quick-Dry Nail Polish in Strong at 1 Percent, and Deborah Lippmann's Gel Lab Pro Polish in Afternoon Delight.
For the foreseeable future in 2021, manicures probably aren't going to be as accessible as they were before the pandemic. Anyone who does go in for manicures should choose their designs wisely — enter nail art that uses negative space.
"For those who are going to the salon for services, the negative space nail art trend is very popular because the grow-out is less noticeable over time," Nuñez explains. "A negative space nail art design allows for a peekaboo effect of the natural nail, usually around the cuticle area. This allows the clients to extend the time between their appointments and save money as the frequency of the salon visit can extend from every two to three weeks to about every four to five weeks."
To create a negative space manicure at home, take a page from nail artist Miss Pop's book of easy tricks. She cuts blue painter's tape into templates that she can paint right over. If you leave all of your negative space near the bed of your nail, you'll get the same grow-out effect as you would at a salon.
"Apply [tape] directly to the nail, then add your base and color coats around it," she previously told Allure. "Lift the tape when the polish isn't completely dry but also isn't wet to the touch."
After that, you'll need a hearty dose of chip-resistant topcoat like the Best of Beauty-winning Essie Gel-Setter.
Elle and Nuñez both say that minimal and graphic designs are in the nail-art forecast for 2021. That's also caused by less access to professional manicures. "People are looking for ways to express themselves artistically and creatively while opting for self-care at the same time," Nuñez points out. "Painting your nails is one way to do that and minimal nail art is very beginner-friendly."
Subtle curves and angled lines are some of Elle's favorite ways to do simple graphics at home. And all you need is a few key nail colors. "Black and white with a splash of a color are for a more laid-back vibe," she says. Editor favorites like Jinsoon's Absolute Black and Sally Hansen's Well, Well, Well will have you covered on basics. From there, all you need is some random dots or splotches in a pastel shade like Zoya Nail Lacquer in Abby.
Let's face it: wearing a face covering in public is going to be a withstanding part of our lives, throughout (and probably after) 2021. "Due to the pandemic, I think we are showing more details in our appearance due to wearing face coverings and working remotely from home," Edwards explains. "Now, part of our style is more incorporated into our nails and eye makeup." That said, matchy-matchy manicures and masks aren't going anywhere.
Although no one can really predict what 2021 will be like, with these expert-approved manicure ideas, we can at least rest well with the knowledge that, if anything, at least our nails will be really, really good.
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