Nail Polish Colors That Are Always In Style

Like everything in fashion, nail trends come and go. Shapes have grown from short and "squoval" in the 1990s to the more modern sharp-edged coffins. Colors, too, have run the gamut from the neon brights of the '80s to the recent chrome and metallic shades. Ahead of spring 2023, Harper's Bazaar named its top picks for the season — and they aren't for the color-averse with shades ranging from blue to yellow to purple.

While it's always fun to embrace new nail polish trends, not all shades have staying power. That grassy green polish may look gorgeous in the bottle but garish on your nails. If the trends of today aren't for you, don't wring your hands over it. Like a perfect white tee or little black dress, there are plenty of nail polish colors that never go out of style. These are some of our favorite shades that have stood the test of time.

Barely there

Princess Catherine and Meghan Markle may occasionally make headlines for throwing shade, but those disagreements have never been about one of their favorite nail polish shades. Both the Princess of Wales and the Duchess of Sussex have been seen sporting Ballet Slippers, a subtle, sophisticated pink shade by Essie. However, they weren't the first of the royal family to don the color. A spokesperson for the nail polish brand told Good Housekeeping that Queen Elizabeth II's hairdresser noted it was "the only colour Her Majesty would wear."

The truth is that nothing looks more classic and pulled together than a well-manicured nail covered in a barely-there veil of color. And while it's a look that is fit for royalty, you don't have to be part of the monarchy to wear it. What you do need to have, however, is a basic knowledge of your skin tone. Otherwise, your sheer pinks, tans, and nudes can come off as dull and dingy rather than clean and classy.

Skye McIntyre, a CND education ambassador, told Grazia that a good rule of thumb is to choose a glossy nude that is one to two shades lighter than your skin.

Think pink

Julia Roberts' character in "Steel Magnolias" proved there's no such thing as too many "blush and bashful" shades in the world. And while pink is typically a color associated with all things soft and feminine, it can be strong and sassy when it needs to be (think Elle Woods in "Legally Blonde"). In other words, don't underestimate the shade or the people who wear it. Both are powerful.

Pink comes in many forms, from pale to pastel. Milky pink shades like O.P.I. Bubble Bath is subdued but not sheer. It's a step above natural and easy to pull off for most skin tones. Unlike bubblegum pinks, it won't be overly sweet. If you are looking for something bolder but still timeless, you can't go wrong with a polish like O.P.I. Strawberry Margarita. More haute than hot pink, it goes from the beach to the boardroom without skipping a beat.

Get REDdy

If you are looking for love, take a tip from Robyn Delmonte's viral TikTok video and put a coat of red polish on your nails. Delmonte claims that she gets approached by more men when her nails are painted red. It may sound strange, but science seems to back up this theory. Plus, red is commonly associated with love, sex, and glamour.

It's the color of candy apples, classic cars, and Taylor Swift's iconic pout. It goes with everything from black ties to blue jeans and radiates confidence and power. Perhaps that's why it's a go-to nail shade for many of Mazz Hanna's celebrity clients. The manicurist to the stars told Allure that Chanel's Le Vernis in Pirate is a staple nail polish among her clientele, saying: "I can't count the number of times this color was worn on the red carpet."

To keep red nails looking classy and timeless, keep them on the shorter side with rounded rather than pointed edges. You'll be ready to take on the world — and maybe even get a date!

Classic coral

Somewhere between red, pink, and orange lives coral, a classic summertime staple that serves tropical vacation vibes. Named the Pantone Color of the Year in 2019, it evokes good vibes. "Coral nail polish is one of the most universally flattering polishes out there, and its bright pop instantly elevates your mood as soon as you look down at your hands or feet," celeb manicurist Mazz Hanna told Who What Wear. Seeing this color might have you recalling past sunny days, sandy beaches, and salt-rimmed margaritas. It's a look that's more lighthearted than red but packs a bit more punch than pink — and it is ultimately more wearable than bright orange.  But just because it looks great peeking out from a pair of strappy summer sandals, that doesn't mean you can't wear this unique shade year-round.

Try the perennial favorite, O.P.I. Cajun Shrimp, which the brand describes as a "spicy shade." It works with every season, every skin tone, and every occasion — from weekend bonfires to weekday meetings.

Dark and dramatic

Name a more iconic polish than Chanel Le Vernis in the shade Vamp. Go ahead; we'll wait. This deep blood-red polish that flirts with black was developed in 1994 at the request of Karl Lagerfeld and was famously worn by Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction." Both the nail polish and the movie were hits.

Vamp became a bestseller, and it's easy to see why. It's sexy, urban, edgy, and with an unmistakable cool vibe that transcends age and gender. Vamp opened the door to a whole new world of untraditional nail polish choices that have become part of mainstream culture. In sharp contrast to the bright colors of the 1980s, it reflected the grunge trend dominating the '90s. It allowed women to explore their "dark" sides without embracing the alternative look from head to toe. And it did all that for just $15 per bottle (now $30).

Say 'oui' to French manicures

Designed to look like your nails, only better, French manicures have never really gone away. The white-tipped, sheer pink or nude nails have been a manicure mainstay since they were first introduced in the 1970s — and not in France, but in the United States. According to Who What Wear, the look was created by Jeff Pink, president and CEO of Orly International. As Pink explained, Hollywood movie directors tasked him with creating a shade that would "go with everything" to eliminate the time spent on polishing and repolishing actresses' nails between scenes.

That "goes with everything" element is probably why the French manicure is still going strong decades later. It can often be spotted on the hands of brides and celebrities alike, including Reese Witherspoon, Beyoncé, and Barbra Streisand. While different, fashion-forward variations have emerged since the early days, including colorful and ombré tips, the original remains a timeless choice.

Embrace your gray

You may not want it on your head, but gray is always a good choice for your nails. Although it may be considered "trending" over the past couple of years, this color has real staying power (kind of like those pesky hairs). Gray is a solid neutral that plays well with other colors. It has been called "the new nude" by Essie celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders, who told PopSugar: "Gray signifies balance and serenity." Who couldn't use more of that in their life? 

With more than 50 shades (pun intended), finding the right color is the key to not looking like a corpse. Some have a hint of purple, others have a bit of blue, while many have a slightly pinkish cast. If unsure, stick to something light like Essie's Without A Stich for a hint of gray coverage. But whether you go sheer, dove, charcoal, or even a deep steel gray, you can be confident that it will brighten your nails and your day.

Wine by the bottle

If you're stuck in a nail rut, try opening a bottle of wine. Like a fine Merlot, rich shades of burgundy age well, meaning they only get better with time. A kissing cousin of red burgundy is more elegant than opulent and can elevate any outfit. According to Allure, J-Lo was spotted looking polished in Essie's Bordeaux and a pinstripe suit at a Ralph Lauren fashion show in the fall of 2022. Manicurist Tom Bachik, who nailed J-Lo's mani, told the magazine that the nails were kept short for a reason. "Short, strong, natural-shaped nails help the color pop," Bachik said. 

Likewise, Hailey Bieber's manicurist, Zola Ganzorigt, told Grazia that O.P.I.'s Malaga Wine was the most requested color among her clients in the fall of 2022. But before you write it off as seasonal, you should know that the shade is versatile enough to give jet-set vibes during the warmer months too. Like your favorite wine, it's delicious whenever you choose to indulge.

In the navy

Over the past couple of years, many people have discovered that one of the staple colors in their wardrobes can also be a go-to for their nails. Ranging from true blue to blue-black, navy nails are quickly becoming a classic thanks to their depth of color and year-round versatility. According to Wedding Forward, even brides are embracing the trend, going for rich blue over the traditional French mani. Navy nails look elegant and crisp with your spring and summer wardrobe and become warm and rich in the cooler months. But just because navy is a more grown-up version of the current baby blue and turquoise trends doesn't mean it's boring, far from it. 

A fun way to make your navy nails stand out is to play around with the textures. Many people apply a matte shade to the entire nail but add a glossy navy texture to the tips for an understated but statement-making multi-dimensional effect. Moreover, you could even paint all nails matte but leave one finger with a glossy finish. Try Zoya Yves Matte Velvet to nail the look and tip it with O.P.I. Yoga-ta Get This Blue.

Heavy metals

All that glitters is gold — and silver, and chrome. Metallics continue to shine bright, and whether it's a full metal coat of color, or an accent in the form of a stripe, tip, or topcoat, it's a look built to last. Both Laverne Cox and Megan Fox were seen sporting golden nails at the 2023 Grammy Awards, while Jessica Chastain wore silver to the 2023 Oscars. But just because metals lend themselves well to glamourous evenings and occasions doesn't mean they can't come out to play during the day. 

That's where chrome powders or topcoats come in. These turn down the wattage while turning any color into a subtle metallic moment. Think glazed donut versus golden statuette. But whether you want to shine bright or cast a soft glow, there are plenty of choices to put your nails in the spotlight. We like Essie's Good As Gold, the lighter Imported Bubbly from their Metallics collection, and Sally Hansen's Color Foil in Steel A Kiss.

A clear winner

Sometimes less is more, as in the case of clear nail polish. Always in style, a clear nail looks modern, chic, and well-groomed. It gives off an "I woke up like this" vibe that tries without trying too hard. According to Orly Beauty, "the point of using clear polish is to compliment the natural nail." That means the natural nail should be in great shape because any rough edges, ridges, or yellowing will show right through. 

To make sure nails are at their best, start by removing all traces of any old polish and applying a cuticle lotion or gel. Then gently push the cuticles back with an orange stick. A nail infection is not a cute look on anyone, so resist the urge to cut or trim the cuticles. Next, trim the nails if needed and file the edges. If you want to indulge in a spa-like experience, wash your hands with an exfoliating scrub or apply a hand mask. Then, rinse and dry your hands thoroughly, removing any traces of the product before applying a coat (or two) of clear polish. 

For a not-quite-clear that will improve nails from the inside out, try Essie's Glow and Shine nail strengthener. Not only does it have the slightest sheen, but it will make natural nails strong and healthy over time.

Show your pearly whites

No, we don't mean your teeth, although J-Lo has plenty to smile about. We're talking about the milky white nails Mrs. Aflleck wore during her nuptials. White nails have been around for decades, but they get a glow-up every few years and re-emerge in the "trending" department. This latest iteration is the color we all know and love, but without the opacity that calls to mind a bottle of "Wite-Out." And while J-Lo may have made it a white wedding, a milky white polish isn't just for brides. 

This universally flattering shade is at home on the beach, with jeans, or at a black-tie affair. "The beauty of milky white nails is that it's gorgeous on people of all skin tones, and it is flattering on any nail shape or length," Rachel Apfel Glass, the founder of Glosslab, told Real Simple. Try O.P.I.'s Funny Bunny to get the J-Lo look for yourself. Celebrity husband sold separately!

Back in black

Once reserved for punk rockers and the goth set, inky black nail polish found its way out of the underground and into mainstream society. But just because you're likely to see it at the Country Club as the nightclub, doesn't make it any less cool. People from all walks of life are embracing black polish for the way it combines sleek, sexy, sophistication with a little rebellious streak. 

The key to wearing black nail polish is in the color and finish. Look for a shade without any hints of blue or gray with a high gloss finish. Elle Gerstein, the manicurist behind the black nails Blake Lively wore for "A Simple Favor" premiere, told InStyle that she used the $6 LeChat Nails Dare to Wear Nail Lacquer in Black Velvet. "I like it because it's solid and ultra-glossy. You can even get away with just doing one coat."

Going green

Green is relatively new to the scene, but since it continues to crop up, we think it's destined to become a classic. Nail artist Jaz Moger told Allure that the reason for its continued popularity is the feeling it creates. "Green is a dominant color in nature, provoking feelings of growth and peace," Moger described. While it comes in a variety of verdant shades, from your favorite matcha latte to grassy green, if you want to be evergreen, we suggest going with something in a dark or olive shade with a high-gloss for spring or a velvet finish for the cooler months. 

Don't want to go all in? Try a nude or sheer base coat and dip your tips in a shade of green like Geometry by Olive & June for an unexpected twist on a French mani. "Nude pairs very well with green," celebrity manicurist Michelle Humphrey told Harper's Bazaar. However you choose to wear it, you can rest assured you'll have people green with envy over your fashion-forward style.