The '90s Nail Trends That Deserve Comebacks (and 3 That Deserve to Burn)

If there's one decade we're seeing more fashion and beauty inspiration being drawn from than any other right now, it's the '90s. From the resurgence of outfit staples like overalls and plaid to the reintegration of once-beloved beauty products like brown lipstick, it seems like we're currently in a nostalgia loop of consistently reinventing the aesthetic of the MTV era. Aside from a few notable flops, it was a pretty cool time period for beauty—especially nails.

Of course, there are plenty of modern nail trends to keep us on our toes in 2021 (yes, we're still honing our at-home nail-art skills), but if you're in the mood to throw it back to the era of Lisa Frank, Clueless, and Nirvana, then you're in luck. Ahead, check out the 10 coolest '90s nail trends we'd happily wear today and the three unfortunate trends we'd rather forget.

Keep: Chunky Glitter


(Image credit: @hollyfalconenails)

It's time to get our sparkle back. The acceptable glitter size has slowly been refined down to a finely milled, soft shimmer over the years, but now feels like the perfect time to reintroduce the in-your-face confetti glitter we saw back in the '90s. The bolder and more reminiscent of those holographic vending machine stickers, the better.

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Keep: Era-Specific Design Collages 


(Image credit: @evemeetswest)

Though most of them certainly didn't originate in the decade, emblems like happy faces and yin-yang and patterns like squiggly lines and plaid were ultra-popular. Throw it all together and what do you get? An extremely cute throwback manicure.

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Burn: Ill-Fitting Press-Ons

Instead, try:

Keep: Metallic Lacquer


(Image credit: Getty Images)

From eye shadow to lipstick, and even hair paint (remember that?), the dot-com era was frosty as hell. This preference for metallics extended all the way to fingernails, too. Flat, creamy nail colors are cool and certainly more popular these days, but we could all use a little more of that whimsy the '90s was known for, right?

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Keep: Over-the-Top Art


(Image credit: Getty Images)

Much like the dark lip liner and clear lip gloss that came to be a defining makeup aesthetic, extravagant nail art was another one of the many cultural gifts offered up by Black and brown beauty enthusiasts of decades past. Though thick acrylic nails have slowed in popularity, the over-the-top adornment of extended claws with everything from studs to foil and hand-painted designs persists.

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Keep: French Manicures


(Image credit: @rosiehw)

Interest in this classic manicure style has ebbed and flowed from decade to decade, but it definitely reigned supreme in the '90s. From then to now, we've seen a shift from professionally applied tips taking up half the nail bed to daintily painted white lines applied at home, but the style itself seems to be here to stay.

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Burn: Chronically Chipped Polish

Instead, try:

Keep: Vampy Shades


(Image credit: @betina_goldstein)

Perhaps another by-product of the grunge scene, deep, sultry nail polish shades like oxblood, plum, and black were among the most popular in the '90s. These days, you'll mostly see these hues categorized within a winter nail color palette, but we're all for bringing them out year-round.

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Keep: Fire-Engine Red Polish


(Image credit: Getty Images)

There's truly nothing better than a gorgeous red nail polish, and it appears the fashion girls of the '90s agreed. Everyone who was in vogue at the time, from supermodels on and off duty to actresses and CEOs in power suits, could be seen sporting the classic hue. Thankfully, not much has changed on that front.

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Keep: Square Extensions


(Image credit: @imarninails)

Unpopular opinion: Long, square nails are so chic. And if you thought Kylie Jenner was the first person to rock the look, you'd be wrong! While softer shapes like almond and squoval have gained more popularity in recent years, the elongated square tips that rose to stardom in the '90s are a look we'd happily welcome back.

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Burn: Fan-Shaped Nails

Instead, try:

Keep: Shades of Blue


(Image credit: @hollyfalconenails)

One of the defining characteristics of the '90s beauty aesthetic was, without question, the blue manicure. But we're not talking about the navy blue or blue-gray shades that are popular today. Back then, it was all about light-blue hues, from soft powder blue to vivid sky blue, that really captured the playful edge that set the era apart. We're ready for this look to make its triumphant return to the mainstream.

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Keep: Half-Moon Designs


(Image credit: @thehangedit)

The only thing that screams the '90s more than this half-moon design is the Malibu Barbie shade of hot pink it's painted in. 

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Associate Beauty Editor

Courtney Higgs is a Cancer sun, Libra rising beauty enthusiast with about six years of experience in the editorial space. She was previously Who What Wear's associate beauty editor after spending many years working on the West Coast edit team at InStyle Magazine. She graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a BA in communication studies and pivoted to editorial after spending her college years working in the legal field. Her beauty philosophy is simple: She believes there are no wrong answers and that discovering our favorite beauty products and rituals is a journey, not a sprint. When she's not geeking out over products, she can be found adventuring around L.A. with her fiancé; watching reality TV with their French bulldog, Bernie Mac; or relating way too hard to astrology memes.