Of all the pockets of the beauty world that have changed most dramatically over the last few months, the nail sector has arguably been affected the most. Sure, haircuts and colour have slowed, and eye makeup is pretty much the only makeup we're concerned with anymore, but the way we do our nails has flipped from bimonthly salon manicures to at-home treatments. 2020 was a wild year, and while we're now able to head back into salons there are huge waiting lists at many and some of us are understandably still feeling a little nervous about booking in. With this in mind, it's more important than ever to have a collection of nail polishes we love on hand in our own homes to make mani time as much fun as possible.
As much as we have missed the process of choosing from the infamous walls full of nail polish at our favourite salons, we don't recommend loading up on dozens of bottles just to have ample options to choose from at home. Instead, we advise honing in on the nail polish colours that will be most popular in the year to come so your fingers can always be on-trend. To get the scoop on exactly which colours those will be, we tapped two of our favorite nail experts in the game—Brittney Boyce, a consulting nail artist for Orly and founder of Nails of LA, and Aline Moreira, a Massachusetts-based nail artist—to spill the tea on the nail colours that are the most popular in 2021. Keep scrolling for everything you need to know.
1. Return of the Deep Reds
According to our experts, 2021 is the year of red. But it's not just any red they're predicting will take off—it's the rich burgundies and Bordeauxs that skew deeper in hue than the cherries and orange-tinged shades that gained popularity in 2020. "A beautiful burnt burgundy never goes out of style," says Moreira. Boyce agrees, adding that the shade is suitable as a stand-alone colour or in nail art as a statement colour. "Think half-French tips, simple vertical lines down the centre of the nail, or even dagger shapes using a deep, velvety red," she explains.
The plush, gel-like finish of this polish adds to the lush effect of its deep red hue.
2. Updated French
The classic French manicure has seen an unexpected resurgence over the last couple of years, but innovation in the area is coming in hot. Moreira says one way this will manifest will be the pairing of richer colours—like the burgundy and jade colour combination shown here—rather than the classic white tip. "By adding a pop of colour, this could easily be a fashion statement," she remarks. With the endless colour combinations available to experiment with, this could be just the source of whimsy we're all seeking in this year.
This dynamic colour duo is just one of the many combos that would make for a perfectly modern French manicure. They complement each other so nicely, and either colour could easily serve as the base or the accent.
3. Milky Nudes (With Minimal Designs)
Moreira says she reaches for natural nudes daily when working with clients. "It's a heavy hitter with an elegant, clean look," she says. While these milky nudes are pretty on their own, both artists concur that they're also the perfect base for the pretty, minimal nail art taking center stage in 2021. "I always love minimal nails with a lot of negative space, whether with a milky nude as a base or a completely bare nail as a base," Boyce tells us. "I think the new twist is to add gold accents to play up the nail art. I think this look will continue to trend in 2021 because people will be looking for classic, clean, and simple nail art after a somewhat chaotic year."
These shorter stiletto-shaped nail and glossy finish make this the perfect base for some gold fixtures.
These metallic nail stickers are the perfect accents to layer on top of your favourite milky nude shade.
Brown nail polish was the sleeper hit of autumn and winter 2020, and it looks like the trend is continuing in 2021. From deep mahogany hues to lighter, almost-beige ones, this '90s-inspired shade won't be letting up any time soon. "They say blondes have more fun, but in this case, I beg to differ. This brunette shade will definitely steal the spotlight in 2021," says Moreira. "It can also be a beautiful nude for my melanated sisters."
If deep, sable shades aren't your bag, then a rich, tawny hue like this one from My Mood might be your ticket to brown town.
5. Intermingling Finishes
"A mix of matte and glossy nails is another simple nail art that people can do at home," Boyce says. "You can play with a mix of matte and glossy on the same nail, similar to the look I did for Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox for the American Music Awards. The base was matte, while a black vertical line was glossy. You can also alternate your nails between matte and glossy, like a matte statement nail."
Boyce recommends a matte topcoat to easily transform any nail color into a matte nail colour.
6. Dark Navy
If you're an OG fan of Rhythm by Chanel (the brand's beloved navy nail lacquer shade shown here), then this news should warm your heart. "Dark navy blues will also trend," says Boyce. "It’s another classic colour, and in general, I see 2021 being a year where we lean on classic colours, things that we’re familiar with."
Russian Navy is one of the first dark blue polishes that comes to mind, and for good reason.
7. Blueish Gray
Moreira identified this one as another hue on the blue spectrum to look out for this year. The pro elaborates that the grey tinge gives this blue the perfect balance between a pop of colour and a laid-back look. "If you are aiming for a little attention, this is definitely a 'hey girl, what colour is that?' type of vibe," she jokes.
This colour is giving serious stormy weather vibes in the best possible way.
8. Shades of Green
"Greens started gaining traction this year, and I think they'll be huge in 2021," says Boyce. "Everything from Baby Yoda greens to The Grinch greens are everywhere in beauty." While there are tons of green shades to choose from, Boyce says leaning into a deeper forest green is the key to keeping things chic. The lighter the colour, the more casual and playful the vibe.
This matcha latte–hued polish is fun and casual but still elevated.
9. Mustard Yellow
"Yellows always tend to make an appearance and are certainly a popular staple that works well any time of the year," Moreira says. If you’re looking to hone in on a particular shade of yellow, she recommends a good mustard yellow that's just a touch darker than the pastel or limoncello shades that tend to pop up in the spring. "It's great in a matte finish or a shiny gloss topcoat," she adds.
10. Glitter-Centric Designs
While this year may require nail fanatics to continue carrying out manicures at home, easy nail designs will be critical for those who want a little something extra. Boyce says that glitter is a great option since there are so many easy design elements it can be used for, like ombré. "Even when it’s safe to go back to nail salons regularly, I think people will still like inexpensive ways to get nail art at home in 2021," she explains. "We’re all trying to save money and will likely go to nail salons for a big treat rather than weekly beauty maintenance."
This confetti glitter looks amazing in an ombré design.
It's always a good time to go bold when it comes to glitter and this polish will get you there.
Up next, summer just isn't summer without these beautiful nail colours.
Hi, I’m Courtney. I'm a Cancer sun, Libra rising beauty enthusiast with about six years of experience in the editorial space. I joined Who What Wear as the associate beauty editor in 2019 after spending many years working on the West Coast edit team at InStyle Magazine. I currently ideate and write beauty content on WhoWhatWear.com and spend my days digging through every corner of the internet to uncover the most exciting happenings in hair, makeup, skincare, and nails to share with our readers. I graduated from California State University, Northridge, with a BA in communication studies and pivoted to editorial after spending my college years working in the legal field. My beauty philosophy is simple: I believe there are no wrong answers and that discovering our favorite beauty products and rituals is a journey, not a sprint. When I’m not geeking out over products, I can be found adventuring around L.A. with my fiancé; watching reality TV with our French bulldog, Bernie Mac; or relating way too hard to astrology memes.
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