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Pale-pink nails topped with arcs of stark white along the tips have long been known as a French manicure. After briefly falling out of favor, the classic look has fully had its revival, and nail artists have started to tweak it with patterns, brights, and creative color schemes. These fun twists now have a new name in the nail art world: the American manicure.
Well, I take that back. The moniker isn't actually new, but it's taken on a new definition. Manicurist Tom Bachik first heard of the American manicure back in the '90s after graduating from nail school. (Now, you can catch him decorating the tips of Jennifer Lopez, Selena Gomez, and Olivia Rodrigo.) At the time, the American manicure was basically a French manicure with tips painted a less intense white with a more natural, skin tone-flattering base. "A great way to achieve this was to polish the white first, then, apply the neutral shade over the whole nail, including the white," Bachik recalls. "It softened the look."
A classic French manicure in all its glory on Kate Hudson at the 2021 Met Gala
Back then, Bachik also heard people referring to monochromatic French manicures as American manicures. For example, baby-blue nails with navy-blue tips. In both cases, he believed the term was a marketing tactic in the '90s. However, with nail art trends sprouting on a daily basis in 2021, thanks to social media, calling alternate takes on the classic French manicure an American manicure just makes sense.
These days, American manicures are mostly done with subtler tones, nail artist Lolly Koon tells Allure. A sheer, natural-color base — or simply a clear coat — is painted on to look more like the actual nail. This change also flatters each individual's complexion in a more subtle way than the striking pink of traditional French manis, Bachik explains.
As for the tips, manicurists often reach for a creamy, off-white polish for the latest American manicures. He most recently graced the nails of Lily Aldridge with the look for the 2021 Met Gala (as seen above), as well as J.Lo for a fashion event in Venice, Italy.
Jennifer Lopez’s take on the American manicure mastered by Bachik
However, asking for colorful tips in a French manicure style can be considered an American manicure too, Koon says. In fact, Bachik even notes this is the most popular way to do an American mani these days — and the trend is about to be even more major this fall. "People can personalize this look with their favorite colors — whether all the tips are one color or every fingertip a different color," he adds.
Sacramento-based nail artist Icey Milli seconds Bachik's sentiments, adding, "If we were fortune tellers, we'd predict this becoming even more popular for fall 2021. I can definitely see nail techs becoming creative with warm color palettes."
Although Icey Milli specializes in acrylics, she says American manicures are more common with those who like to keep their nails in their natural state. However, any length works with the look.
Bachik's preferred approach to the American manicure is completing the tips first. Usually, he visualizes an imaginary line down the middle of the nail. Then he creates arcs on either side of it with the polish color of choice — we love Sundays' No. 43 or No.48 if you're going the soft-white route — starting from the middle. He adorably calls them "smiles."
After all the smiles are done, Bachik perfects them by shaping and cleaning them up with a thin eyeliner brush soaked in nail polish remover. "Turn the hand with your nails pointing up and facing you when cleaning up the smile line," he recommends. "This helps you with your imaginary line down the middle, making each side the same."
Next, Bachik layers on a clear base coat, such as the Seche Clear Crystal Clear Base Coat, all over the nail to smooth out the edges of the American tips. Finish with a sheer, natural color over the entire nail, and then apply a topcoat. Try Olive & June's EC and Best of Beauty Award-winning Essie Gel-Setter Top Coat.
The American Manicure Starter Kit
Sundays No. 43
Essie Gel-Setter Top Coat
Olive & June Nail Polish in EC
Seche Clear Crystal Clear Base Coat