Finally, A French Manicure That Doesn’t Suck

French tips are back in style in a really big way, but I'm not a fan of the traditional look, so I decided to pick a more “me” colour scheme.
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French tips are back in style in a really big way, but I'm not a fan of the traditional look, so I decided to pick a more “me” colour scheme.

I’ve mentioned before that while I was growing up, I was allowed a lot of freedom when it came to my hair and makeup. Starting at 11, as long as I adhered to my school’s uniform policy and dress code, I could pretty much do what I wanted with my face, hair and nails.

It’s not difficult to draw a straight line from that to where I am now. My parents' attitudes towards my beauty experiments have coloured the way that I look at it to this day: as something joyful, artistic and fun; a way to show the world who you are rather than spackle to cover up “imperfections.”

But not everyone had same kind of makeup freedom I enjoyed, a lesson I learned quite dramatically when I was about 12.

Back when I was but a wee baby Alle, I was obsessed with nail polish, but I bit my nails HORRIBLY. Any manicure I gave myself lasted a matter of hours until I chewed it off out of sheer anxiety, then shredded my fingernails down past the quick. My hands looked like a crime scene. It was bad.

My friend Natalie had--and still does have--the most amazing nails you’ve ever seen. The beds are super-long, she’s always had them shaped perfectly, and they’re hard as rocks. Nobody can believe that they’re real, and at the time, she never painted them. Ever.

A very rare photo of us at about twelve or so. Natalie is in the red sweatshirt; I am in the purple. We are at Camp Logue Brook with our seventh grade class, and judging by the stickers we have on our jumpers, we had been horse riding that day. Please note my awesome bob.

A very rare photo of us at about twelve or so. Natalie is in the red sweatshirt; I am in the purple. We are at Camp Logue Brook with our seventh grade class, and judging by the stickers we have on our jumpers, we had been horse riding that day. Please note my awesome bob.

I had been DYING to paint Natalie’s beautiful nails, and one day while she was at my house, she let me do it. 

I decided that all-black with sparkly purple French tips were exactly the look I wanted for her. This was a chance for me to use my prized Bonne Bell purple (!) glittery (!!) SCENTED (!!!) nail polish, which I’d been saving for just such a special occasion.

I was so proud. It was the first time I’d done anyone else’s nails, and I thought I’d done a really good job. The purple tips smelled like fake grapes and chemicals, but they sparkled beautifully in the Australian sunshine. Nat was happy. I was delighted.

Until I got in serious trouble.

It turned out that not everyone’s parents had the free-to-be-you-and-me attitude that mine did, and Natalie had broken QUITE A FEW RULES with my black and purple manicure. She had to scrub it off and was grounded for a week. I had to write hundreds of lines as punishment for my part in the crime.

Natalie and I are still friends, and her mum STILL considers me a bit of a bad influence. We are 29.

And I mean, I am. But not when it comes to beauty stuff.

So, in case you guys don’t know--French tips are back in style in a really big way. Come springtime, you’re going to be drowning in a sea of nude nails with white tips.

I don’t really like French tips. There, I said it. Too vividly do I remember the early aughts, when everyone had square-tipped, highly contrasting French tipped manicures. Dark days. Dark days indeed.

So I decided to pick a more “me” colour scheme and recreate the black-and-sparkle French manicure that got me in so much trouble as a mini-Alle. Will it be enough to overcome my French tip reservations? 

Here’s what I used:

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• Base coat. NutraNail Strengthener with Green Tea works for me.

• Black polish. I’m using Licorice by Essie because I love the consistency and coverage.

• Glitter polish. This is The Black Knight by Butter London, which I am OBSESSED with.

• Top coat. As always, Sally Hansen Insta-Dri is the gold standard.

• Thin nail art brush.

• An orange stick and nail polish remover (for cleanup).

• Optional: Sticky French tip “guides.” You can pick them up at any drugstore.

First, apply your base coat. I STRONGLY encourage you guys not to skip this step, even if your nails are Adamantium-strong. A good base coat will keep your manicure looking nicer for longer, and also prevent your nails from getting stained.

Next, paint it black. One coat is OK, but two is better. Make sure you let the polish dry completely in between coats. Nail polish is dry when you can touch it to your lip and it doesn’t feel cold, tacky or wet.

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I’m pretty good at painting my nails, but I still make a bit of a mess sometimes. That’s where my orange stick dipped in nail polish remover comes in--I just rub it around any mistakes and everything looks perfect! I find sticks work better than q-tips because they don’t leave any stringy messes behind.

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Yay! Your base is complete. I hope you really let this part dry--catch up on Nashville or Downton Abbey or something--because if it isn’t, this next part can look a mess.

Butter London’s Black Knight is a multicoloured glitter suspended in a sheer black polish. The sparkle is mostly dark pink, but I can see blue, gold and red in there, too. This is a moody yet pretty glitter, and much more on my level right now than pale purple.

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Because I wanted to keep the sparkly tip thin and the Butter London polish brush is rather thick, I used a nail art brush instead. I freehanded a thin, slightly curved line at the tip of each of my nails, following the curved shape of my free edge. Don’t make it too straight.

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Real talk: I have YEARS of practice at doing elaborate stuff to my nails, so this line wasn’t hard for me to draw. However! Not everyone is there yet, especially not with their non-dominant hands, and that is OK! If you need a bit of guidance, that’s where the sticky French tip guides come in. You press them lightly to your nails, paint the tip, LET IT DRY COMPLETELY (very important) and then peel them off. If you’ve let your black base dry completely, they’ll come off without ruining anything else, leaving a clean, sparkly line behind. Super-easy!

Black Knight is quite a thick polish, so it only took me a single coat to get the coverage I wanted. If yours is thinner, you may need to re-trace your tip again.

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You might have noticed that, although I did a pretty good job here, I didn’t do a PERFECT job with my glitter tips. That’s fixable! I cleaned my thin nail art brush, dipped it into my black polish and tidied up my line by painting over any errant glitter.

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Then I caught up on Nashville and The Originals (I don’t really know what’s going on in that show; Marcel is so hot I find it distracting) while my nails totally dried. Are you sick of me talking about how important it is to have totally dry nails yet? I regret nothing! It is really important--who wants to invest an hour in a manicure, only to mess it up at the eleventh hour?

Once my nails were dry, I applied my top coat. A good top coat doesn’t just seal your polish and extend its wear, it also makes glittery polish look a lot sparklier. True story.

The final look is one that I like more than I expected to. It’s a bit rebellious, but still looks grown up. I am not 100% behind the resurgence of French tips, but this is a way for me to embrace that particular trend MY way.

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Plus, I don’t think I’d get grounded for it.

OR WILL I?

OR WILL I?

Were you allowed and encouraged to wear nail polish growing up, or did you have to sneak it? Did you ever get in trouble for your makeup, hair or nail game in school? I know I got sent to the deputy’s office A LOT for wearing “unnatural” lipstick (and also because my skirt was too short, but WHATEVER, TALL GIRL PROBLEMS).