'80s fingernail styles

Fashionable nails in the 1980s were long and groomed. Bright shades of polish echoed the vibrant make-up and colour looks of the day. With many seeking a luxurious lifestyle, throughout the decade, the 1980s saw the growth of nail bars as well as technological advances in nail techniques.


Power-dressing was fashionable by the mid-'80s, when the trend of speedy nail bars began in the U.S. Long nails were considered the glamorous indicator of the ideal '80s lifestyle: a prestigious city job and spare cash for showy luxuries. The long shape of '80s nails was slightly squared. The most fashionable colour was bright red, to go with bright lips, stilettos and a power suit.

French Manicure

The French manicure was a standard, groomed, natural nail. This involved colouring the tip of the nail white, with nail varnish or sometimes a pencil, and using a flesh colour on the remainder. Maintaining the perfect French manicure was also a financial status symbol that went with the more demure, expensive fashions of the '80s, such as designer nautical clothes.


Punk left its mark on the 1980s, and deconstructed looks became popular, losing their '70s political edge but influencing rock and goth styles. Popular colours for this look included dark plum, black and metallic brights, such as lime and peacock.

With 1980s fashion experimental and carnivalesque, complicated nail patterns became popular by the middle of the decade, with rhinestone encrusted nails a common sight. Nails might also be painted in different colours, especially with little fingers in a contrast colour to the rest of the hand. Sometimes both hands were painted differently.


Far from today's sophisticated home nail-care kits, the stick-on nails of the '80s, on sale in pharmacies, were the popular cheap nail fix. Some came with glue, and others came with little pads of double-sided tape fixed on the underside. The style was always long and bright. The 1980s launched the modern nail technicians, with fibreglass wraps and acrylic tips part of the new services offered. These new techniques also popularised nail charms. The 1980s also saw the establishment of professional nail polish brands Essie and OPI, offering new colour and performance to nail technicians across the United States.

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About the Author

Shefali Choudhury is a qualified make-up artist and nail technician, with more than 12 years experience of professional makeup in beauty, film and theater. She graduated in fine art from Central Saint Martins and has been writing professionally since 2007.