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The rise and rise of the SFW manicure

This year at the Oscars, E! Entertainment’s Mani Cam – a weird red carpet feature that zoomed in on celebrity’s manicures as their hands “walked” down a miniature red carpet – was deemed so irritating that it was finally dispensed with. Perhaps it was a sign.

At the autumn/winter shows, not one agenda-setting designer – from Celine to Loewe to Prada – featured brightly-coloured nail varnish on the catwalk. Leandra Medine, of the influential Man Repeller blog, hardly ever wears visible varnish, either: “On the off chance I would colour my nails,” she says, “I realised that, because I am such a fan of accessorising with rings and bracelets, the nail polish felt too everything: accessorised, done-up, meditated.”

Leandra Medine’s natural-toned nails. Photograph: Man Repeller/Instagram

“I haven’t worn nail varnish since Christmas,” adds Whistles CEO Jane Shepherdson. “I’m actually not very good at it, but it does feel slightly ‘not me’ when I do. It always looks slightly too glamorous, and a bit like I’m dressing up and trying to be someone else.” Joseph creative director Louise Trotter agrees: “I have flirted with nail varnish on a few occasions, but ultimately, as with makeup, less is more, especially as a woman gets older. Some women look great with colour but for me, a good [sheer] manicure with very short nails is so much more appealing and practical.”

Still, Spring is here, sandals are soon to be an option and toes must eventually emerge from their fluffy cocoons. To smarten them up without using colour, try the easy, understated and entirely SFW (suitable for work) mani-pedi. In short, this means eschewing nail art and elongated talons for clean, bare – or buffed-looking – nails.

Manicures backstage at the Simone Rocha show, with Essie’s iridescent white shade Waltz. Photograph: Essie

First, hit the testers to find your shade, as the eventual colour of barely-there nail varnishes will vary hugely depending on your skin and nail tone. “There are so many to choose from,” says Chanel manicurist Jenni Draper. “Just when you think you have seen every shade of beige, there is another one.” Next month, for example, Chanel releases another four, ranging from Lovely Beige – the colour of builder’s tea – to Precious Beige, a high-shine peach.

From left to right: Chanel’s Le Vernis Beige Pur; Essie’s Sugar Daddy; Chanel’s Le Vernis Lovely Beige; Essie’s Fed Up; Chanel’s Precious Beige.

Medine, meanwhile, is a fan of Essie’s Spaghetti Strap and Adore-a-Ball; Trotter mixes sheer layers of different colours to avoid anything that feels too white or yellow – often Essie’s Fed Up underneath its Sugar Daddy. To get perfect results at home, says Draper, the key is good base coat. “That acts as a ridge-filler and covers any imperfections,” she says. “The better the canvas is, the smoother the polish will go on. Apply it in two or three thin coats. Always apply a glossy top coat.” Chips will be less noticeable than with bright nail paint – as will any mistakes – so once painted, you shouldn’t need to think about it again for a couple of weeks. Simple.

A model with a barely-there manicure walks at the Celine show. Photograph: Rex

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