Ask Belle: Nailed It!

Feb 14, 2013

I receive a lot of email about nail polish.  Do you need it?  What colors are appropriate for the office?  Are acrylics okay for work?  So I thought I would address a few nail lacquer-related issues today.

At-Home Manicures.  First, let me say that I do my nails myself.  Getting a manicure or a pedicure is a nice treat, but it is not something I spend money on regularly.  Especially since with just a few tools I can do a decent job at home.

My mani/pedi toolkit includes: an Amope rotating foot file, a manicure kit from Bliss, some Cuticle Erasing Cream and some O’Keefe’s Healthy Feet lotion.  Those tools, plus 45-minutes, and I have myself a mani-pedi.

Bare Nails.  When life gets busy, the first thing I stop doing is painting my nails.  So over the past year, they’ve been bare more often than not.  I don’t think this is a problem as long as they’re trimmed, clean and well-groomed.

Short vs. Long.  I like my nails on the shorter side.  It makes typing and texting much simpler.  Plus, I think it gives me the ability to wear bold nail polish colors without overstepping the bounds of what is too much for work.

Acrylics.  This is a tough one for me to answer.  A decade ago, I wore long acrylic nails, but stopped because the upkeep got to be too much for my wallet.  Then, I started reading Johanna Cox’s former blog, and heard her pontificate on the evils of the French Manicure, and I’ve never looked back.

I think a set of shorter acrylic nails is fine for work, but when you get past a certain point, they become inappropriate.  I’m also terrified of women who wear them long and filed into points, like at any moment they might go all Wolverine on me.

Lastly, I think some people, especially men, see acrylic nails as a sign of being high maintenance.  So they might not be the best thing for a job interview.

Colors.  Which colors are appropriate for you to wear depends entirely on where you work.  I’ve always been lucky in that none of my bosses ever cared what color I painted my nails, though it’s not like I was walking around with lime green tips with daisies painted on them.

For most offices, I think that sticking to a palette of pinks, reds and purples is a safe bet.  If you work in a very professional setting (suits every day, nylons mandatory, etc.), I would not even think about going really dark or choosing something that is a bit out there.

Belle’s Favorites.  I don’t find time to paint my nails as often as I would like, but I love (LOVE) nail polish.  And I own a lot of it.  Boxes full, actually.  Here are some of my favorites.

Base Coat and Top Coat: Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab Pro, my manicures last one week to 10 days with no chips.  Thanks, Deb.  For something cheaper, I hear good things about Essence base and top coat ($4 each).

Pinks: For lovers of pink, the Deborah Lippmann Pretty in Pink set is a must have.  For a sheer pink, I like her ‘A Fine Romance’ hue.

Nudes and Greige: Best nude polish?  Hands down, Deborrah Lippman Modern Love.  Just a hint of mauve makes it perfection.  For greige, try Giorgio Armani.

Purples: For me there is only one dark purple polish and that is NARS Purple Rain.  It is everything.  For something lighter, I just bought Nails Inc. Lilac and I am loving it.

Reds: My favorite poppy-colored red is Essie Lollipop.  For classic red, OPI Red.  And should I need more of a burgundy, the first polish I fell in love with at age 19 is still my favorite: OPI Bogota Blackberry.

Metallics: Rose gold is so hot right now, and Sinful Colors Cherry Blossom at $2 a bottle is a must.  As for pure gold, my favorite color is OPI Glitzerland.  And Deborah Lippmann’s Take the A Train is an awesome pewter shade.


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  1. CynthiaW says:

    I've started doing the shellacs – I hated paying for a manicure that chipped within a day or two and a shellac will last 2 – 3 weeks on me. Basically, it lasts two if I go with a darker color because the growth is more obvious and three if I go lighter because is isn't.

    When I don't do shellac, I tend to do my nails myself so I don't get so annoyed when it chips and I can do touch ups.

    As for the typos – I'm not sure how many times Belle has to point out that this isn't her job. She does the posts when she can during her breaks and in the evenings and doesn't have the time to go over them with a fine-toothed comb. If it bothers you that much, don't read it. Seriously, she already knows that it happens sometimes. Heck, we ALL know that it happens sometimes – do we really have to be subjected to snarky comments that have nothing to do with the topic every time there's a typo?

  2. Elena says:

    I think I “could” wear nail polish to the office but I just choose not to (we have very few women so not a lot of examples). I have oily nails so the polish peels off in a matter of days (even the gel kind) so it's not worth it to me. However, I did find that I like a good manicure to clean the cuticle and then I use the little buffer blocks to make the nails smooth and very shiny.

  3. Liza says:

    “Getting a manicure or a pedicure is a nice treat, but it is something I spend money on regularly.” Do you mean “NOT” something you spend money on regularly? I swear I find typos and mistakes in every single post…

  4. Leigh says:

    Not trying to white knight, but is it really necessary to complain about it? If you have a problem with Belle's grammar…don't read. I think most of her readers get the gist of what she's saying.

  5. E says:

    I think that's a pretty simple inference to make…it was a minor error that had little impact on the rest of the (wonderfully detailed!) post. Cut her some slack!

  6. Jenn says:

    Liza, no need to be so critical. You can ask for clarification without making snide remarks. =)

  7. Jen says:

    I've given up on trying to maintain a color on my hands. Sally Hansens' Nail White Pencil and a coat of clear polish have been my go-to for the last year. I love it.

  8. Michelle says:

    “Which colors are appropriate for the office?” is a question that is so often on my mind that I'm afraid to wear many colors, especially the deep red and blue colors that I'm drawn to. I'm hoping for some serious insight on whether this is a big deal for most readers' work environments.

  9. Belle says:

    Michelle: It was never in mine, as I mentioned, but I have friends who work in more conservative offices who cannot wear anything but nudes and pinks on the fingers. One of my good girlfriends once wore charcoal grey metallic and her boss asked her if she'd been working in a coal mine. Some people just don't like anything they consider outside of the norm.

  10. Jill says:

    Can you explain why your base and top coats are your favorites? Chipping is my #1 problem and despite using Seviche Top coat and base coat, I'm lucky if I get two days chip-free. This includes leaving 10 minutes between layers.

  11. Pam says:

    I think “You Don't Know Jacques” is OPI, not Butter London (unless BL also has a polish by the same name). It's a great colour, I agree!

  12. K says:

    I work in a fairly casual office (the men are usually in khakis and button ups or polos), so nail care isn't a big deal. Even though color isn't an issue at my office, I usually wear lighter colors on my fingers and darker colors on my toes; that's just a matter of preference, though. I do think you should go one way of the other- either painted or clean. Seeing an otherwise stylish woman with chipped nail polish is startling. When I get around to getting manicures, I like the shellac polish because it lasts me about two weeks before chipping and needing to come off without looking dated like acrylic.

  13. EmZ says:

    I'd also like to hear people's favorite top coats. I've used OPI, Essie, and am now on Seche Vite. Despite the great reviews, I feel like it makes my color chip (or, really, peel off) so quickly. So far OPI has been my favorite, but I'm still hoping there's something better out there.

  14. ChinaRette says:

    Overseas I just buffed my nails and kept them groomed, but since I moved back to the States I've loved doing my nails again. I also don't shell out for manicures, except for special occasions. I used to be really conservative about nail polish, but my eyes have adjusted and now I love fun colors. My old workplace was more conservative, so I stuck with pinks, reds and purples. In my current job, some of my older coworkers might make a little comment about an “unusual” color, but it wouldn't have any sort of ramifications. I just wear what I want.

    I think colors are almost anything-goes now, but nail art is iffy. Perhaps a really subtle pattern might work (like some of the newer magnetic polishes), or a small motif on one or two fingers, but I wouldn't feel professional with a full set of 10 nails that have been painted to look like Christmas presents or Valentine's day hearts.

    Essie's colors are cute, but I feel like they chip more frequently on my nails. Just got a new bottle of metallic gold Deborah Lippmann (love the coverage), a teal Butter polish (great opacity), and a dark navy shimmer YSL (also wonderful coverage…but too expensive at $25). OPI's my standby for most “traditional” colors like pinks, reds and nudes. I use a Revlon base coat, but I'll probably switch to OPI. Haven't found a top coat I love yet.

  15. EK says:

    Base coat: Butter London Nail Foundation. Reminds me of the silkiness of a facial primer, but on your nails. I bought the top coat as well (BL's “Top and Tails” kit), but the top coat got gloppy and thick and I had to toss it (can't tell if I left the top too loose, or the product just does that).

    New favorite top coat is Deborah Lippmann “Addicted to Speed.” Dries fast and stays on for a long time without chipping. I do my own nails most of the time too, so getting the most out of each mani is a priority.

    If you're having top coat issues, consider the polish – some “3-free” polishes don't play nicely with non-3-free top coats (OPI, some others). If you're going after 3-free, especially Zoya/Butter London, it really helps to have a 3-free top coat as well.

  16. an says:

    Favorite nude-with-a-little-extra: Butter London All Hail the Queen (formerly McQueen). I think I've turned most of my friends and coworkers onto this polish. It's neutral and professional indoors, with a little holographic mcirosparkle when the sunlight hits it.

    Current favorite base coat and top coat: nails inc. Kensington Caviar Base Coat and Top Coat, followed by Zoya Hurry-Up Drops. Before that I used Zoya Anchor & Armor, which also work quite well, though I thought Armor got a little goopy once you were about halfway through the bottle. The Hurry-Up Drops are a must — I had a professional manicure (for the first time in ages) the other day, and I could not believe how long it took to dry, to the point that I actually applied the drops myself when I got home an hour later.

    Honestly though, you have to find a basecoat and topcoat that play well with the brand of polish you are using, and with your particular nails. For example, OPI basecoats and topcoats do nothing for me — chip city, and the topcoats peel. But other people love them. I have yet to find a basecoat/topcoat that holds Chanel polish together for more than a couple days. I would recommend buying a few different bases/tops and try them out for yourself — just make sure your base & top is 3 free if your polish is 3 free (and they've got the formulas up to snuff now, so I highly recommend at least 3 free).

    If you're new to nails, a good starter pack is the Zoya Color Lock System. And I highly recommend their polishes — you can't get much better wear for your dollar (even at much higher price points), they have a great color selection, and they run sales regularly. I'm wearing Zoya Blaze (cool red holo) on my fingers and toes right now.

    a-england is a small company that puts out some amazing colors, including holos. Illamasqua also has an amazing formula and puts out some unusual colors. If you like NARS Purple Rain, try Illamasqua Baptiste.

    I love nail polish… it might be a sickness…

  17. Pep says:

    A second for Butter's “All Hail The Queen.”

    I know that their “Yummy Mummy” stole all the buzz, but AHTQ is so much nicer.

  18. Jenn says:

    I also looove nail polish, but my fiance hates the smell. I have a decent collection and like to wear polish frequently, but we have a tiiiny apartment and I can pretty much go nowhere else to do it that won't bother his nose.

    I recently started using Sensationail, an at-home gel system that is similar to Shellac. I've never gotten a Shellac mani at a salon so I cannot compare, but I freaking LOVE it so far. No dry time, wears up to two weeks, etc. My fiance got the system for me for Christmas (usually $50-60 at drugstores and some mass retailers, and online – but he got it cheaper on sale, around $35) and it really does live up to the hype. I work in IT and sometimes have to gut computers – this is not always nice to a manicure but I'll be damned if it didn't last two weeks (could've gone longer but the growth was looking rough).

  19. Nicole says:

    Top Coat: Sally Hansen Insti-Dry. Red bottle, white cap. You can purchase it anywhere. It's been a life saver and my self mani's last longer than when I get them done!

    I never do shellac because it peels on me. Plus I like changing my color frequently.

    My biggest peeve is when women have chipped nail polish – take it off! I keep individual remover pads at work in case my mani has gotten so bad I can remove the color.

  20. Lauren says:

    I'm an at home mani newbie. I'm not great at remembering all those steps and which are essential. Any tutorials you can point me to?

    Thanks much,


  21. ss says:

    I guess I think of it in terms of how much your time is worth–45 minutes of your own time and effort, plus the cost of the nail polish, buffer, top coat, base coat, remover, etc–I get a manicure once every three months or so and consider it a very minor splurge! The rest of the time I just have bare, clean nails.

    Also, in reference to the mistakes/typos–I definitely think the commenter's tone was overly critical, but it does strike me as disappointing that there isn't a bit more polish (no pun intendend–seriously!) to the blog in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar.

  22. saramel says:

    I've got an extensive polish collection of many different brands and I get impressive wear using a combination of Orly Bonder base coat and Seche Vite Fast Dry top coat. I'm pretty rough on my nails and my manicures last about a week without chipping. I went through several bottles of OPI Chip Skip and found that I got the same result prepping my nails with a cotton pad moistened with rubbing alcohol. The key is to make sure there's no oils to interfere with the paint's adhesion.

  23. Katherine says:

    China Glaze Let's Groove is B3F and is pretty much idential to Nars Purple Rain.

    I work in a pretty casual office and can wear anything but I prefer either sheer and pale or really dark, which I think also works in conservative offices (I worked in a very very uptight office right out of school and dark colors like Essie Wicked were fine).

  24. Katherine says:

    Base Coat – Essie First Base
    Top Coat – Essie Good to Go

    If you're having trouble with Seche Vite and peeling, you may be waiting too long to apply it. It should go on wet polish. If you really glob it on, then the brush should never touch the top layer of color and it won't smear.

    To ss – I think it's much more cost and time effective to do DIY manicures if you do them often. It takes me 15 minutes and a bottle of polish is $8 or less (I have mostly Essie) whereas nail places around here are ~$20. So for a once a week mani, I'd spend MUCH less than $1000 a year on DIY supplies.

  25. E says:

    People who care about Belle's typos?! Are you serious? Get over yourselves. You read this blog for free. Cancel your subscription to Glamour, US Weekly, or the New York Times if they have grammatical errors but leave Belle alone!

  26. Allison says:

    I LOVE Essie Leading Lady, but does anyone else have a problem with it flaking off within hours of application? I do two coats and a no chips ahead top coat, which usually keeps my polish lasting for 5 or so days. I don't have this problem with any other Essies!

  27. ss says:


    Here's the thing– a typo or error in your writing is essentially like having a stain on your shirt. It may not be fair to judge you for it, but it still affects people's perceptions of you. So just like Belle recommends ways for us to go out and present our best selves in terms of the way we look, I think it's important for all of us to realize that we should at least try to present our best selves in writing as well. I am perfectly comfortable with being someone who understands that. I do not need to get over myself. I think even Belle realizes that–no need to be rude!

  28. Reader F says:

    Belle – Like L above, I am a total home manicure newbie. Any tutorials that you prefer? I realize I should have learned how to do this long ago, but now that I am in an office where the other ladies take care of their nails, it is blatantly obvious (and embarrassing!) that I don't know how.

  29. Alaina says:

    What did Johanna Cox have to say about French Manicures?


  30. Liz says:

    I'm in the same boat as L & Reader F, a manicure/pedicure basics tutorial would be really helpful!

  31. Spiritmom says:

    Please tell the evils of a French mani!

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