For as long as I can remember, my mother and I have judged women by the state of their nails. A Birkin is positively bourgeois on the arm of a woman with a chipped mani, we always say. Perfectly polished nails can compensate for a missed eyebrow waxing or an overdue session with a colourist. I’m still stunned that unkempt nails were once a celebrity trend, at least according to The New York Times. Back in 2008, the paper reported that the Olsen twins shamelessly flaunted their chipped nails for the paps.
Given my rather unforgiving standards, you can now understand why I was immediately intrigued when I heard about Shellac, a California-based Creative Nail Design treatment that guarantees a 14-day chip-free manicure. It’s a hybrid nail colour— part traditional polish and part gel— which is what makes the colour and shine last so long. It goes on in the usual three-step base-coat/colourcoat/top-coat process but dries under a special UV light system in a matter of minutes, so you don’t have to gingerly cradle your cellphone with the care reserved for newborn babies. And its hypoallergenic “3-Free” formulation (no formaldehyde, toluene or DBP) means that it won’t damage nails. At the moment, Shellac offers a limited range of 12 shades, from white to a purple-black, and another 12 will debut for fall.
It has been two weeks since I was “Shellac’d,” and, despite a longoverdue house-cleaning blitz and a renewed obsession with pistachios, I have nary a crack or scratch and the veneer shines like it was applied yesterday. You would think I’d be thrilled, but, the thing is, I’m growing a bit tired of the pinky-coral hue. My clothing choices for the last couple of weeks have erred on the side of bland white tees and blue jeans to avoid clashing with my nails. I’m dying to wear my skinny black punk jeans with spiked heels, but that look calls for a more subversive shade. I am, in essence, feeling caged in by my manicure.
The kicker is that I have to go back to the salon to have the colour professionally removed with special Shellac Remover Wraps, which are basically acetone-soaked cotton balls that are applied directly to the nails. The removal rings in at $10 on top of the $35 I paid for the Shellac mani—about $25 more than I would normally pay at one of my local walk-in nail spas.
In the end, it seems like a whole lot of fuss for a beauty indulgence that should be fancy-free. A manicure is, after all, one of the few grown-up rituals that allow considerable leeway in the whimsy department. I have cavorted with Chanel’s Black Velvet, gambolled in OPI’s Gargantuan Green Grape and toyed with Essie’s Tangerine. Even at my most experimental, I’ve never worn any of those colours on my lips or eyelids. The beauty of nail polish is that even the most conservative lady can wear an outrageous shade without compromising her style. Better yet, it’s her female prerogative to change it whenever she wants.
Test the latest celebrity hair and makeup trends with our Virtual Makeover Tool!
For the latest in fashion, beauty and culture, sign up to receive ELLE's bi-weekly newsletter