Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

I love nail art. I will try any new design that I come across on Pinterest, whether that be a velvet-inspired manicure (don’t bother trying this, I failed to realize that no one actually wants fuzzy nails), intense sparkles, or the black shattered polish which ruled my mani for most of 2011 (it was never that flattering, but always fun). If I’m in a festive mood, my nails are the first thing that I do big — bring on the bright colors, sparkles and decals, am I right?

But even a nail art fanatic like myself knows when to tone it down a bit. You can still rock an awesome and original manicure without feeling like a Real Housewife, and you can still enjoy a manicure that feels work appropriate without being totally bored by your nails. Here are four nail looks that grab attention but stay away from tacky territory, tried and tested by yours truly.

Matte Nails

Dark Polish + Matte Topcoat 

I tried this matte nail trend recently and have to say that I’m pretty obsessed with it. While you can purchase matte nail polish on its own, like The New Black’s Super Swagger Matte (a matte black polish), it makes way more sense to purchase a top coat, like OPI Matte Top Coat or Butter London’s Matte Finish Topcoat. With these, any polish in your collection can become shine-free. I achieved the look above by swiping on two coats of Essie‘s Wicked (the staple of any polish collection, in my personal opinion), waiting for the polish to dry, and coating the color in OPI Matte Top Coat. I loved the unexpected take on one of my favorite colors, and it took away from some of the vampy quality of the polish. I tried the same look with black polish (I used NYC‘s Black Lace Creme) and I think I prefer the look of a color — the matte finish can make black appear severe. One warning though when attempting a matte nail look — your nail polish will be waaaay more prone to chipping. You can minimize the fallout with a solid base coat like Essie‘s First Base Base Coat (which I rarely use in practice but very much appreciate it in theory).

White Nail Polish

Matte Top Coat + White Polish

White manicures are unexpected and eye-catching but not as intense as neon polish. Plus it’s reminiscent of snow — perfect for winter months. I achieved this look by painting nails with OPI Matte Top Coat and then, once dried, painting two layers of Wet N’ Wild‘s White Creme (a great cheap option for white polish). Note that I said matte top coat and then white polish — the reverse will give you nails reminiscent of your 4th grade white-out manicure and is not exactly cute. I learned this trick from a friend and it will save you loads of time and polish coats. The matte top coat provides a base for the white polish which will give it nearly full coverage when it is applied on top. When your white polish dries completely, slick on Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat, which will make your nails the shiniest they have ever been. (If you haven’t added this top coat to your collection, please do so immediately — it is life changing and can be purchased for $10 at most CVS stores).

Blue Nails 1

Dark Blue Polish + Black Crisscrossed Lines 

Look at me, easing you into nail art! While this does qualify as nail art and could definitely fall into the tacky category, the dark colors give it some subtly and the coherent design makes it appear more polish. This is especially good if you have a steady hand and can draw straight lines (clearly, I’m not great at it) but if you do get a little messy, the colors hide a lot. For this look, I painted two coats of Essie’s Butler, Please onto my nails (a great base coat will do wonders for you in terms of avoiding staining, which, again, I never do but may make it one of my beauty resolutions). Once the blue dried I used Sally Hansen‘s Nail Art Pen in black to swipe quick lines across the nail in a crisscross pattern. (Make sure that the polish is completely dry or you’ll risk ruining the pen completely). Once the nail pen dries, finish with a clear top coat — if you don’t, the lines will wipe off after any contact with water.

Nail Art

Beige Polish + Black/White Matte Glitter

I like this look because while it does have the one thing that nail art phobics shun (lots of glitter) it also has the thing that nail minimalists adore (nude polish). For this look, I used two coats of Essie’s Chinchilly as my bottom layer, and, while the polish was still slightly tacky, applied Maybelline‘s Color Show Polka Dots Clearly Spotted on top. It dries slightly grainy, but still appears neat because of the color underneath. Best of both worlds, right?