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What is a French Manicure?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated May 21, 2024
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As a style of manicure that is simple yet elegant, the French manicure features white tips that are accentuated by a natural looking base. Popularized by high fashion and popular celebrities during the last century, it continues to play a role in fashion trends today.

While no one is exactly sure when or where the French manicure was first introduced, there can be no doubt that by the 19th century, the technique was popular in a number of French nail salons. The style caught the attention of American fashion designers in the early 20th century, leading to its extensive use among the popular actresses of the 1920s. From there, women all over the United States emulated the technique. The trend continued well into the 1930s, with many women making the French manicure part of their standard treatment at the local nail salon. Owing to the economic Depression that gripped most of the nation, resourceful women began to learn the steps to create the look of the manicure at home.

While a relatively easy process, French manicures tend to be among the more expensive of salon options. Typically, a stencil is used to create the clear delineation between the natural portion of the nail, and the section that is brushed with a white nail varnish. In some cases, the line is created freehand, with nail polish remover used later in the process to take care of any imperfections. Today, there are a number of home manicure kits that allow women to customize the technique to fit their own needs. Handy stencils are included in the kits, along with a range of shades of neutral and white polish and sealer.

Several variations of the French manicure are offered today. Instead of a neutral tone for the bottom section of the nail, one approach is to use a pale pink layer to accentuate the white tips. In other instances, various shades ranging from ecru to tan are paired with the tips. The American version features the application of beige tips coupled with a solid pink base.

Just as there are French manicures, there are also pedicure treatments that employ similar methods. This means that it is possible to couple matching pedicures with the manicures, making a well-polished look for wear with open toed footwear.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including BeautyAnswered, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon926992 — On Jan 21, 2014

@sara007: White-out and clear nail polish.

By Sara007 — On May 08, 2011

I love having a French manicure, as it looks very clean and professional. I am now considering the French pedicure to match my fingernails. Do you think that it will be difficult to maintain?

By manykitties2 — On May 05, 2011

I love French manicures but I find the ends chip very easily. I've tried my best not to damage the tips, but I always end up with unattractive nails.

Does anyone have any tips on how to easily fix this kind of damage without having to pay the salon to redo the entire manicure?

By animegal — On May 04, 2011

If you want to have some fun, you can always spice up your French manicure by keeping the white tips and painting your nail base a funky color.

It really is eye-catching and is pretty easy to do at home.

I recommend buying some cheap stencils from the store if you are new and don't want to try it freehand.

For those who are willing to try it freehand, I suggest getting a simple paintbrush with a smooth, lightly curved end that matches the natural shape of your nail. You can just swipe the color across the top of your nail, then use the paintbrush dipped in nail polish remover to give yourself a perfect French manicure curve.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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