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The 18 Mani Trends That Will Take Over 2021, from Cow Print to Naked Nails


After a rollercoaster of a year (to put it gently), there’s a small comfort in doing your nails. Whether you find the time meditative or just find that having your nails done makes you feel like your whole life is in order, there’s something about a manicure that can make you feel like everything’s okay, even if just for a moment or two.

This year took a hit on just about every industry, and nails were no exception. But nail salons and manicurists got creative, creating safe environments for both the nail technicians and clients. Many also began offering DIY options—benefitting both their clients and helping to keep their businesses afloat. “We offer at-home gel removal and mani emergency kits,” says Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of NYC’s Glosslab. “These offer great gifts and at-home solutions.”

One thing that hasn’t slowed down? Our obsession with fun nail ideas. Whether you’re comfortable getting a mani in-person at your favorite salon or you prefer to DIY, there are tons of trends to choose from for your next manicure. Read on for our predictions for the nail art ideas, polish colors, and nail shapes that will be trending in 2021.

About the Expert:

Rachel Apfel Glass, founder of Glosslab in New York City.

1. Nude 2.0

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In a way, this “trend” is anything but. The simple fact is, we have a lot on our minds these days. (We’re also washing our hands a lot. Not exactly the best environment for nail polish.) But polish-free nails deserve love too. “We are always about nail health,” says Glass. “First and foremost, hydration—drink water and apply moisturizer! Second, we recommend keeping [natural] nails at fingertip length for maximum hygiene.”

2. Navy

When it comes to nail colors, it’s time totrade in your basic black for a cool blue lacquer like NAILS INC. in Prince Arthur Road. “You can never go wrong with this classic shade, and we're definitely seeing a resurgence of the navy mani as more people embrace the rich color,” says Glass.

3. Dark Grey

Prepare to embrace going grey. “The neutral shade provides a welcome change for the ordinary beige manicure,” Glass says. Try CIATÉ LONDON in Moondust Gelology to get the look.

4. Metallics

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Trust us, a little metallic brightens up even the dreariest day. “We love a metallic moment, and this shimmery design is perfectly easy to execute from home with just the right shade of polish,” according to Glass. Some of our current favorites: SMITH & CULT in 1972, a flattering rose gold, and DECO MIAMI in Starry Eyed, a classic silver.

5. Multi-Colored Manis

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Don’t have the steady hand for intricate nail art designs? Try painting on a different shade on each nail for an artsy effect without the effort. “Because thinking outside the box was the normal for 2020, this will continue in 2021 with funky colored nails and different colors per nail in the new year,” says Glass, who adds, “ombré effects are also super fun to try at home!”

6. Velvet Nails

If you’re like us, you have about 50 of these textured manicures saved on Instagram. “A gel polish can help to achieve this gorgeous effect on your manicure to match all your velvet jumpsuits,” says Glass.

7. Almond Shaped

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This elegant shape, which Glass describes as “perfect oval shapes with a slightly pointed tip,” isn’t going anywhere in 2021. Many press-on options—which became the sleeper hit of 2020—are also available in almond shape.

8. Squared Nails

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It’s hip to be square this year, especially if you have natural nails. “Always a classic, especially if you are keeping your nails short while you work from home,” explains Glass. “Square is also easy to maintain if you are doing your own manicures and maintenance.”

9. Coffin Shaped

This acrylic nail shape may sound morbid, but coffin nails are actually very fun—and they provide plenty of surface area for nail art. “[They] elongate in the best way, with rounded corners and a flat top,” says Glass.

10. Cow Print

Leopard and zebra had their respective times in the spotlight, but now it’s cow print’s moment (or, shall we say, moo-ment). Best of all, the abstract spots are easy to DIY.

11. Clouds

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Dreamy clouds feel like a breath of fresh air, especially if you’ve been cooped up inside for days. Watch our easy tutorial to get the look above.

12. Two Tone

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Can’t decide on a nail polish color? Pair contrasting or complementary colors—think: silver + neon yellow, or pastel pink + red—for a fun, unexpected statement. You can also play around with texture, pairing matte and shiny polishes of the same hue

13. Tie Dye

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The retro pattern already took over our closets, so it’s only natural that it became the next big nail art trend too. We love it for a summer nail look, but it works anytime of year.

14. Glass Tips

One of the hottest colors to wear right now is, in fact, no color at all. Think of it as the negative space manicure you know and love, kicked up a few notches.

15. Evil Eyes

It’s no wonder the mystic symbol—said in many cultures to ward off evil energy—has made its way onto our nails over the last year. Sure, you can paint on the look, or you can stick on decals like DECO MIAMI Nail Art Stickers for the easiest-ever DIY.

16. Silhouettes

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For the true nail artist: These mini masterpieces may not be for the nail-art novice, but they’re nothing short of mesmerizing.

17. Oil Spill

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Try not to stare at these nails for hours on end. Polishes like KOKIE COSMETICS in Euphoria Np45 and PRETTY WOMAN in Unicorn Tears are like a party in a bottle.

18. Colorful French Manicures

French tips are decidedly back. The new twist? Use any color aside from white on the tips to keep it fun and fresh, leaving the negative space neutral.

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About the author
Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated February 9, 2021 12:00 AM