Nail trends come and go: Square-tipped acrylics made it big in the early-aughts, fourth finger nail art was huge a few years back, and painting each finger a different nail color was a short-lived trend. But there is one consistent style that is here for the long haul: engagement nail polish. You’ve likely seen this in action on your Instagram feed — there are tens of thousands of photos tagged with #engagementnails alone, almost all featuring a fresh manicure, usually in a soft neutral or blush pink, and upstaged only by a gorgeous, glittering rock (and maybe a slew of #isaidyes-related hashtags).
“Ever since technology came into play within the nail space, we’ve seen a steady climb of manicure photos via social media,” Michelle Saunders, a celebrity manicurist who’s worked with everyone from Oprah to Paris Jackson, tells TZR. “People are constantly looking for desirable content, and there isn’t anything more beautiful than a perfect manicure to display a gorgeous engagement ring.”
While that does ring true, there’s definitely another reason for the rise of the proposal mani — and that’s a healthy dose of equality. “I think that in this day and age, engagements are a decision made by both parties in a relationship, not just [someone] deciding that [they're] ready to ‘pop the question,’” Mazz Hanna, a nail artist who works with Julia Roberts, tells TZR. “Because of this, I think women have a general sense of when a ring is headed their way and want to be prepared with a fab mani.”
Prepping Your Nails Before The Proposal
Most would agree that a pre-proposal manicure isn't a bad idea, especially if you've already discussed getting engaged with your partner. But what happens when you’re not prepared — at least not in the moment? In the case of Jose Borje and his fiancé Diana Le — whose engagement story recently went viral in 2018 — a staged photo was in order. “Prior to the proposal, Diana would jokingly remind me to ensure that she got her nails done whenever the topic of proposing came up,” Borje tells TZR. “But I couldn't really hint to her to get them done without raising suspicion, as I wanted the proposal to be a big surprise.”
In the moment, Le was hesitant to take pictures due to her lack of polish — so her cousin Jenna Nguyen stepped in to save the day with a fresh red mani. “We considered quickly painting her nails, but in the excitement of the moment we couldn’t wait, so I suggested using my hand instead,” Nguyen shares. The resulting images, a crop of Borje and Le kissing, with Nguyen’s ring-laden hand front and center (and Nguyen herself crouching out of frame like a champ), are arguably way more memorable than any mani she could’ve had.
In fact, this scenario may be more common than the perfectly polished proposal nails of Instagram would have you believe. “I was going away for the weekend up to San Jose with my then-boyfriend, and I remember him actually asking if I was going to do my nails,” Victoria Menichetti tells TZR. “I didn't think anything of it until he got down on one knee and asked if I would marry him!” Menichetti admits her first thought — other than, you know, yes — was, “Damnit, I didn't paint my nails.” Her fiancé had a fun solution: The couple immediately went to a nail salon, he picked out her polish (hot pink), and they went on to “take more pictures and post on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat,” Menichetti says.
Across the country, it seems partners are becoming increasingly involved in the engagement nails phenomenon. “In the salon, we often hear the significant other booking a manicure for their soon-to-be fiancé so that the nails are ready during the proposal,” Sigourney B. Nunez, a nail artist and educator with OPI, tells TZR. “The attention to detail is so sweet and extremely thoughtful.”
That being said, it’s probably a safer bet to take the engagement mani planning into your own hands. “If you have an intuition that a proposal is coming, make sure your nails are done regularly,” Saunders says.
“The perfect engagement mani is one that is kept simple and clean ... something that highlights the beauty of your engagement ring,” Deborah Lippmann, the co-founder and creative director of her eponymous brand, tells TZR. However, don’t dismiss nail art. “That’s on the rise right now, especially for young brides opting for stones, glitter, and marbles designs, which can look beautiful as long as they’re not overpowering,” Lippmann says. "You don’t want it to steal focus.”
When it comes to engagement nail ideas, celebrity nail artist Elle, who frequents A-listers like Blake Lively’s nails, suggests sticking with a neutral if you don’t want to overpower the rock. “Another design I love is adding flower details, like a rose detail or a delicate lace detail, which are always my go-to wedding looks and the most popular,” she tells TZR. “With flower details, they don’t have to be drawn, they can be a pressed flower.” Elle says her bridal clientele frequently ask for pressed flower nails like the ones she created for Lively. “I think there [are] a ton of things you can do, but it depends on your personal style. As a designer for nails, I like to base looks off of my client’s personality.”
Of course, there’s no reason for #engagementnails to stop at the engagement. “My engagement ring has a pink sapphire at the center,” Annika Benitz Chaloff, the founder of handmade lingerie company Hey Mavens, tells TZR. When her now-husband proposed, she was sporting a self-professed “dorky” manicure consisting of DIY balloon nail art to celebrate her mom’s birthday, which she hid in photos — but afterwards, matching her nail art to her ring became an obsession. “I loved getting manicures with an accent nail on my ring fingers just to draw more attention to the fact that I was now engaged,” she says. While the design expert suggests you err on the side of neutral when it comes to proposal polish, she also advocates for bold colors and fun shapes later on. After all, as she’s learned, “You'll be wearing this ring for a long time, so there’s no reason to throw away your own personal style.”
Ahead, 12 proposal-worthy polish shades perfect for the big day and beyond — no matter your go-to aesthetic. Find the best nail color for your engagement ring ‘grams below.
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Neutral Engagement Nail Polishes
To find your perfect neutral shade, LeChat Nails educator Anastasia Totty says to look for a nice cream color that would apply evenly in two coats, “with no shrinking and nothing too sheer because you want it to be visible and show off your beautiful nails.” She also recommends looking for a polish with a slight hint of shimmer to dress it up a bit. “If you don’t want it to be too obvious and work with any outfit, the neutral polish is a winner,” she tells TZR.
Pink Engagement Nail Polishes
For pinks, Totty says it has to compliment your skin tone and look great as an almost-neutral pink that’s little on the sheer side — but still pigmented enough to show up in photos. “A ‘Barbie pink’ would be the most appropriate if you are going for a more innocent look,” she tells TZR. “If the shade of pink is too sheer, it will also disappear and may need that extra French tip for a beautiful engagement photo.”
Glitter Engagement Nail Polishes
“For glitter polish in an engagement manicure, you don’t want anything too bright that will be upstaging your bling,” Totty tells TZR. The sparkler on your finger is the star of the show, after all. Totty recommends choosing a fine glitter polish or a pink shade with gold glitter flakes.
Statement Engagement Nail Polishes
“For statement polishes, I would look for a color that makes you happy,” notes Totty. Since not everyone is into reds or pinks, go for other hues for a statement engagement nail look. “If you are more of a gothic girl or just like something more intense, you can go with various shades of black, green, and midnight blue,” Totty suggests. For reds, she recommends reaching for an elegant shade with good coverage in two layers, with either a gloss finish or a matte top coat for a velvety texture.
To keep your skin and cuticles looking picture perfect, be sure to keep a moisturizer on hand just in case your partner decides to pop the question. And don’t forget to use a cuticle oil regularly to maintain a soft, smooth finish.
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