Is A French Manicure Actually French?

After getting such great feedback on my piece about French stripes, I thought I’d do some more fashion history breakdown for you guys — this time, on the French manicure misnomer.

Is The French Manicure Really French?

Not exactly.

Some say that Max Factor introduced the style to Parisian fashionistas as early as the 1930s, but most believe that the style didn’t come into popularity for another 40 years.

In the 1970s, Orly’s creator Jeff Pink noticed a problem on movie sets: every time an actress changed wardrobe, the nail artists would have to remove her nail color and apply another shade to match her next outfit. This became pretty tedious after a while, so Pink suggested a two-toned natural look that would work with every outfit.

The movie industry ate it up, but so did the fashion runways when Pink brought it to France. It wasn’t until the trend caught on in the fashion industry that Americans noted the style and aptly called it a “French manicure.”


So Do the French Even Get French Manicures?

Not really.

Parisian nail salons often call this manicure, “American nails,” because it’s more something that American women tend to do.

Most French women tend to manicure their nails without color (or a clear coat). This is in someways the look a French manicure tries to emulate, but it doesn’t rely on the white polish to create a nail tip. The result is much more understated, sort of like the classic French wardrobe!

French women also almost never get acrylic nails (just try even finding a salon that does it in Paris!), so those elongated French tips are definitely a French “faux pas.”

So there you have it! If you’re aiming to fit in with the French, ditch your acrylics and go for a natural or clear-polish look. A thick “French tip” is actually a dead giveaway that you’re American!

What’s your favorite way to style your nails? Do you like ‘French manicures’? Would you get one even if you knew they were actually American? Let me know in the comments!

Write us your thoughts about this post. Be kind & Play nice.
  1. Interesting that French manicure is not practised in France hehe I think French manicure is very simple but elegant in the same time.

    • emilygrossman says:

      Definitely a misnomer, right? I have had a few French manicures myself for those occasions when I am required to wear polish — and I definitely prefer it to a crazy color that wont go with most of my outfits!

  2. allison b-t says:

    ahhh, i love it! i have never had a french manicure, or acrylic nails. if i don’t have time for color, i just use a clear coat. good to know i fit right in with the french in this respect!

    • emilygrossman says:

      You most certainly do! I’ve also never tried acrylic nails… they never seemed quite classy! I’ll take my itty bitty naturals, thank you very much! I think I’m going to start getting this clear coat down, like you. Sometimes you get suckered into these girls “manicure parties” and I always end up with something that chips – wouldn’t be a problem with a clear coat!

  3. Meg says:

    I do like French manicures with a thin white strip, but now that I think about it… I’ve never done it here in Paris. Totally true about acrylics… :)
    Rumors have it that the French take nails very seriously in interviews. Sort of funny, eh?

    • emilygrossman says:

      Haha yes! It is interesting, but I can totally see it at the same time!

      I, too, can go for a thin white strip from time to time, but now I’m thinking about going even more natural than that. And definitely going no where near acrylics — there’s something just too claw-like about them!

  4. Kristina says:

    I do like the French women do. I keep my nails clean and filed, but natural.

    For me it may be more laziness then fashion though 😉

    • Emily Grossman says:

      Luckily no one has to know whether it’s laziness or choice! The French look is definitely easier and more versatile!

  5. Some say the French manicure actually originated in Paris in the 1800s! If it did, then I don’t think it became popular until the 1930s, as you mentioned.

    I used to like the idea of a subtle French mani as my nails look bad if left alone. Since moving to Paris, even that seems too much! If you’re really looking for a clean and effortless ‘vraie Parisienne’ look then go for an American manicure, way more natural :) I use Opi Matte Top Coat over the whole nail after, and sometimes I paint the tips in with ‘Opi So Many Clowns So Little Time’ beforehand (after soaking and moisturising etc). It doesn’t look too bad at all 😉

    Also I really like your blog :)

    • Emily Grossman says:

      First of all, thank you so much for the positive feedback! I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed it! I’ve been out for a week or so tending to my oral surgery recovery (it’s simply TORTURE for a foodie to take a hiatus from eating!) but hope to have some more posts for you soon now that I’m back in chewing action!

      It’s true that even just a white tip seems like going “overboard” when the Parisian ladies are flaunting their more natural-looking nails! I love your suggestion of the Opi Matte Top Coat – that sounds like a really great finish that keeps nails looking natural but still “polished.” 😉

  6. Anna says:

    My nails normally switch between two modes: polished and “natural”.
    When I paint my nails, I’ll go with an opaque colour – currently in love with Essie Mint Candy Apple – or a sheer natural colour – something along the lines of Essie Mademoiselle or OPI Mimosas for Mr & Mrs. What I particularly love about sheer natural colours is that they give your nails the French Manicure look, sans harsh colours and lines.

  7. tsu uñas says:

    French or not, I really love this easy clean design, it always looks pretty cute…

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