Starbucks has already put Pumpkin Spice Lattes back on the menu, so that can only mean one thing: Fall is here. While you might be tucking away your bikini in favor of chunky sweaters, don’t put away your sunglasses just yet. Your favorite summer accessory can live on through fall—at least, on your nails—with the season’s coolest nail trend.
Tortoiseshell nails are popping up left and right on the runways and on Instagram. While summer brought a selection of crazy colorful nail art like tie dye and confetti, fall is shaping up to be all about neutrals. Sure, muted colors aren’t quite as eye-catching as neon, but the textured pattern on this manicure is what makes it stand out. The callback to tortoiseshell sunglasses gives it a bit of a retro feel, yet the neutral palette and high shine give it a modern spin.
“What’s great about this look is that it’s easy enough to try at home, as there is room for error and it will still look good,” says Rita Pinto, founder of the nail salon Vanity Projects in New York and Miami. She adds that the key to this look is making sure the polish stays sheer to get a more realistic texture. “At the salon, we would do this in gel to encapsulate the layers of color to capture the translucency of the tortoiseshell and finish with a high-gloss top coat.”
Sigourney Nunez, OPI’s North American education manager and nail artist, says, “It can get easily confused for a different animal print” if you keep the shades too opaque. In order to get the sheer look, Nunez recommends creating a custom shade by tinting your base coat with a yellow polish (try OPI Sun, Sea, and Sand in My Pants), and applying two coats to prepped nails. Then, create another shade by mixing your top coat with a greige like OPI You Don’t Know Jacques. Using a nail-art brush, apply that thinned-out color in blob-like pattens. “Don’t get stressed about precision,” she says. “This look is inspired by a pattern seen in nature, and nature isn’t perfect—it’s simply beautiful as it is. So just have fun.” Repeat this step with a black polish thinned with your top coat, and continue to layer the patten, switching between colors, until you’re happy with the results.
While the pattern itself is cute enough on its own, it also acts as a great base for more intricate nail art. How about a little heart or an update on the French manicure? Pile on the gold for an expensive look, or opt for an accent nail if you’re more on the minimal side. Scroll on for some of our favorite examples of tortoiseshell nails for every style.
Tortoiseshell nails made their big debut at the Luar show last season.
For a full lewk, match your nails to your sunglasses.
Rita Remark, Essie’s global lead educator, recommends mixing your thinned-out shades on a watercolor palette from the craft store. She likes to use Essie polish in Hay There for her base, and Licorice and Wild Nude for her blotches.
Nail artist Hannah Lee has a bit of a different approach. She starts with a sheer camel, like Sally Hansen’s Bare Dare, and then adds a layer of top coat to add depth before going in with the brown blobs. After applying black blobs (she uses a toothpick or bobby pin instead of a brush), she finishes with another coat of the sheer camel before applying a top coat. All the layers of polish will really make the texture pop.
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty associate at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.