What is a French Manicure? Everything You Need to Know.

BY: Groupon Editors |Mar 29, 2017

When you think about a french manicure, you may immediately think of teenage girls at high school dances, their nails coated with a thick pink acrylic base and chunky tips. If so, you're not alone. But today's french manis are all about understated elegance, whether they feature a classic design or a twist.

What exactly is a french mani?

Classic french manicure designs eschew vibrant polish for a clear or neutral coat with precisely painted white tips. This look has become one of the most requested nail designs in the world.

What's the appeal?

The style's unassuming simplicity means it complements any outfit, from a pair of jeans to a designer cocktail dress. The look is also ideal for those who love the beauty concept "mine, but better," or the process of subtly enhancing your natural features with cosmetics. The french mani enhances a person's nail base with a shinier nudie-pink, then brightens their nail tips, thus creating a prettier version of natural nails.

Is it really French?

Maybe. The origins of the manicure are unclear. Some insist it began in the French salons of the 19th century. Others argue it didn't surface until the 1930s, when cosmetician Max Factor used a similar design to offset the overly moisturized hands of the Parisian noblesse. Its recent popularity, however, is likely due to Jeff Pink, founder of Orly nailcare. He claims to have invented the look after being approached by movie and TV directors who were searching for a universal nail style that could adapt to multiple wardrobe changes. After taking it to Paris runways, where it became an even bigger hit, Pink rebranded it the "original French manicure" and trademarked the name in 1978.

How can I get such a precise line?

If you're a steady hand, hold the nail brush horizontally and place it down at the corner of the tip. Slowly rotate your finger without picking up the brush to deposit the white polish across the top of the nail. This is the most common way to create french tips, but it requires some practice. If you're a complete beginner, pick up some white tip guides. Apply the sticky pieces of paper to the smile line (where the pink nail base meets the white tip), leaving the tip exposed. Next, carefully paint the tips. You can also try using a white french mani pen and carefully coloring the tips white with the small nub.

See what else you might want in your nail-art toolkit.

What if I can't stop associating french manicures with high school dances?

That doesn't mean you have to forgo them entirely. Instead of going with iconic white, try a more vibrant color on the tips, maybe even a neon. Or underline your white tips with a dark nude stripe to add subtle dimension. Or opt for a 1930s-style white moon manicure on the bottom of the nail and white tips to create a visually interesting double-stripe effect. An easy way to keep the whole look feeling au courant is starting with a longer oval or almond shape, instead of a square.

Looking for other french manicure ideas? Here are some more modern french nails.