Maybe you’re rocking candy cane nails right now or perhaps some holiday nail art, but once the new year is here, your festive manicure will become dated. Good news, though: Bustle reached out to mani experts to find out 2021’s best winter nail designs so you can be prepped with some on-point tips.
Pros like celebrity nail artist Elle, Essie’s global lead educator Rita Remark, Sally Hansen brand ambassador Hannah Lee, and more tell Bustle just which manicure designs they predict will be on trend this winter. What made the cut? Think Skittle-inspired nail art, minimalist styles, and abstract finishes, plus plenty more swoon-worthy designs you’re going to want to wear ASAP.
While you already know which winter nail colors to add to your mani rotation, our experts are giving you the rundown on the must-try nail art for those that like a little extra something on their fingertips. For some inspiration, here are 11 winter 2021 nail designs to keep in mind this season.
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Skittles French Manicure
Carolyn Chen, founder of Orosa, sees a fall 2020 nail trend continuing into the winter: the Skittles French manicure. “This season we expect to see more and more French manicures, but with a twist,” she tells Bustle. “Our favorite variation that we have been seeing are colorful French Skittle manicures. Get the look by creating a French tip on each nail in a different hue.” Her favorite color combo? Mixing Cabriole, Pirouette, and Adagio for a pastel take on the trend.
Negative Space Polka Dots
Chen also sees another colorful combo trending this winter: negative space polka dots. “Minimal yet colorful polka dot nails are definitely a look we expect to see this season, especially for those who don’t like to go all out with a festive mani,” she tells Bustle.
To get the look, Chen says to prep your nails using a sheer base color, and then create small dots using different shades all over the nail. Nail polish gift sets are a great way to get multiple polishes for the style, and Chen also recommends a thin nail art tool for precise application. As a pro tip, she says to start from the bottom of your nail and work your way up.
Minimalist Milky Nudes
Founder of NailsOfLa Brittney Boyce says minimalism is in this winter, and sees lots of simple nail designs using neutral shades. “I always love minimal nails with a lot of negative space, whether with a milky nude or a completely bare nail as a base,” she tells Bustle. “It’s so classic and chic. The new twist is to add gold accents to play up the nail art.” She notes that the simple, clean design looks gorgeous on all skin tones, too.
While minimalist nudes will be popular, Boyce also sees glitter ombre nails as a big winter trend. Her take? It’s an easier style to DIY from home, which is good news for those who aren’t visiting nail salons just yet.
Matte Meets Glossy
For winter 2021, Boyce also sees clashing nail finishes trending, à la the manicure she did for Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox at the American Music Awards. These designs feature a matte base color with a glossy black vertical line, which is an easy DIY style. But Boyce also says you can mix it up even more: “You can alternate your nails between matte and glossy, like [with one] matte statement nail.” Grab a matte top coat like this one from O.P.I. for the job.
Another continuing trend? Press-ons. The super easy nail style became uber-popular in 2020 thanks to people’s inability to visit nail salons. And these manicures are still going to be big this winter. Celebrity nail artist and Nails, Inc ambassador Lisa Logan tells Bustle she has seen an uptick in full-coverage press-on nails, and the ease of prepping the nail and simply gluing it on is a major perk. Logan especially loves the Aprés Nails collection.
Essie global lead educator Rita Remark says she’s seeing lots of animal print for winter 2021 manicures. “They’re like a touch of playful luxury on your nails,” she tells Bustle. “Animal print nails are easy to achieve because they can be successful even if they’re a bit messy.” One example? Cow print, which you can achieve by literally applying wavy blobs onto your nails.
To get the look, Remark suggests grabbing tools that can give you precise application — even the end of a bobby pin can do the trick. “Use these tools to paint the irregular shapes of a leopard or cow print mani,” she says. “For a more advanced animal print, you can drag a toothpick, dipped in your polish of choice, horizontally across the nail to achieve irregular zebra stripes.”
While winter tends to evoke dark, deep nail polish shades, celebrity nail artist Elle sees a bit of an unexpected trend this season: pastel nail art. “Pastel designs, whether soft or graphic, will be popular for an uplifting, cheerful look without being too bold of a statement,” she tells Bustle, noting that these give off a “cool” feeling. “Pastels don’t just have to be reserved for spring — they also pair well with winter whites, creams, and grays.”
To get a festive pastel ombre look, Elle recommends applying a base polish then a shade of blue (try Pear Nova’s Tokyo Afterglow). Then, on a piece of foil or another surface, pour out a bit of purple and the same shade of blue next to one another. Then, using a sponge, stamp down into the color and then onto your nail to create an ombre effect. To finish things off, apply a glitter polish to seal it in.
Elle also sees stripe-y manicure designs as the way to go this winter. “Bold stripes will be popular because they are an easy DIY art, and at-home manicures will continue into next year,” she tells Bustle. “A simple stripe can make such a statement.”
The best part? To get the design, all you need are two polish colors — one as a base and one as your stripe — plus a striper brush (for creating your single line) and a top coat.
Mix & Match
Elle also predicts other mix and match nail designs to be trending this winter (which are in the same vein as the Skittles manicure). The style lives up to its name, as every nail is different, yet still has a cohesive feel. “It feels great not to have to make a decision, so this look is for anyone who’s feeling indecisive on one color,” she tells Bustle. “It’s an expression of personal style.” Have fun crafting your mix of hues.
For Sally Hansen ambassador Hannah Lee, more abstract nail designs will be trendy. “I’m personally loving easy brush stroke nail art since anyone can do it and it doesn’t require a lot of time,” she tells Bustle. “You really can’t do wrong with it, so it’s the perfect design for beginners.” Her tip? Use any nail polish colors you want, then swipe on some on-trend nail art without much effort. “The beauty in abstract designs is that it doesn’t have to be perfect,” she says. Great news for mani lovers.