What Nail Colors Are Acceptable in a Conservative Office?

Colorful argyle nails, originally uploaded to Flickr by borispumpsWhat nail polish colors are acceptable in a conservative office? It has been ages since we visited this subject, so I thought we should revisit. For my $.02, I really think your fingernails should be limited to the pinks and beiges… possibly entering the reds and purples family. If I were in a daring mood, I might try to get away with the “it” color of the season (which I believe, this season, is Chanel’s silvery-gray Graphite) — but I suspect any other color really is going to cause people to notice your fashion sense, and probably not in a good way. (Pictured: Colorful argyle nails, originally uploaded to Flickr by borispumps.)

But that’s just my $.02 — readers, let’s hear what you think…
fingernails

Comments

  1. I think the length of your nails really matters too–I’d add that to your poll.

    • Agreed, I think short lengths can pull off bolder colors.

    • Length and condition. I’ll take a neat manicure in Vamp over a chipped neutral pink anyday.

    • For example, I recently had a really bright pink shellac manicure that I got for a wedding, and I didn’t notice anyone at work paying any attention until the 3rd week when my nails had grown really long. Now they are short again and a bright reddish pink and no one has noticed them at all.

    • Business&LawStudent :

      Do you all think that longer nails are acceptable if there is no noticeable (light) polish?

  2. I totally agree with this! I love bright, bold colors on my nails, but I keep them really, really short and filed well. (Sort of like how Holly wore her nails in every episode of The Office.) I honestly think you can get away with any color when you wear them like (except maybe black, but that may be just because I don’t like black nails).

  3. Huckleberry :

    I think as long as they’re neat and clean it’s all good. I actually even feel like pink and beige look dated now, but I have no basis for that whatsoever!

  4. Accountress :

    Yikes- is there where I confess that my nails are currently a bright white base topped with a heavy coat of the new OPI “Rainbow Connection” from the Muppet collection?

    I love it, ya’ll. I’m going to go out later this week and get all three Miss Piggy related polishes.

  5. Georgiana Starlington :

    I’m wearing a pretty bright purple today; short nails with no chips, obviously.

  6. I would add the “greige” color group to office-appropriate, it just should not be too dark. Chanel Particuliere is the most popular example of this color.
    Agree that nails should be well-groomed and not too long (please!)

    • I’m totally wearing greige today. In fact, probably half my nail polishes are variations on greige! definitely Particuliere or its dupes. Mind you, I’m currently clerking, we only have oral arguments 2x a month, and my judge couldn’t care less about nail polish, so I’m not really representing the conservative office at the moment. But I think all the greiges work as office-appropriate neutrals – in fact, I would take them over an “it” color if the it color is sparkly/glittery (so I wouldn’t wear Graphite to work. But that’s also just me – I just like cream finishes much better on me).

    • Try out Essie’s Machiatto! A perfect “greige” — I am in love!

  7. I currently have no interviews scheduled so I was thrilled to be able to use my new silver! I was stuck in very pale pink for weeks!

    • ugh I had to go through basically the whole summer with beige and light pink for that reason! I’m working a nice plum now, but still don’t have a new job!

      • I’ve had 10 interviews in less than 2 months. I better get something! I can’t wait to rock the gray, green, and purple before I graduate.

  8. Sydney Bristow :

    I’m wearing a deep red wine color today. My nails are fairly short and super tidy, so I think it’s ok. I’ve worn gray before, but normally only when in a less formal environment than I’m currently working in.

  9. Always a NYer :

    What’s wrong with long nails? My nails are usually long with a sheer pink or grey polish on them. As long as there are no visible chips, and one can type without issue, I think long, neat nails are perfectly acceptable.

    • How long do you consider long?

      • Always a NYer :

        The longest I let them get is 1/4″. And I’ve worn Essie’s Wicked on them at that length. I’ll agree that it can look vampy but it works with my personality/neutral wardrobe. That and it pains me to cut them when they’ve all reached the same length.

        • I voted for option 4, but I think it depends on the rest of your outfit. My work wardrobe tends towards navy, camel, cream, etc (on the preppy side), and I think a deep red looks totally appropriate with those outfits, since it reads classic. I notice that when I wear black with red nails (or when I see another woman with that combination) it looks totally different (much more provocative). Wearing black with a french, or something lighter makes much more sense to me, for whatever reason.

          That said, I am not one to bother to match up my outfit to my manicure every day, so I tend to (1) stick with neutrals in case I want to wear a more stylish/bold outfit without looking “over-the-top” and (2) give other women grace with nail polish choices- it’s not something you can change quickly in the morning before you go to work, or swap your work/rest of life choices daily, like you can with clothes or accessories.

    • I think when people are talking about keeping nails short, it’s because dark colors can veer into too bold / overdone on a longer nail. If you usually wear paler colors, as it sounds like you do, I think they probably look great!

    • On a personal level, long nails kind of gross me out. But on a professional level, I think you’re correct that so long as they look nice and don’t impede typing, there’s no problem. Obviously fake nails or excessively long nails are not a great look for the office IMO.

  10. I answered option 4, although wish it had a caveat based upon what the “it” color actually is — if green were the “it” color, I’d say no, but with the current tans/browns/grays, I say yes and wear them myself to work. I vary between light pinks, those “it” colors, and dark burgundies (Essie Wicked is my favorite of those). I think the current “it” colors, as well as very dark polish, can actually read as more professional than a brighter, perhaps more traditional color (like a classic red), in that it doesn’t scream at you from across the room.

    Seconding those above who said that nail length matters. The longer your nails, the more you should stick to lighter colors, IMO.

  11. Diana Barry :

    My office is casual enough on this front (accessories, makeup, hair) that I feel comfortable wearing any color I want. I was wearing an OPI/Sephora sparkly bright pink the other week, and nobody noticed. I think if I were interviewing, it would be a little bit different.

    Related – I tried NARS nail polish for the first time and it was AWESOME – lasted 6 days with no chips on a DIY manicure! (Usually I only get that kind of wear when I get my nails done.) It was the “Bad Influence” color (taupe) currently on sale at Sephora.

    • Diana Barry :

      Forgot to add – my nails are always very short. I think shorter nails can have brighter/darker colors without looking like too much.

    • I don’t know if I just haven’t gotten good enough manicures, but my DIY nails always last longer than if I get a manicure (my last manicure polish lasted a grand total of 3 days. . . pfft). Do you think lasting vs. not has more to do with the quality of the polish, or the quality of the manicurist?

      • a nonny miss :

        Polish for sure. In my experience, nail salons add paint thinner to their bottles to get longevity out of their colours, which seems as if doing that causes the quality of the polish to deteriorate.

        • Agree with this. I am quite adept at doing my own nails, but I notice that certain brands of polish just don’t last anywhere near as long as others. Essie is my favorite for longevity.

          • I’ve brought my own polish to the manicurist and it lasted far longer than when I’ve used their polish.

      • Anonymous :

        I think it’s the quality of the manicure. I find that when I (or the manicurist, if I’m lucky) clean the nail and trim the cuticles very well, the polish lasts until my nail grows enough for me to re-do my nails. Clean nails and neat cuticles prevent lifting, which is what causes my polish to chip. However, most cheapie nail salons don’t do a great job of prepping your nails, which is why I only get pedicures (they almost always last 3 weeks).

    • Speaking of good polishes, I bought some from Rimmel in a purple-y gray a few weeks ago that I am thrilled with. It’s cheap and widely available (about $4), it’s been just about the least chip-prone polish I’ve ever used, plus it comes off really easily, which is so much nicer then the ones that you have to scrub at. Next time I’m in the store, I’m planning to grab a whole bunch from that brand.

      • I solved the nail polish chipping problem by getting acrylic on my nails. I don’t get the fake tips, and keep them super short. It’s prob pretty bad for my nails, but I love not having to worry about my nails when there’s an unexpected social engagement, or worry about chips on vacation. I just go to the cheap places, it’s $15 for an acrylic fill and lasts 2+ weeks. I consider it the poor man’s shellac manicure!

        But next time I decide to take a break from the acrylic I’m gonna look into the Rimmel one! Otherwise, I use OPI, Orly and China Glaze. I was very impressed by Orly.

        • I am seriously considering getting shellac top + base coats and the dryer so I can do my own chip-free manis at home. The only thing holding me back is there are mixed reviews on using it with regular polish.

          I agree that short and neat nails can carry bolders colors

          • Sally Beauty and Ulta sell UV-cured polishes, so you could use those and not have to try to mix Shellac/regular polish. (I haven’t tried them though.)

          • MissJackson :

            I’ve vaguely considered trying DIY shellac, but was a little nervous about the reviews I could find online. If you try it, please report back!

          • The benefits of shellac are in my opinion offset by the horrible ordeal of removing them in an acetone soak. I’d still get shellac manis for vacations, but not on a permanent basis.

          • I have the Red Carpet manicure from Ulta that is a uv-cured polish. I really like it, but you have to be very careful about how you apply it. If it gets on your skin you can’t just peel it off like you can with regular polish because it all hardens together, so you wind up peeling the polish off your entire nail.
            I actually am a big fan of just using the clear because it makes my nails look nice and I don’t have to reapply it every other day as it wears off. Also, the base coat is fairly thick compared to the colors and the top coat, so if you miss a spot on your nail with the base coat you’ll be able to feel it (and if I can feel it I end up peeling it off).
            So I would definitely recommend it, but only if you’re willing to take the time to do it carefully.

  12. I had an interview where I wore green nail polish and green eye shadow which matched my green suit and shoes. I did not get the job. I do not know what these guys are looking for.

  13. Who can wear this sparkly silver nail polish that Cat suggests is the it color? I would like to have “it nails” for once but I tried a sparkly gold polish that just looked odd on my light olive skin.

  14. Pinks and beiges may be great for those w/ fairer skin tones, but can be garish on darker skinned women of color. Just like “nude-for-you” shoes, we should pick what works with our particular skin tone.

    A lot of women in my office sport a lot of “in” colors, navy, grey, deep green, etc. I tend to stay away from the really sparkly, screaming neons and the pastel yellows….. okay, I admit that I save those for pedicures b/c I don’t wear open toe shoes to work.

    • This.

      Pinks and beiges look really dated on my darker skin tone. I look much better in wine colors, and I love navy and grey.

    • I am African-American with medium-dark skin and have found success with soft rose colors (some say “baby pink”) and warmer, sandy beiges. I don’t think the hot pinks that look C-R-A-Z-Y on me would go over too terribly well in a conservative office in the first place.

  15. a nonny miss :

    quick threadjack:

    My flat iron is starting to stand on its last legs. It wasn’t a high quality tool to begin with, so I don’t want to replace it with the same brand. Does anyone have any recommendations?

    • Check out folica.com and read all the review for a bunch of different models. Get on their email list for the discounts (right now 25% off orders over $50 till friday with code friends25). Personally, I have a solia that has held up great but I don’t know what particular needs your/lifestyle require.

    • Accountress :

      My $25 Conair straightener from Target is amazing. I’ve had it for over three years, using it about twice a week, and I have no complaints. I’ve got a lot of thick, bra-hook length hair, and the highest setting makes my hair behave. It also has a dry hair/wet hair setting- I’ve never played with this, though.

    • Anon in NC :

      Chi brand

      • I didn’t get a chi bc with my fine hair I needed one that had a temperature adjustment, but I have used one of my friends before they are awesome, my hair just can’t take that amount of heat too often.

    • My stylist said she loves folica.com for the selection, but to be war y of the reviews because they are often paid.

    • My babyliss is awesome- it’s a professional model. I noticed my hairdresser had the same one last time I was there. I’ve had it for a few years. It heats up to the hottest temp (there is a choice of 4) in 60 seconds. It came with a mini one for travel that I love, too.

    • I love the Remington wet 2 straight 2 ceramic iron with tourmaline – I have fine hair that is prone to frizz and flyaways and this straightener is great for it. And it’s temp-adjustable

      • Another vote for Remington. Just switched after using Hot Tools for about 5 years. I have the anti-frizz one and it works great. It also auto shuts off after 1 hr, which is a bonus if you are paranoid about leaving it on (like I am).

        • I love my GHD – I have wavy thick hair. Expensive but you can buy at Sephora – I’ve had it three years with extensive travel – it is so much better than the other brands I’ve tried (I’ve never tried Chi).

  16. Given that I regularly wear dark red nail polish on my short nails around the holidays, I have to say I think as long as your manicure looks well maintained, colors are OK. I draw the line at anything sparkly or long, claw-like nails.

    In fact, I think long nails, whether polished or unpolished, look unprofessional.

    • Always a NYer :

      I’m curious as to why you find long nails unprofessional. Is it that they require too much upkeep or that they scream high-maintenance?

      • This won’t sound very nice, but they scream clerical/secretarial to me.

        I’m talking about long, clicky clacky nails, not nails with 1/8″ of white showing.

      • The long clicky-clacky nails read unprofessional to me as well. I think it’s b/c I associate them with the Jersey Shore types, or secretaries. But I’m sure it all depends on the quality of the manicure, too.

  17. I think anything goes as long as the nails are on the shorter end and the polish is fashionable and seasonal. AKA navy nail polish could be chic in the winter but would look unprofessional in the summer.

  18. found a peanut :

    The only time my boss noticed my nails was when we were in the elevator together. He said, “Wow that’s some color.” I said, “It’s called Trophy Wife. It’s aspirational.” And then he told me how one of his good friends just married a girl who was 20 years younger than him.

    It was a bonding moment, I think.

    This is the color: http://thenailphile.blogspot.com/2011/06/essie-trophy-wife.html

    It is a little extreme but I am trying to cultivate the younger-associate-who-dresses-a-little-too-trendy-but-does-amazing-work-so-it-doesn’t-matter image. So far, it’s working.

    • That is awesome in every way (the one thing that isn’t awesome is the close-up picture of those really long nails, which I assume aren’t yours). I would wear that color to work if my nails were very short. At the first sign of a chip, I would take it off.

    • I love that color! I’m wearing it on my toes now! (No manis here, but get between me and my regular pedi—that’s a problem!)

    • I love Trophy Wife – probably my most often-worn color.

  19. Slightly off topic, but what’s appropriate for a perpetual nail biter? I have times where I can quit for about three months, but eventually I start again. I can manage to not bite in the office (no one needs to see that), but I’m always wondering if people stare at my poor short nails when I go to conferences and have to shake hands with everyone. Would love to hear suggestions on how to hide bitten nails.

    • I suspect most people here will disagree with me, but to me this is a clear cut “Would a man worry about bitten nails? Nope, so neither should you” situation.

      • Try filing your nails exceptionally short for a few months, so there is nothing to bite. Keep a nail file by your bed and file them down every night (or every other night), and it will only take a few minutes. If you have a few extra minutes to spare, this is a great time to put something on your cuticles (which probably also need some extra attention if you are a biter). I like Lemony Flutter from LUSH but many other brands make great cuticle oils or butters.

        This is also a good reason to keep a nail file in your desk — then if you accidentally bite your nail at work, you can file off the edge so you are never going into a conference with bitten nails.

        Alternatively, try slapping some polish on your nails, and the taste will remind you not to bite them. A quick coat of clear (perhaps a protein base coat or a strengthener, because biting also weakens your nails) will help break you of the habit. And if it’s clear, you don’t have to worry about taking the time to do a perfect manicure if that’s not your thing. Just make sure you are using a “3-Free” brand (meaning no formaldehyde, DBP, or toulene) so that you ingest as few cancerous chemicals as possible. If your skin is sensitve, look for formulas that are also free of formaldehyde resin and camphor (another irritant).

      • Actually, my SO is extremely embarrassed by his nail biting habit, and I started reading the replies for tips for him! So yes.

    • I’m curious to hear what others have to say. As a fellow nail biter, if I have something important coming up, I’ll get a manicure (usually in a dark color) and that will both look more professional and stop me from biting my nails for 2-3 days. The problem for me is that at the first sign of a chip, the polish itself becomes so delightful to pick at that I go from nail biter to nail polish biter, so manicures aren’t worth the cost for me on a regular basis.

      • I was/am a horrible nail biter. Filing my nails down would never work, I bite them to the quick and then keep biting. When I’m biting my fingers and in incredible pain most of the time.

        I’ve had the most success at stopping from getting regular manicures (the cheap ones). I don’t bit while the manicure is looking nice, which for me lasts about 5 days. Then for another 2-3 days my biting compulsion turns into a picking at nail polish (I used to bite at it, but somehow managed to switch to primarily picking instead, which I’d guess is a lot healthier) at which point I either redo the manicure myself or get another one done. It helps that my nails always start chipping at the bed, so it looks decent until the second day of chipping.

        Generally, I get the manicures done professionally for the first 2 or 3 weeks after a particularly bad bought of biting, then do it myself until the nails get so long they need to be cut down. I’m awful at cutting them down, and if I don’t get it done professionally then I’ll bite at the overlong nails and basically undo all of my hard work. Most of my relapses occur when I’m too broke or busy to make it to the manicurist even though I can tell I’m about to start biting again.

    • karenpadi :

      I’ve tried just about everything to quit and the only thing that works is long acrylic nails. But I only quit when I have the acrylics.

      Other than maintaining acrylics, I can really only try to “hide” my fingertips. I avoid pointing, and when I do, I choose the “least ugly” finger and bend the tip down so it’s perpendicular to the surface. I hide my fingers from view during conversations.

      I am really considering getting acupuncture to quit but I’m hesitant because hypnotherapy didn’t help. Has anyone tried acupuncture? Any success?

    • Try a french manicure with just the tiniest strip of white on each nail – it will hide how short the nails are.

      • I am a horrible nail biter. None of the “tried and true” tips have ever worked for me. The best solution I have come up with is getting gel nails (I’ve had acrylics and silk wraps in the past; I like the look and durability of gels the best). I don’t have tips because I’m not looking for extra length. I’ve had permanent French nails for a while but have just recently started experimenting with color. On my short nails, I think the color looks very nice.

    • I’m in the “get acrylics” camp. I’ve been a nail biter as long as I can remember. When I got my first “real” job, I was constantly having to point and say “sign here” for financial docs, which put my hands front and center. After trying everything, I finally had tips put on until my nails were long enough and have been having pink acrylic put over them ever since. My original goal was to do it for 6 months. I figured by then that I would be over the biting– I wasn’t. However, it did work for the person who suggested the idea to me. Yes, it takes manicures every ten days to maintain, but it keeps me from focusing on my hands and I can’t bite the acrylic. I like the pink acrylic because I can just get them buffed and it looks natural or wear polish/Shellac. I have the acrylic taken off after New Year’s and let my nails recover in January and then have it reapplied at the end of the month. I’m very lucky that my nails were very strong and healthy and still grow back well now after 18 years (and yes, I bite and pick at them when I don’t have acrylic on them).

  20. Threadjack: has anyone gotten their November 2011 Birchbox yet? If so please share what you received.

    This will be my first month receiving one and I have yet to receive the shipping notification… I guess I’m just getting a little restless.

    • I got my shipping notification on Friday – I think they usually ship out around the 7th-10th of the month.

    • I haven’t gotten mine yet either, but just wanted to say how much I love getting that little pink box every month. It’s like a little care package from someone who loves me and wants me to be happy! Some of the samples are seriously awesome, and many are great to take on trips when you don’t want to lug a bigger bottle of face wash, etc.

      You are going to love getting them! But — fwiw — check your shipping info if you don’t get it soon. My first month’s box ended up not getting to me, but I am happy to say that as soon as I called to inquire they shipped me a new one. Enjoy! And, for those who haven’t signed up, sign up. It’s seriously my favorite $10 spent each month.

    • Youtube has the start of some haul videos.

      Looks like the first set of boxes contained:

      Anastasia Beverly Hills
      Harvey Prince Eau Flirt
      Supersmile Professional Whitening Toothpaste
      Zoya Nail Polish in Holly
      Chuao Chocolatier Firecracker Chocopod

  21. This is definitely a know-your-office thing. I can wear pretty much whatever I want to my current government office, including dark colors and bright glitters, though I generally tone it down for the most important meetings and out-of-town business travel.

    I also dress on the conservative side of my office scale, so I think it’s a little bit about balance as well. I can go wilder on my nails because I’m always very put together.

    Also, I didn’t loosen up my nail look until my work and professionalism had already made a statement.

    I would certainly tone it down in a conservative law firm, though I believe that the grey-purple (grurple?) look is quite professional as well as the pinks/beiges Kat mentioned. The light greyed-out color look is a good way to infuse a little extra interest and color without stepping out of the appropriate box.

  22. One time, my boss’s boss made the comment “women who paint their nails have too much time on their hands.” After that, I’ve been REALLY reticent to paint my nails with anything other than clear polish. I think her comment was asinine, but I’m not willing to risk her perceiving me as high maintenance. :(

    • Anonymous :

      Funny. My boss two weeks ago commented that she hated a certain color nail polish on people, so I made a point to wear it last week. It was delightfully subversive.

    • Amazing – I guess she doesn’t watch TV, read magazines, go to the movies, read for pleasure, window shop, have hobbies, or -gasp!- read Corporette! I’d be so much more productive if I cut all that out of my life, and so much more miserable…

  23. I don’t wear any polish on my finger nails because whenever I do my nails get very bumpy (not a problem on my toenails for some unknown reason, so pedicures are a go). Has anyone else had this problem? Will using a “3-free” polish help? My nail polishes are all essie, so if that is a 3-free then there may be no hope for me.

    • Try applying thinner coats of your nail polish (and apply more coats if you have to). Thick coats can result in little bumps as your polish dries. Also watch how you shake up your polish — you should roll it back and forth in your hand, because shaking can result in air bubbles. If your polish is still resulting in bumps, try allowing a little extra time between coats.

      • I guess I should clarify. The bumps are not in the polish, but in my actual nail. They don’t appear immediately, but whatever part of the nail is formed while I have polish on comes out bumpy/ridged as it emerges from the cuticle.

        • I have never experienced this myself, and I’m not a doctor (or a licensed nail technician), but it sounds like this might be an allergic reaction of some sort. How old is your Essie polish? Recent Essie polishes are “3-Free,” but they haven’t always been. Also, Essie contains both formaldehyde resin and camphor, which are known irritants — it might be worth trying a brand that is “4-Free” (meaning no formaldehyde, DBP, toulene, or formaldehyde resin) and free of camphor. Examples of 4- and camphor-free polishes include Zoya, Deborah Lippmann, Sparitual, and Nubar.

          Also check your base coat and top coat!

          • Thanks. My polishes are fairly new, but I will hunt down a 4-free to try. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.

          • The last time I used a 4-Free nail polish, it was a dark, dark red. When I finally took it off, it left my toenails a pinky-red color until they grew out. Just be careful if you’re planning to put it on your fingernails!

  24. MissJackson :

    I am kind of in shock that anyone finds red nails somewhat questionable. I think that some of the less-traditional colors are a “know you office and your seniority” thing. But red? My goodness.

    I’m wearing my new favoite red color (the hilariously-named “Size Matters” from Essie’s winter 2011) today. I’ve worn some much bolder colors including grey, dark green, navy, dark purple, and even lime green once this summer. I keep my nails quite short. There are a few very fashion-forward female partners in my office who wear equally “bold” polish, so I don’t stress out about it.

  25. Work in a conservative big law firm as a partner.

    Love nail polish. Will wear any solid color, dark, light and in between. The keys are no chips, and short-ish nails. Plus, who types well with long nails anyway?

    Wearing OPI Russian Navy this week. Life is too short not to enjoy your nail polish!

    • AnonInfinity :

      I wore Russian Navy 2 weeks ago! One of my favorites.

      –Associate who hopes the partners in her firm are as cool as you

    • I LOVE OPI Russian Navy. I think I wore it more/less continually for the 20 months after it came out. So much more intriguing than the black nails that were all the rage back then.

      I agree: life’s too short (and nail polishes do expire) to not enjoy pretty nails :)

      current loves: Chanel’s black pearl and peridot

      Side note: I understand color seasonality wrt clothing, but does it really matter that much with nail color? Granted I would not wear a coral color on my hands (feet: why not? they’re in shoes all day anyways) during the deep winter, but if all the other work mani criterion are satisfied, why not a jewel tone in spring, or a warmer color in winter?

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