Byrdie Predicts: These Are the Top Nail Trends That Will Take Over in 2021

smiley face manicure

 @hollyfalconenails For Byrdie

Usually around this time of year, Byrdie HQ would be buzzing about our impending fashion week schedules—sorting out which editors will attend which shows and making bets as to what trends we'll see on the runway (and—more importantly—backstage, where the real beauty magic happens).

This year, we won't be attending in-person shows, but that's not stopping us from using our sixth sense to predict what trends we're going to see take off in the beauty space during the new year. And of course, one of our favorite areas to speculate is manicure trends.

Last year, we saw intricate, elevated patterns like tortoise shell tips and cow print accent nails take over our social feeds. But in 2021—after the year we've just had—we're predicting an entirely different trend landscape, with more and more people looking for joy in the tiniest of places (like their fingertips). Ahead, discover the top nail trends for 2021—predicted by us, confirmed by pro manicurists.

01 of 07

Velvet Nails

This trend involves creating a velvetine, light-catching finish without the use of appliques. No actual velvet is used to achieve the velvet nails look; instead, a special kind of magnetic nail polish called "cat eye" polish is painted on and cured, just like regular gel polish.

"Velvet has seen a resurgence in the fashion space, so naturally we would see that trend make its way into nails," says Glosslab founder Rachel Apfel Glass. (And she's right, velvet is invading many corners of the beauty and fashion industry—take scrunchies and hair accessories, for example.)

"Velvet nails are going to continue to flourish," adds Darlene Sritapan, OPI’s North America Education & Capability Manager. "What I’m noticing is that 'effect' nails are no longer for the holidays only; they're becoming popular year round."

02 of 07

Cheeky Nails

According to the Pinterest Predicts annual report for 2021, searches for "indie nails"—which refer to kitschy, cheeky designs like tie-dye, checkers, and clouds—are up 21x. Think: soft girl makeup, but for nails.

No surprises, Gen Z TikTok users seem to be driving this trend. The same users searching for these nail design styles tend to also search for beauty trends like butterfly eye makeup, chunky barrettes, and baby pink blush.

When it comes to this design style, it's all about sparking a little joy anyway that we can. Our manicure forecast is we'll see all kinds of kitschy patterns take over social feeds, including mismatched manis with multiple patterns covering each nail. "In these crazy times, anything that puts a smile on someone's face is worth wearing," says Glass. Which brings me to our next trend prediction:

03 of 07

Smiley Face Nails

According to Pinterest, searches for smiley face-inspired nails are also up significantly (9x, to be exact). While smiley nails are in a similar vein as the other cheeky design styles mentioned above, they're exploding enough on their own to warrant a dedicated mention.

When it comes to this type of nail art, we're seeing smileys crop up in every size, shape, and style. The emoji-inspired manicure takes form with nail stickers (as in the first example above), a dedicated accent nail, and even multi-colored smileys.

Smileys don't have to be right-side-up either. As with the boom in traditional smiley designs, we're seeing frowny faces, upside-down smileys, and lopsided smileys galore.

04 of 07

Abstract Nail Designs

Another trend that fits within the "indie" vein (as defined by Pinterest), abstract nail designs aren't new—but they'll be bigger than ever in 2021. Cohesive with the boom in plants and line design-inspired decor in the home, manicurists have figured out how to bring the abstract trend to a smaller canvas (your nails).

These intricate, complex designs take time to create, which means most nail artists are opting for painting these designs onto acrylics to prevent clients from having to spend hours in the chair. With that being said, there are DIY-friendly ways to pull off this trend at home, like painting on intentionally uneven swatches of color combined with free-handed lines and dotting detail.

Within the abstract category, celebrity manicurist and LeChat Nails founder Elle says to expect plenty of "delicate nail art with sand-washed pastels," like the example above.

05 of 07


A lot of us turned to press-on nails in the past year and discovered that they aren't what they used to be—in the best way possible.

Instead of the thick, clunky, ill-fitting press-ons of the early 2000s, modern press-ons can offer a virtually perfect fit (with some companies even analyzing your nail s via photo and sending a custom set of press-ons), and come in a huge variety of shapes, lengths, and designs.

When you can create a salon-quality manicure with minimal effort (and $), we predict professional manicure appointments will be fewer and farther in-between in 2021 as more and more people discover the magic of press-ons. A few companies leading the press-on front: ChillHouse, Static Nails, and Dashing Diva.

06 of 07

Gilded Tips

In 2020, we saw plenty of French-inspired manicures with unexpected details like glitter or metallic tips. This year, the twist on the classic is going even shinier with shades that look like molten metal.

Beyond just metallic shades, these gilded manicures create the illusion of a multi-dimensional appearance by using thickly layered, high-shine lacquers.

While we're mostly seeing this trend in silver and gold, we predict this manicure will get even more creative as the year goes on, with bronzes and jewel tones taking over fingertips.

07 of 07

Short Nails

With limited access to our regular beauty services, a lot of us have become more comfortable with paring down our beauty preferences for options that are easier, more natural-looking, and lower maintenance. Just as I've learned to live without highlights in favor of my natural hair color, we're going to see people opting for the easy route with nails, too.

"Not only are short nails hygienic and practical, but nails that go just to the fingertip are actually being embraced more and more, and will continue to do so throughout 2021," confirms Glass.

Perhaps you were forced to shave down your length due to a broken nail, or you've seen shorter nails starting to catch fire and you're jumping on the bandwagon now. Either way, we predict lower maintenance nails will be of the moment for all of 2021.

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