The Mannequin Hands Manicure: The Grossest-Sounding, Office-Appropriate Manicure You Can Get

Beauty and fashion blogs have a language all their own. When I first started reading I had to Google so many terms, I felt like I was translating Shakespearean English or something. A few of my favorite examples:

MLBB: "My lips, but better." A shorthand description of a balm, gloss or lipstick that looks natural, but even better than one's own lips. • HG: "Holy grail." If a product is "HG," it is the ultimate, the absolute best that the person could possibly imagine in all ways. • UDPP/TFSI: "Urban Decay Primer Potion" and "Too Faced Shadow Insurance." These products are both eyelid primer potions, designed to be worn under eye shadow to improve application and extend wear. Few people use both; each product has die-hard fans. • SA: "Sales associate." As in, "I was at the Chanel counter when my favorite SA showed me the new Glossimers, and I went home with ten." • GWP: "Gift with purchase." The little goodies you get at high-end department stores when you spend a small fortune on makeup.

I was just getting used to all of these fun new acronyms when I came across an unusual phrase while reading nail polish reviews: mannequin hands. "This shade is perfect for mannequin hands!" or "I bought this shade thinking it would be perfect for mannequin hands, but it was too pink." For the life of me I couldn't understand who these women were, or why they were giving mannequins manicures.

In reality, a "mannequin hand" manicure has nothing to do with creepy mannequin hands. It's simply a manicure in which you paint your nails to closely match your skin tone, giving your fingers a longer (and theoretically slimmer) appearance; according to beauty blogs, this look became extremely popular in 2010, but the look seems pretty timeless. As a periodic nervous nail-biter, I was instantly intrigued by this concept and set out to find great skin tone-based shades. Obviously everyone's skin tone is different, and will change throughout the year with sun exposure. The great thing about the mannequin hand manicure is that it always looks natural and polished, it is office appropriate and you can add fancy topcoats (glitter, sparkle, shimmer) to dress it up for more formal occasions. If you are wearing a bright outfit or a bold pattern, mannequin hands are easy and neutral, and a skin-toned manicure hides wear better than a bolder color. Total win all around.

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I'm a pretty fair blond who tans easily in the summer, so keep that in mind as you review my list of favorite "mannequin hand" colors -- if you are lighter or darker, you will find different colors will work better for you. All of my choices are easy to find in stores or online, and they come in at a variety of price points. I do tend to buy higher-end nail polishes because I think the formulas are better and they are easier to apply (i.e., there's less streaking). For a great mannequin hand manicure, I think it's less important to find a perfect skin tone match, and more important to find a neutral that is flattering without washing you out.

Foundation: butter LONDON

The most natural mannequin hand manicure can be had with one or two coats of Nail Foundation ($18) by butter LONDON. I know, I know -- EIGHTEEN DOLLARS? That's what I thought, which is why I resisted for so long. I bought mine as part of a set at the butter LONDON salon at Seattle-Tacoma airport, where I always kill time when I fly in and out of Alaska. It's a big bottle, and it's definitely my favorite base coat to date. When used alone, it gives the nails a clean, matte finish and it never, ever, ever stains the nails; Nail Foundation is worth every single penny.



These colors morph between pinkish and taupe-ish, tan-ish and "true flesh" colored. I would consider them my most-perfect mannequin-hand colors, but they have enough depth to make them interesting. A quick coat of something sparkly or shiny over the top makes them suitable for a special occasion like a wedding.

• Butter LONDON "Yummy Mummy": Medium-beige, pinkish undertones, slight shimmer. 2-3 coats for full coverage. • OPI for Sephora "Nonfat Soy Half Caff": Warm neutral with peach undertones. Two coats offers the prettiest color, but three are required for the fullest coverage. Decisions, decisions.


These colors pull pink on me compared to my skin tone, but they are still very pretty and they still result in a long, tapered look. These are great for those who want a "mannequin hand" look without veering into the "corpse" look.

• Essie "Mademoiselle": This is a sheer, jelly-like pink that looks barely-there in two coats, but three or four coats almost gives the nail an artificial, gel-like appearance. I can see this one being a bridal favorite. (This, from a girl who wore Chanel "Vamp" on her wedding day.) • Orly "Prelude to a Kiss": Opaque and quite pink, you can find this color at most grocery and drugstores around town. Orly formulas are quite good, and a great value for the $7-$8 price tag.


These tans may still pull pink on you, depending on your skin's undertones, but they are much true-er brownish neutrals. • Essie "Sand Tropez" or "Case Study": One is light, one is dark, but both are true tans without pink undertones. Sand Tropez is a lighter, pastel version of Case Study which is quite sophisticated. • OPI for Sephora "Don't Feed the Hand Models": This one pulls more pink or peach, depending on light, skin tone and basecoat; the color is a warm-leaning neutral.


Both of these options are great worn alone, or over another color. Worn alone they are a sort of mannequin-hand-but-better (MHBB?), or they can be layered over a color to add depth.

Dude, swatching nail polish and photographing it yourself is HARD. Pictured: butter LONDON Hen Party
Dude, swatching nail polish and photographing it yourself is HARD. Pictured: butter LONDON Hen Party
Photo by Christina Uticone

• butter LONDON "Hen Party": I flew back from Alaska with the death flu last March. The woman at butter LONDON at Sea-Tac didn't really want to give me my manicure, but she was pretty happy to take advantage of my weakened state and sell me some nail polish at the end of it. I grabbed up their new, pale mint-green for summer ("Bossy Boots") and then asked her to recommend an easy-wearing neutral. She gave me "Hen Party" and sent me on my way. When I got home I was mad, because it looked so ho-hum in the bottle, but it's become one of my favorites. It's super-fast drying, which I love, and the opalescent pearl shimmer is quite unlike anything I've ever purchased. Four coats is a perfect-but-distinctive mannequin hand-esque look for me, but a thin layer over a brighter color is a perfect way to spruce up a boring cream, or give something a fancy edge for a special occasion.

• Essie "Shine of the Times": Opalescent topcoat, looks great alone but Essie recommends a few colors to pair it with, including two neutrals: "Eternal Optimist" and "Tea & Crumpets." You can find this at Walgreens and a few H-E-Bs around the city, and the occasional CVS. This line is limited, so grab it while you can. I saw it at H-E-B Buffalo Speedway last weekend.

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