When the days get shorter and the mornings turn cool and crisp, you may get the urge not only to pile on the layers and order a PSL, but to switch up your manicure from bright and colorful to deep, dark and dramatic. It’s practically a fall rite of passage—swapping cherry red for burgundy, neutral shades for chocolate brown or hot pink for black just feels right as the temp drops. When you think about a fall manicure, you’re not thinking ultraviolet or bright turquoise—you’re thinking coffee tones, cozy warmth, and even spooky-chic blacks and dark grays.
But if those go-to dark hues are starting to feel a little stale year after year and you’re ready to mix things up for fall and winter 2022, patent leather nails may be just the thing to get you out of a manicure rut.
Patent leather nails are exactly what they sound like: super short, super dark and suuuuuuuper glossy with a patent leather finish for mirror-like shine. These essential elements combined make them both elegant and edgy, perfect for wearing to a concert, a hot date or an art gallery opening, but also totally appropriate for a day at the office. Think Machine Gun Kelly and Megan Fox’s Vegas-chic glamour or Kravis’s punk love story, but in manicure form.
The increasing popularity of patent nails may be a reaction to extra-lengthy nail extensions and intricate nail art. “When it comes to nail length, the trends always go from really long to really short. While really long, extreme maximalism with 3D bedazzled nail art is not going away, the pendulum is swinging toward more simple nail looks that are still statement-making,” says Brittney Boyce, celebrity nail artist and founder of Nails of LA.
It’s a trend Olivia Rodrigo would approve of. “Patent leather is ultra rock ‘n roll; when you wear patent leather pants or a dress, you will be noticed.” According to Boyce, a patent leather mani gives that same eye-catching effect. “Dark, short nails for fall are very expected and conservative, but when you add a patent leather finish to it, it gives it that punk, sexy edge,” she says. “It tells people to take you seriously and to not F around with you.”
While the inky hues and shiny finish are key to the look, don’t underestimate the short length. The manicure looks equally cool on stiletto nails, but shorter tips make the manicure stand out—and makes it easier to go about your day.
Get the Look
A patent leather manicure is easy to DIY; you just need to shape and file your nails to a shorter length, then reach for a deep, dark polish and finish with a super shiny top coat.
Boyce has a few simple tips to make your mani shine like a patent pump. “For shine, use a shiny, more viscous top coat like ORLY's Shining Armor Long Wear Top Coat ($15) or Seche Vite Dry Fast Top Coat, ($7),” she shares. (We also like Static Nails’s Liquid Glass Top Coat, $16, for glossy shine.) Your polish choice matters too; stay away from the glazed donut shimmers and opt for a classic creme formula instead. “Choose nail colors that are creamy and ultra pigmented. Avoid anything sheer or shimmery,” Boyce recommends.
You can also experiment with shades other than black and deep purple. Patent leather nails look extra unexpected in deep green, beet red or mocha brown. Boyce loves ORLY polishes for a shiny look, including Persistent Memory, a dark and romantic red; Canyon Clay, a rich brown; Liquid Vinyl, a creamy, easy-to-work with black with the perfect name for this trend; and Opulent Obsession, a black cherry. Olive & June’s It’s Actually Dark Green ($9) is a gorgeous choice for a green mani, while Pear Nova’s Absorb ($14) is a black so deep and dark, you can almost fall into it.
Patent leather nails can also be achieved in the salon; just tell your nail tech that you’re looking for short, super-shiny dark nails. The look lends itself well to gel formulas, and if you really want that reflective look like light bouncing off a patent leather dress, you can ask your tech to apply a chrome powder. Just stay away from more shimmery formats—patent leather nails are shiny, not frosted.
This versatile manicure takes the go-to shades of fall and winter and turns up the shine to 11, but it’s not intimidating in the slightest. Once you’ve got your patent leather manicure on lock, you’ll be more than ready to hit the stage—or that 8 AM breakfast meeting.