As Matthew McConaughey once said, time is a flat circle. What was old becomes new, then becomes old, then is new-ish again, until we are all wearing what we wore in middle school, sitting in the old folks’ home watching our stories. In other words, the reappearance of the intentionally chipped manicure for fashion, as seen on Rihanna, above, is right on time.
Obviously, the trend is partly because of the pandemic, and the havoc that it wrecked upon manicures everywhere. But if we look just past the easy answer and study recent history, those with a long-enough memory will recall that the casually chipped, grotty manicure was a hallmark of the Olsen Twins at the peak of their garbage-bag-big-sunglasses-ponchos-and-cigarettes-chic era, circa 2008. The chipped mani made it into the New York Times Styles section, which means that it was legit enough to be noticed. From 2008:
“Before, when nail polish was chipped you absolutely had to run and get it fixed,” said Ji Baek, the owner of Rescue Beauty Lounge and a manicure doyenne who has noticed the Olsens and Lindsay Lohan with less-than-impeccable polish. Now, clients like hers are “wearing perfectly-tailored clothes, they have $5,000 bags and equally fabulous shoes, but their nails are chipped and they’re saying, ‘I don’t care.’ They don’t want to be too perfect.”
But, she noted, their polish “is so perfectly chipped.”
Being otherwise exquisitely turned out may be the key to making the undone-nails look work. (“Chipping is cool, but chipping in a schleppy way when you don’t have a $5,000 handbag is not as cool,” Ms. Baek said.)
Interesting points to consider, especially from the mouth of Ji Baek, a name that for me, recalls Lucky magazine and smacks of mid-2000s nostalgia! The imperfect manicure in 2008 and beyond evoked an insouciance that, yes, paired perfectly with extremely expensive basics and a Balenciaga City bag. The key to making a chipped manicure look good is the intention, as stated by Baek, but it seems like it would take a lot of work to do so—consider the chipped manicure a precursor to the mainstreaming of nail art and the proliferation of expensive salons that cater to white upper-class women who, in the mid 2010s and beyond, decided that nail art was cute and not declassé.
Now the chipped manicure is back, on the claws of Rihanna, for the pages of Vogue Italia. (She’s also sporting something that’s not a fashion mullet per se, but it’s... piecey, in the way that Meg Ryan’s hair was for much of the late ’90s, but shorter.) Please take a closer look, below.
The nails are chipped in a way that is something close to art—deconstructed with acetone, intentional, studied. Additionally, Rihanna styled herself! Maybe she let the nails lapse, or perhaps this was part of her vision. I love it if only because it opens the door for nail perfectionists who would like to be less so (hello). I am not Rihanna, nor do I have a team of stylists to tend to my every desire, but this is an attainable trend that for one moment, can make the ordinary person feel extraordinary.