Charismatic Nail Polish Colors That Work For Work

Stuck in a manicure rut because you think you have to have plain nails at the office? Get un-stuck with these work-appropriate yet totally cool color options.

So far this week we’ve discussed eye makeup and lipstick that are appropriate for work without being boring as all get-out. Today, let’s talk about nails.

You guys already know that nails are my thing, so I’m pretty excited to get into this subject.

The most important thing about nails at work is to keep them shaped nicely. In most cases, it doesn’t really matter how long or short they are, or whether you make them round, square or pointy--keep them all well-maintained and at an equal length, and you’ll be fine.

Some people say you shouldn’t have fake nails if you want to be taken seriously. I think there are a million reasons not to have fake nails--like that they ruin your real nails--but this isn’t one of them. If you’re going to have gels or acrylics at work, you have to keep them up and probably skip the super-obvious French tips. Solid colours are best.

Having nice, neat and well-cared for nails, no matter the length, also means that you can wear a wider variety of colours on them. I firmly believe that turquoise nail polish can be totally professional if it’s on even, well-shaped fingernails.

Not all workplaces agree with me, of course. If you work in a very conservative, fancy environment, or if you deal directly with clients in a representative capacity, you might already have rules about what nail colours you are and are not allowed to wear. I’m not going to stand here and tell you to disobey those rules in service of fashion, because we all gotta pay our bills.

But you can look for wiggle room to make that more fun. So let’s break down the most “acceptable” work colours and see how we can make them cooler.


Red nails are a classic, and they’re appropriate for almost any situation. Weekend, work time, first date... they're always gorgeous and RIGHT, you know?

My favourite reds are Fishnet Stockings (deep cool red), Lolliop (bright warm red), both by Essie, and OPI Red (bright cool red) by, duh, OPI. Are those descriptions confusing? They all make sense when you see them next to one another.

I went through a phase in college where I’d only wear red nail polish, because I was an undergrad TA and took myself very seriously at the time. These are the only three colours I wore for over a year, and I’m STILL not sick of them. That’s how awesome they are. I'm wearing Lollipop right now (and have been for, like, 10 days now, because I've been too busy to redo my manicure).

If you’re looking for that wiggle room, I’d suggest a polish by China Glaze called Ruby Pumps. It’s a sheer red polish with very fine red glitter throughout. Because glitter is a pain to take off, and because the colour itself is very light, I usually layer it over a single coat of regular red rather than doing three coats of Ruby Pumps just to get it opaque.

Kind of fantastic, right?

Because the sparkle is subtle, you can absolutely get away with this in the workplace. And as a bonus, it actually looks BETTER under fluorescent lights!


I love pink. It’s my signature colour. And as such, I know that there are Power Pinks and there are Playtime Pinks. At work, you want to mess with Power Pinks.

These are the deep pinks, the vibrant pinks, the raspberries and berries--the darker, the better. Leave the bubblegums, neons and Dreamhouse pinks (no shade, you know I love these) for pedicures and vacations.

I really love Allegra, a dark pink shimmery micro-glitter from Zoya, because it’s deep enough for seriousness but sparkly enough for fun. It reads more "shiny" than "discoball gone wrong," which is something I really like about Zoya's sparklier offerings.

I also like OPI’s Koala Bear-y, which is such a gorgeously intense colour, and always reminds me of my friend Kelsey’s wedding (it was the first time I used it, and it looked glorious with my navy blue maid of honour dress).

Big Spender by Essie is a little more on the purple-pink side--much cooler than Koala Bear-y--but still says Serious CEO Of Life.

Let's see some swatches, yeah?

Pink forever.

The dark side.

I really like dark nails. I especially like them in summer, because it feels rebellious somehow, but I know it’s customary for most people to get back into them in Fall. So, this is good timing!

Dark colours also allow you to get a little more experimental with colour than you might otherwise do, because they read as “more mature” than pastels or brights.

Queen Vic (Butter London) is a deep pink-purple that is quite a bit darker than it looks in the bottle. It’s the colour my mum is most likely to try to steal from me, but I love it, so she has a fight on her hands.

Wicked (Essie) is a super-deep currant red. I’ve been through three bottles so far, I wear it so often when my nails are short. A lot of very dark reds can stain the surface of your nail, even if you wear a basecoat, but Wicked has never done this to me (no matter what kind of crappy shape my nails were in).

Branwen’s Feather (Butter London) is a gorgeous dark eggplant colour. It’s slightly shimmery without being obnoxiously sparkly, with an almost oil-slick look that really does remind me of a feather. The full beauty of this colour was really hard to photograph, as sometimes happens with nail polishes. This colour has actually supplanted OPI’s Lincoln Park After Dark in my heart--something I’d have thought was impossible a year ago.

The lighter side.

I’m not really a light colour girl, but I do have a few recommendations here.

Ballet Slippers (Essie) is my favourite. Two coats of this gives you that wonderful opaque-but-not-quite, “Oh yes, my nails are naturally like this” look. It’s more beige than pale pink, like the colour of the moon on your nail rather than like ACTUAL ballet slippers (which, btw, I have never heard called anything other than “shoes” in real life).

To stop it from being too boring, I often put a coat of Pure Pearlfection (Essie again) overtop. It’s a white, pearly microglitter, which serves to liven up what would otherwise be quite a standard manicure. It really glimmers in the sun, but isn’t so distracting that HR would call you on it. I’d wear this to a job interview, no question.

Another good option, for those of you who are maybe regretting the lack of cool colours in this story, is Hen Party (Butter London). Most of the time, this looks like a very staid and flattering golden beige...but in the right light, it flashes iridescent blue. It’s beautiful, and a fantastic way to wear blue nail polish at work without wearing BLUE nail polish to work.

The rest.

As I’ve said, it’s easier to pull off a variety of colours when you keep them dark. Here are a couple of my favourite “weird” colours that you can absolutely wear to work, even if you work at Harvard.

Wallis (Butter London) is the best. It’s a shiny, micro-glittery olive gold that is so beautiful I cannot even handle it. It’s a colour that’s unexpected, but in a really glamourous way--it makes me think of antique jewellery. Plus, the slightly sparkly formula is super forgiving of any bubbles or minor mistakes, which is why it’s my go-to for the weeks when I can’t be bothered messing with my nails.

Royal Navy (also Butter London--can you tell I am like their biggest fan?) is a rich navy blue, and oh man, it’s gorgeous. I’ve tried other dark blues that CLAIM to navy, but this is the only one that gets it exactly right. It’s so perfectly dark and rich, and the blue is incredibly beautiful. This is one of those colours that cannot be done justice by photographs. It’s so great.

I really like this whole nail polish swatches thing.

See? Work manicures don’t have to suck outrageously! Just make sure that whatever colour you choose, you finish it with a good topcoat (Sally Hansen Insta-Dri is my all time favourite). It’ll make it super-shiny and protect your colour from chipping or wearing down at the tips.

And now my favourite part: the discussion section. What do you guys do to your nails for work? Do you have a nail polish dress code? What do you think constitutes an “appropriate” manicure? Any French tip fans in the house?