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It’s been summertime in Florida since, uh, about March. That’s when we started seeing the first of our really hot days. But now it’s July and it’s officially summer all around the northern hemisphere. I haven’t noticed it being any warmer than usual, but a friend of mine said Boston was under a “don’t get heatstroke and die” advisory so, you know, I think it’s safe to say we’re in the dog days.
When it hits these kinds of sun-filled days – my favorite days of the year, honestly – what do you put on your nails? For the last couple of years, the assumed answer has been neons.
Look, we all know the 80s have been back for a while. We’re at the point where companies are talking about reinventing neon – which seems mostly to mean pairing neon shades with neutrals like beige. I don’t quite know how that’s reinventing anything since, you know, it’s still neon pink. But I admit, it’s a great pairing. Like a Riesling with salmon.
(Salmon is kind of fatty – hence the deliciousness – so the acidity of a Riesling pairs well.)
To be fair, there really is more variety available in the neon spectrum. My favorite neon of the season is China Glaze’s Ride the Wave – it’s a bright blue jelly-finish polish. It’d definitely not a true neon, but, hey, I’m a sucker for a rich blue polish color.
Of course, that’s not what I’m wearing right now. I found these great new nail stickers at the drug store (Kiss brand, like those jeweled ones I love) – I’m a sucker for peacock feathers on a good day but neon pink peacock feathers? I’m having to talk myself out of stock piling these to ensure I have them for the rest of my life.
When the sun is this bright, my nail polish has to be comparably bright.
I don’t know how long that battle is going to rage – or who the eventual winner is going to be. Actually, I win either way.
At any rate, I found these neon peacock feathers and immediately thought of this bright apple green polish I have. Self, I said to my self, you can bring out the green in the feather by polishing your nails a matching shade of green.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. And I’m sure it was a good idea. Maybe I’ll even do it at some point. But once I got home, I realized I had been deeply and profoundly mistaken. Because after two weeks of solid rain and grey days (our annual rainy season, which is the most depressing time of the year possible for me), what I needed was something to really take advantage of the bright light.
Passion Fruit by Orly isn’t a new neon, but I think it’s one of the best. Neons are never going to look natural, after all, but some of them look better with my skin than others. Neon yellow looks like crap on me – though I sometimes wear it anyway. Because fuck flattering, you know?
I know that neons are kind of in-your-face for a lot of people. If you want to get in on the highlighter color action, but you don’t think you can pull it off on your fingers, neons are pretty much perfection for pedicures. I own two whole pairs of open-toed shoes – what can I say, I love boots. I don’t always wear sandals during the summer, but when I do, I wear neon polish on my toenails.
Mostly, that’s because I wear sandals when I am in situations where I might find myself in a swimming pool. In a swimming pool in the sun. Because the true beauty of neon toe nails is only to be discovered when you are looking down at your feet as you stand in a clean swimming pool at 2 in the afternoon on a day when the sun is blazing and there are no clouds.
Yes, that’s a very specific set of circumstances. But it happens in Florida pretty often so I don’t think it’s an unreasonable set of circumstances.
You could replace the swimming pool with a natural body of water, as long as that water is clear. You can make that replacement if you aren’t me – I don’t swim in natural bodies of water if I can help it. Things grow in natural bodies of water. And fish don’t come hang out in my living room so I don’t know why I’d go hang out in theirs.
The white is peeking out from under the neon here.
The point is that when you look down at neon through shimmering, sun-dappled water, neon is the essence of summer.
Now that I’ve waxed rhapsodic for a while, I probably ought to acknowledge that neons are a pain in the ass to apply. That seems to be true no matter what the medium. Neons tend toward the sheer and they dry with a matte finish.
That’s hella disappointing when you’re trying to distill the pure essence of a hot and sunny day onto your fingernails. So, before you begin and wind up swearing off neons because they never look as good as they do in the bottle, I will tell you the very simple secret to neon nail polish: an undercoat of white polish.
When I wear bright eye shadow, I wear eye shadow primer. When I paint on canvas, I paint on gessoed canvas. This is the same principle. You want a base white that will make the neon polish really pop.
I usually wear two different basecoats but since I know I’ll be using three coats of color, I only wear one kind of basecoat when I’m planning on neon. The process goes basecoat, a thin coat of white, two coats of neon, and then top coat. Your goal is to use thin layers here because three coats of color can add up really fast.
Top coat is the second part of the magic. The white undercoat let’s the neon show off how bright and flashy it is; the top coat takes it from bright to bright and obnoxious.
Of course, you can use a matte top coat, too, if you want. But be prepared for your polish to chip a little more easily. Mattes seem more delicate, more prone to damage.
I’m dying for a beach trip now. By which I mean, a trip to a hotel at the beach where I can sit on the sand, look at the water, and then retreat to the swimming pool for the rest of the afternoon. And when I go to the beach, I’ll go with neon.
If I were the type to be loyal to a manicure, this would be one of those manicures.