80s Nail Polish: Polish For The New Wave!

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Back in the ’80s, before you used to see nail salons in every neighborhood, and gels and acrylics became the de facto standard of the modern manicure, if you wanted to glam up with added color on your nails, you had to rely on using plain and simple lacquer nail polish. And you were very limited as far as colors go.

So, what was nail polish like in the ’80s?

Well, before you go bother your mom or grandmother with that question, in this article, we’re going to take a look back at ’80s nail polish, so that you can see what it was actually like.


’80s Nail Polish

In the burgeoning days of celebrity, as the previous Hollywood stars made way for a younger breed of actors and the rise of the musical video artist and MTV, styles changed, and so did nail polish colors.

Cindy Lauper Source: Wikipedia

Suddenly music videos were all the rage, fashion trends were on the rise, and designer labels became a thing. This culture proliferated as the youth of the day looked to emulate the celebrities that they were interested in and the style that they showed.

But long before the days of Instagram and TikTok, when unless you had excess cash to spend at the Estee Lauder makeup counter at Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, or Sak’s Fifth Avenue, most people bought their nail polishes at their local drugstore.

And the range of colors on offer didn’t scratch the surface of what’s on offer today!

Long before the days of Instagram and TikTok, when unless you had excess cash to spend at the Estee Lauder makeup counter at Macy’s, Neiman Marcus or Sak’s Fifth Avenue, most people bought their nail polishes at their local drugstore.

Of course, there were some artificial nail options available that might have a hint of glitter on them besides the usual red or pink color. But they were made of cheap and rigid plastic and were more than likely to fall off by the end of an evening!

On top of that, in no way did they look natural. So these old-school fake nails were generally only used as part of Halloween costumes or on other special occasions.

They were no way near what press-on nails are like today.


The Brands

Although some brands at the time like L’erin and Lee Press On Nails have fallen by the wayside, most of the other popular players like Avon, Cutex, Maybelline, Revlon, Coty Beauty’s Cover Girl, and Sally Hansen’s Hard As Nails are still going from strength to strength (pun intended!).

Over the years, their products have gone through many upgrades as the technology of nail polish formulas has changed through the decades.

For instance, back in the ’80s, nail polishes were mainly made to last by adding acrylic, which went on thick.

In fact, it was considered a hack to keep your nail polish in the freezer to allow for the thickness to thin out a bit, so that it would glide on easier during application. This hack did work for some nail polish formulas, but not for others. So you always had to use a bit of trial and error to get your manicure just right.

In fact, it was considered a hack to keep your nail polish in the freezer to allow for the thickness to thin out a bit, so that it would glide on easier during application. This hack did work for some nail polish formulas, but not for others. So you always had to use a bit of trial and error to get your manicure just right.

And because the polish went on thick, it would always take ages to dry. This meant there was a high risk of smudging your manicure before it was completely set.

Another hack to remedy this was to run your fingers under cold water to help the polish set. Again, this worked sometimes, but not always.

Besides the usual smudging, the acrylic of most ’80s nail polish was also prone to chipping after a couple of days, which meant you needed to change up your manicure sometimes two to three times a week.

As far as the colors were concerned, as we’ve mentioned, there wasn’t much of a big range available. For instance, Avon’s Single Stroke nail polish was a popular one-coat formula, but it only came in a range of just 14 colors.

Along with the classic fire engine red that you still see these days, there were mainly only darker reds, pinks, rose, blushes, berries, wines and burgundies. You could also find nudes like beige, mauve, peach, white, and pearls available, either in matte or frosted formulas.

However, there were a few colors that were considered quite edgy from Maybelline, which had a few shades of purple (thanks to Prince!), and a frosted cobalt blue that was definitely considered not suitable for work at the time.

Manicures with these colors were only seen in the clubs dancing to Cindi Lauper.

Image Source

Classic ’80s nail polish colors that have stood the test of time include:

1. Cover Girl by Coty Beauty

This company is still going strong, and its Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss in Petal Power  is a classic ’80s nail polish color — a glossy mauve pink. This nail polish also has a top coat included in the formula.

Sale
COVERGIRL Outlast Stay Brilliant Nail Gloss Petal Power 40, .37 oz (packaging may vary)
  • Up to 7 days of glossy color
  • With built-in topcoat for glossy shine
  • Premium packaging, expertly chosen...

2. Cutex

Cutex’s Color Quick Nail Enamel in Maple Sugar  is a burnt peach-colored nail polish with added conditioner that is formulated to dry in half the time it takes to do a normal manicure.

Cutex Color Quick Nail Enamel - Maple Sugar
  • Cutex
  • Color Quick
  • Nail
  • Enamel
  • DRIES IN HALF THE TIME!

3. Revlon

The brand that turned It Girl Cindy Crawford into a supermodel, Revlon nail polish was considered very chic back in the ’80s. And its Nail Enamel in Pink Nude  is a color that is even worn today, because it leaves a gorgeous glossy finish and goes with almost anything.

Revlon Nail Enamel 900 Pink Nude 14,7Ml
  • 7ml size perfect for travelling
Cindy Crawford
Image Source

4. Sally Hansen Hard As Nails

This brand always had pride and place in the drugstore, not only because of its nail polishes, but also because it made products that helped dry, brittle, and weak nails get healthier and stronger.

These days, this innovative company has also broken into the free-from market, offering a 16-free nail polish that is vegan and doesn’t contain any harsh chemicals.

However, its Color Therapy Nail Polish in La Vie En Rose is a classic ’80s-style deep rose color that works with all skin tones. It has a formula that contains argan oil to keep your natural nail bed hydrated and moisturized while wearing.

Sale
Sally Hansen Color Therapy Nail Polish, La Vie En Rose, 0.5 Fl Oz (Pack of 1)
  • Color Therapy: Color that cares, our...
  • 9 out of 10 women experienced noticeable...
  • Pair with the Top Coat to extend shine...
  • Don't forget our cuticle oil for...

Neon Nights

As we mentioned earlier, thanks to Prince, who wasn’t the only guy seen wearing nail polish in the ‘80s (see below), you couldn’t wear the few adventurous drugstore colors to work or a job interview.

This meant that the frosted blues and purples were reserved only for date night and the club, as well as the black and neon shades that you could find at the punk store (hey Hot Topic!), where you could also buy the OG in hair dye, Crazy Color.

Channel your inner Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan with this hot yellow neon gel polish by DND . This soak-off gel polish in Lemon Juice comes with a matching color lacquer that is also easy to apply and has no odor.

Madonna Source

Boys On Film

After the Punk movement in England in the late ’70s, where the youth at the time completely disregarded what had come before, and used their imaginations to think outside the box as far as music and fashion were concerned, along came the New Romantics.

This early ’80s youth movement led to bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Tears For Fears, and Culture Club forming and gaining huge popularity on this side of the Atlantic during the second British wave. This was mainly due in part to the launch of MTV, as well as new wave college radio.

And it was the New Romantics that made it cool for guys to come out of the makeup closet and not only wear makeup (black eyeliner was huge!), but some like Boy George, the OG gender-bending pop star who was doing it long before Harry Style was in diapers, wore nail polish in many colors to match his colorful personality.

But it wasn’t just the New Romantics, because heavy rock gods like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Ozzy Osbourne in his Black Sabbath days, and Twisted Sister donned long shaggy hair and rocked a bit of black and colored nail polish while thrashing their guitars — very loud.


Turn Back The Clock?

We hope you’ve enjoyed our reminiscent journey of what nail polish was like back to the ‘80s. And we hope you also have gratitude for the fact that manicure technology has been upgraded so much that you can rock amazing nails that will last longer than a couple of days with techniques like PolyGels and Press-Ons!

Or would you rather just use ‘80s nail polish?

Well, if it was good enough for your mom and Madonna, you may have dreams of trying it, but we think we know your real answer!

Written by Kayla Young

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