I Asked For A “Princess Diana” Manicure & It Wasn’t What I Expected

Photo: Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty Images.
I'm not a big fan of The Royals so if you are, please don't shame me for any historical inaccuracies here. Like many Americans, I have seen The Crown and woke up early to watch the weddings of both William and Kate and Harry and Meghan. But that's really where my fandom stops.
However, I was recently made aware of trending searches around "Princess Diana manicure" and as a nail girlie, I was curious to know more. I did a quick Google search to find that Princess Diana was photographed wearing red nail polish on more than one occasion — like when she was wearing THE revenge dress. This bucks royal tradition as Queen Elizabeth was known to wear Essie Ballet Slipper and neutral nails were said to be somewhat of a royal protocol. However, a red manicure was not the only way she painted her nails. Things proved a little more interesting when I dug through archives on Getty and Pinterest and found quite a few examples of Princess Diana wearing a French manicure with a pearlescent finish. Classic with a twist — much like Princess Diana’s style.

What is the Princess Diana manicure?

Like most of us, Princess Diana switched up her nail polish, so dubbing a single manicure as the Princess Diana manicure would be a stretch. You could wear red nail polish and use Princess Diana as inspiration. One person on TikTok wore dark burgundy nail polish while cosplaying a version of Princess Diana in a crewneck sweatshirt, bike shorts, and sneakers. It's not completely historically inaccurate as there's photographic evidence of Princess Diana wearing a burgundy-almost-black manicure in 1997
However, the specific Princess Diana manicure that resonated with me was pulled from an image of the late princess in September of 1996 when she was visiting The White House for a breakfast press event hosted by the then first lady Hillary Clinton. A close-up image shows the aforementioned short French manicure with what appears to be a pearlescent top coat.
Photo: Julian Parker/UK Press/Getty Images.
That wasn't the only occasion with photographic evidence of a similar manicure. In February of 1992, while on a trip to India, Princess Diana was photographed with what looks to be a pearlescent shiny French manicure. To be fair, the shimmer could be a reflection of the flashbulb light. It was, after all, 31 years ago. But it certainly appears pearly.
Photo: Tim Graham Photo Library/Getty Images.
From Refinery29's 29 Second History of The French Manicure, I learned that the French manicure was invented in the '70s and coined by Jeff Pink, the founder of Orly. Hollywood actresses were the first to wear French manicures on film sets. It wasn't long before the French manicure actually made it to Paris, where it was seen on the runways, and took off from there. Given the proliferation of the trend, it makes sense that Princess Diana would be wearing a version of the French manicure design in the '90s. 
I consulted nail artist Jess Brush (aka @nailbetch) for her thoughts on what this manicure seems to be. "It’s a little hard to tell if this is a painted manicure or if Princess Diana simply had the most perfect bare nails," admits Brush. "However, if they are painted, it’s clearly a French Manicure possibly topped with a pearlescent sheen."

How do you ask for a Princess Diana manicure?

I screen-grabbed the 1996 photo of Princess Diana and brought it to my local nail salon and asked for a French manicure with a pearlescent top coat to match the photo. I opted for a regular polish over gel for two reasons: I'm trying to cut back on gels for the health of my nails and to avoid the light on my hands; and secondly, I know Princess Diana would have worn regular polish (or varnish, as they called it). Technically, I could have attempted this at home, but I wanted to leave the shaping and French tip to a professional. 
For shape, I asked for short and rounded tips. Then, after consulting my inspiration photo, my nail artist decided it would be best to use a pink pearlescent polish on the entire nail and then add a white tip at the end. She used two coats of Dazzle Dry Wink Wink and then a skinny French tip using Dazzle Dry White Lightning. In retrospect, this is not exactly what I was looking for, as I felt the pink base read too much as an opaque chrome instead of a faint pearl gloss.  
My Princess Diana-inspired manicure
Even though the execution was a little off — not my nail artist's fault, I wasn't clear — the manicure was a hit. My friends complimented my nails over dinner. The chrome-y finish was subdued in a dark candle light, which made me like it a little more myself. After a week of wear, the French manicure held up with zero chipping. (Dazzle Dry makes the longest-lasting regular nail polish out there, IMO.) Although it was a $70 service, I would expect as much. 
Next time, I'm going to do it a little differently. I will ask for a regular French manicure, short and rounded in shape. Then before the top coat is applied, I'll ask if they can use a top coat with shimmer or pearl. I'll clarify that I'm looking for translucent but with a touch of shimmer mixed in. I think that will get me closer to historic accuracy. I keep a few sheer pearl-y top coats at home, so I could always gloss one of those over the top. Zoya Sparkle Gloss Top Coat, Kure Bazaar Gloss, or Dazzle Dry Mirage would work. 

How can I get a Princess Diana manicure at home?

Brush says getting a version of this manicure at home is pretty easy — she's done it on herself recently. "It’s an absolute classic look that will forever stand the test of time and trends in my book," says Brush.
Nail artist Jess Brush's Princess Diana-inspired manicure
Brush uses three polishes, two by Orly and one from Essie. "For the base, I use Rose-Colored Glasses which is the perfect ‘your nails but better’ shade of sheer pink," says Brush. "Then I use Pointe Blanche for the tips, it’s a white polish with a skinny brush built in for easy painting. Then to add a little pearlescent effect, I top it off with Iced Out from Essie’s Expressie line."
It sounds simple enough and the look is very neutral and stylish. Although, honestly, if I were to attempt a Princess Diana manicure at home, I'd probably just go with a classic, revenge red.
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