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An Old School '80s Nail Trend Gets a Modern Update

And no, it's not neon.
A manicure featuring copper foil on the tips. Photo: Paintbox Instagram

A manicure featuring copper foil on the tips. Photo: Paintbox Instagram

While most '80s beauty trends should definitely stay in that era, to be revisited only on Netflix in John Hughes films, there's one that's making a comeback in a modern way: nail foil. Yep, metallic gold and silver nail foils, first popularized in the era of big perms and frosted lipstick, are trending. A quick search on Instagram reveals almost 15,000 posts tagged #nailfoils, and the technique has popped up on magazine covers and runways alike. 

According to global nail artist and industry expert Tracylee, who crafted Cate Blanchett's coral tips for the romantic drama "Carol," the "greed is good" ethos of the era inspired the original shiny tips in the '80s. Perhaps that's why nail foil art — which involves pressing foil on top of nail art glue and slowly peeling it off to leave a foil residue on the nail — is making a comeback now that the country's waking up from its recessionary slumber.

Eleanor Langston, founder of the uber-buzzy Paintbox manicure salon (which has offered foil nail art designs for several seasons) in New York, credits the high-voltage, vinyl-thick metallic Minx nail art Beyoncé wore in her "Drunk in Love" video in 2014 with sparking interest in high-shine metallic nails. (Fun fact: Bey also wore metallic Minx in her 2008 "Single Ladies" video, igniting a similar frenzy for metallic nails and nail stickers.) Metallic nail polish has since been popular for many seasons, but now it's taking on an artisanal quality with the application of nail foil. At the spring 2016 shows this past September, gold foil nails were spotted at both The Blonds’ and Nicholas K's presentations

Another foil nail moment, as seen on Nylon's December/January cover. Photo: Nylon 

Another foil nail moment, as seen on Nylon's December/January cover. Photo: Nylon 

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The flash tattoo trend probably also contributed to the craze, says nail artist Miss Pop, who used copper foil to create Chloe Grace Moretz's dreamy half moon mani for the December/January 2016 cover of Nylon

"It started with metallic and shimmery nails, and evolved into this super-holographic look," Miss Pop says. At the end of 2015, Korean nail artist Park Eun Kyung set Instagram on fire with her "shattered glass" nail art, which uses iridescent foils to create holographic designs. Foils are a nice alternative to the precious, hand-drawn and impossibly intricate nail art that dominated the early 2000s, according to Tracylee, but they still offer a wow factor. "This is a simple and easy way to make ordinary nail polish a little bit more interesting," she says.

In the '80s, foils came packaged in stacks of small squares that had to be broken up into small pieces, Tracylee remembers. Today, the foils on the market are so powdery thin, it's as easy as working with blotting paper. (Dollar Nail Art is bloggers' retailer of choice for nail foils.) And the options are limitless. "Instead of full coverage, now the foil can be put over the base of the nail," to create a reverse French manicure, says Langston of Paintbox. Different colored foils can also be layered to look like camouflage or pressed in strips to create zebra stripes. So many clients at Haven have requested the service that nail foils were recently added to the salon's online lookbook, with prices starting at $2 per nail. 

Fortunately, it's easy to try nail foils at home, too. "Most nail foils for nail polish use a special glue," Miss Pop says. "You apply the traditional nail foils right when the glue dries clear," and depending on how you apply it, "it can leave different abstract patterns," she says. To apply nail foils, press the foil firmly down on the nail, color side-up. (Some bloggers like to wrap the finger they're using to press in a tissue so as not to scrape the glue underneath.) When the foil's sufficiently glued, slowly peel it off. "All foils then need to be sealed in with top coat," Miss Pop continues. Though not just any top coat, as some can ruin the foil effect. Her sealant of choice? Deborah Lippmann Gel Lab, available at Sephora. Many salons will also cure it with a gel top coat. Need further instruction? Look here and here for some different tutorials.

Below, we tracked down five kits so you can get an early start on the trend for 2016. (Maybe even tonight!)