Let’s dispel a royal protocol rumour right off the bat: the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex are free to wear any shade of nail polish. “There’s no actual protocol about dark nail polish,” royal correspondent Omid Scobie told Bazaar.com in a 2018 interview. “It’s simply about being appropriate.”
This combats an often-told rumour that women of the royal family may wear only shades like the Queen’s longtime favourite polish, Essie’s pale-pink Ballet Slippers (a £7.99 bargain that Her Majesty has been wearing regularly since 1989). It’s reportedly the only shade she’ll wear, a well-known fact that was once the $250,000 question on an American episode of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
Likely out of respect for the tone and precedent the Queen has set, women of the family typically trend toward lighter hues of polish, but there are no rules against other shades.
“The royal family tends to favour sheer, neutral shades on shorter, squoval-shaped nails,” Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder and CEO of Olive & June, told Bazaar.com exclusively. “It’s a super-classic, clean look that looks timeless and royal appropriate. While we’ve all heard rumours of rules, I know royal nails are always pretty, polished, and perfectly manicured.”
Of course there's also the bonus that, should nail polish chip during a public engagement, it's far less noticeable with a nude shade and therefore won't be picked up by photographers.
Believe it or not, Kate’s and Meghan’s nails have been the subject of some controversy: while on a royal tour of India in 2016, the Duchess of Cambridge drew criticism for not having a pedicure, while, on the flip side, in 2018, Meghan’s dark-hued manicure at the Fashion Awards was considered a breach of protocol. (Further dispelling the breach-of-protocol rumour, Kate has worn dark shades on her feet more than once, including at an engagement in May 2012 at The Thirty Club in London, where she wore sparkly metallic platform sandals and showed off a deep-red pedicure colour.)
“Kate and Meghan have been known to favour sheer, neutral shades like a sheer pink, a sheer white, or a sheer peach for the hands,” says Gibson Tuttle. “But I’ve seen Kate step out in a darker-red pedi a few times, and Meghan has rocked a dark-plum mani—and I love it.”
The shades they love
Kate, for the most part, wears either no polish or clear polish on her hands for her everyday look—though her nails are always impeccably groomed (she’s still a duchess, after all). Many thought on her wedding day in 2011 that she had chosen Ballet Slippers for her nails, but it was later revealed that she opted for a customised blend of Essie Allure and Bourjois So Laque Nail Enamel in Rose Lounge.
Meghan is much more prone to experiment with nail polish colours in everyday life; she has even taken husband Prince Harry along for her pedicures. For her 2017 Vanity Fair cover—what many consider to be her first official step onto the main stage as a royal girlfriend—Meghan wore Rimmel’s Ivory Tower gel polish, says Susan Courter of What Meghan Wore. For her first solo engagement with the Queen soon after her wedding in 2018, experts thought she was wearing a blend of Marshmallow and Mademoiselle, both by Essie. Though the aforementioned dark shade she wore to the Fashion Awards that same year was never officially confirmed, a hue like Tom Ford’s Black Cherry is a look-alike. And, when she and Harry debuted their son, Archie Mountbatten-Windsor, in 2019, it was speculated that Meghan again wore Essie, this time in the shade Limo Scene.
Like Kate before her, it was initially thought that Meghan also wore Ballet Slippers on her hands for her 2018 wedding, but last summer, it was confirmed that DryBy London took care of the Duchess of Sussex’s mani and pedi, using CND Shellac products to carry off the look. On her hands was one layer of Unmasked with two coats of Negligee on top, and on her feet, two coats of Cashmere Wrap.
“The key to beautiful nails all year is a consistent routine,” says Gibson Tuttle. “When you keep up with weekly manis, biweekly pedis, and daily hydration, your nails will look perfect in no time.”
She also recommends keeping hand and cuticle oils nearby so you can consistently hydrate.
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