The curious thing about classics is they seem to be timeless, but of course, what is now a universal staple was once as a passing trend. While red lacquered nails can be a part of your everyday beauty look in any season—in any decade—this was not always the case.
In fact, it is widely recognized that the ubiquity of red manicures emerged out of the Second World War when women in America found themselves on factory assembly lines building munitions, airplanes, and armored tanks—if you're picturing Rosie the Riveter, you're exactly on target. In her concise history of red nail polish for British Vogue, author Francesca Segal estimates that era's reigning red was likely Revlon's Cherries in the Snow or Scarlett Slipper. "Clever crimson-tipped fingers were busy winning the war," she explains, concluding that love of makeup and commitment to hard work weren't mutually exclusive and that red nails were emblematic of getting the job done.
Today, all sorts of women can be found sporting crimson polish, with or without the accompanying red lip of Rosie's day. Whether running errands, working overtime, overseeing a business empire, or even rallying votes in congress like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a perfectly polished red manicure is a power move: red nails mean business.
Of course, 70-odd years after red manicures emerged as a trend, the color has become a classic. However, this isn't a one-size-fits-all situation. With literally hundreds of different red nail polish shades and variants to choose from, it's possible to find the perfect hue for you. Keep scrolling for 26 of the best red nail polishes of all time (plus a few special recommendations from three nail-industry experts), and we're sure you'll find your new favorite.
Essie Lacquered Up ($8)
This shiny red polish is basically a beauty wardrobe staple.
Deborah Lippmann It's Raining Men ($28)
A standout bright red that goes with everything.
OPI Big Apple Red ($11)
The bottle looks like more of a berry-red than a true classic, but don't be fooled—the polish comes out as bright as the Big Apple.
Christian Louboutin Rouge Louboutin ($50)
Pair this signature Christian Louboutin shade with your red bottoms.
Olive & June JG in Rich Berry ($8)
We love this rich berry-red for winter.
Zoya Carmen ($10)
This strawberry-red is just gorgeous.
JINSoon Coquette ($18)
This berry-red hue is fun and flirty.
Essie Forever Yummy ($8)
This shade just looks rich.
Habit Cosmetics Tabou ($18)
Dunne says Varnish Lane clients swear by this bright orange-red hue all year long, and she counts it as a personal favorite.
Morgan Taylor Fire Cracker ($7)
Baby, you're a firework…
Orly Life's a Beach ($7)
We love bright orange-reds for a beach-vacation matching mani/pedi.
Olive & June CV in Cherry Red ($8)
According to Sarah Gibson Tuttle, founder and CEO of Olive & June, her community was begging for a classic red, so she set out on a mission to create the perfect one—and this is it! CV has been a fan favorite since it launched in 2019 and is a best seller on its website.
Aila Bodega ($14)
Another personal favorite of Dunne's.
Revlon Cherries in the Snow ($7)
Some say this is the Revlon shade that started it all.
Chanel Pirate ($28)
According to celebrity crystal manicurist and founder of Mazz Hanna Beauty Mazz Hanna, this is the most-requested red nail polish shade in her kit.
Burberry Parade Red ($23)
A berry-red from Burberry that looks as classic as its signature trench coat.
Zoya Riley ($10)
Lauren Dunne, co-founder and CEO of Varnish Lane, loves this raspberry-red shade with rich purple undertones.
Sally Hansen Rapid Red ($4)
Your best bet for perfectly polished red nails in a flash.
China Glaze Salsa ($7)
Add a little spice to your regular red mani.
Tom Ford Smoke Red ($37)
This shade is fiery in the best possible way.
Chanel Gitane ($28)
This brighter Chanel red is a close second when it comes to the most-requested shade in Hanna's kit.
Oribe The Red ($32)
When Oribe names a polish The Red, we think it might be on to something.
OPI I'm Not Really a Waitress ($11)
Hanna's clients also love this classic OPI shade.
Essie Wicked ($7)
A dramatic take on a dark red-wine shade.
Olive & June SC in Bordeaux ($8)
Why not pair your next manicure to your favorite vintage?
Deborah Lippmann Lady Is a Tramp ($20)
This wine-red hue is a favorite among Varnish Lane's D.C. crowd during the holiday season.
This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated.
This article originally appeared on Who What Wear
Read More from Who What Wear