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The latest nail trend proves that everyone wants to be a 90s child

TextAlice Crossley

Go back in time with chunky, childlike nails loaded up with Care Bears, 3D love hearts and jewels

  1. THE LOOK: Colourful chunky nails loaded up with all the accessories, from Hello Kitty and Care Bear nail stickers to 3D love hearts, butterflies, ribbons, smiley faces and rhinestones.
  2. WHO’S DOING IT? All of your favourite nail art creators on Instagram including Nails by Mei, @ibedoingnails and celebrity favourite @britneytokyo. Also celebrities like Megan Thee Stallion, Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid and Adut Akech in Vogue US.

  3. HOW CAN I GET IT? Book an appointment at Chi’s Nails in Covent Garden and bring your favourite 90s childhood relics along for a dose of inspiration, or buy some nail stickers and go to town.

From the skinny eyebrow revival to the return of the tramp stamp, 90s beauty is all the rage right now – and nails are no exception. For the latest manicure trend, nail artists have been dipping into the archives for nostalgic, childlike looks that load up on the glitter, hearts, 3D ribbons, rhinestones and all your favourite old school cartoons.

On Instagram, the hashtag #90saesthetics has grown 21 per cent globally in the last 90 days, while over at TikTok #90snails has 10.3 million views. Both apps are filled with users showing off their nails adorned with everything, from paintings of Hello Kitty characters to butterfly stick-on gems and nail art inspired 90s icons like Destiny’s Child. In Florida, a 90s-themed nail bar has even opened to cope with demand for the trend.

You only have to glance at accounts such as @momoka.nail, @realhotgurlnails and @kayythanaildonn to be immediately transported back to the era, with the patterns and characters that once appeared on our school pencil cases and lunchboxes adorning various sets of acrylics.

Of course, acrylic nails have been an important feature of Black beauty and culture since the 1950s and 60s. But it wasn’t until the 90s that rappers like Missy Elliott and Lil Kim began to accessorise every outfit with statement nail art, dripping in gems and glitter. Black nail artists – and their clients – constantly pushed the boundaries of creativity through nail art throughout the decade, with talons getting longer, brighter and more bejewelled.

This new Kidult nail trend combines these iconic manicures with the Kawaii aesthetic, which was popularized in western culture during the 90s thanks to magazines like FRUiTs. Like all the beauty brands that have brought out collections around 90s television shows (Powerpuff Girls, Lizzie McGuire, Sailor Moon etc.), these colourful nails are rife with nostalgia for both childhood and “simpler” times, offering us all a brief escape from reality. And with the rising cost of living, the war in Ukraine, and the shadow of the pandemic still weighing us down, it’s no wonder people are looking for some fantasy: “Millennials and Gen Z love nostalgic dressing,” says Brooke Ozaydinli, Creator Marketing Manager at Instagram. “Wearing and sharing things, whether that’s 90s clothing or child-like nail stickers, that are reminiscent of the past offers us a deep level of comfort and connects us to positive memories of our past childhoods.”

The manicures also tap into a playful maximalist beauty and fashion trend that’s arisen post-lockdown as people look to have more fun with their looks. Nail salons were closed for a good chunk of the last two years too, so artists are making up for lost time and crafting nails that are more creative than ever. 

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