It might come as a shock to some people that the first nail polish to ever hit the mass market wasn’t a bright shade of cherry-red — it was pink. It wasn’t until the early 30s, when deep red lacquers popped up on the fingers of European socialites, that Revlon responded to the trend with a collection of crimson polishes. By the 40s, when leading ladies could show off their manicures in technicolor, red nail polish had cemented itself as an iconic part of American culture.
But it’s been a long time since Rita Hayworth showed off her fiery fingernails in 1941’s Blood and Sand. These days, you can walk into a salon and spot hundreds of reds — varying in undertone and finish — proving that picking just one is far harder than it was nearly eight decades ago.
So, how do you know which red is the right red? Ahead, nail pros share the nine polishes that work for everyone.
The pro: Betina R. Goldstein, editorial nail artist
The polish: Essie Berry Naughty
Call us cliché, but we love nothing more than a wine-red mani when the temperatures drop. Goldstein says this burgundy-red is flattering 365 days of the year — and especially in the spring.
Essie Nail Polish, $7.69, available at Target
The polish: Oribe Bloodstone
When you’re in the salon and faced with a wall of reds, Goldstein says to keep your eyes peeled for this one in particular. “It’s a cool-girl color, but still edgy and luxurious,” Goldstein says. “The deep, blood-red tones and high-gloss finish make it unlike any other burgundy.”
Oribe High Shine Nail Polish, $32, available at Nordstrom
The polish: Chanel Rouge Essentiel
“This is my go-to red,” says Goldstein. “It’s classic, chic, and elegant, but balanced enough to wear all year long.”
Chanel Le Vernis Longwear Nail Colour, $22, available at Chanel
The polish: Essie Fifth Avenue
Edwards is a fan of vibrant, electric reds — especially this classic from Essie. She says the shade dresses up any outfit and brightens all skin tones.
Editor’s Note: Fifth Avenue is no longer available, but Essie’s Russian Roulette is almost an exact dupe.
Essie Nail Polish, $9, available at Essie
The polish: NCLA Rush Hour
We don’t know who was first inspired by blood when creating a nail color, but we’re oddly thankful they were. Thanks to the blue undertone, this polish is the quintessential blood-red. According to Edwards, it’s just as intense on your nails as it is in the bottle.
NCLA Nail Polish Rush Hour, $16, available at The Detox Market
The polish: OPI Black to Reality
What’s mysterious, dark, and perfect for date night? According to Tuttle, it’s this heady red.
OPI Disney’s The Nutcracker Infinite Shine Collection, $12.5, available at Ulta Beauty
The polish: Deborah Lippmann Bettina’s Song
Glitter nail polish is practically a requirement in December, and this metallic burgundy fits the bill. Tuttle’s advice? Never say no to a wash of micro-shimmer.
Deborah Lippmann Deborah Lippmann Nail Polish, $24, available at Barneys New York
The polish: Essie Rock the Runway
Tuttle’s true red pick is festive, bold, and available in a formula that will last you from Christmas to New Year’s, and then some.
Essie Nail Polish, $11.5, available at Essie
The polish: Chanel Rouge Puissant
Leave it to Chanel to put a chic spin on a timeless classic. Tuttle describes this favorite as a little deeper than your traditional red, but still sexy and elegant.
Chanel LE VERNIS Longwear Nail Colour, $28, available at Nordstrom
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