When Nail Art Goes Wrong: A Standard Manicure May Be The Most Professional Way To Go

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Long, painted nails are an everyday extension of fashion. We see them all the time, and you probably know at least one person who can’t go without UV gel overlays at least 1 1/2 inches long. On the passing glance you probably won’t think twice about the array of lines, dots and swirls painted onto a pink-and-white manicure, but when seen in professional environment, you may question the aesthetic.

When your primary function in the office involves interfacing with clients and outside personnel, specialty nail designs might be out of place. I want to say it’s OK to present yourself in any manner as long as it’s appropriate, the employee is comfortable and the work is quality. But that’s not true. Rocking Flo Jo nails in an office where everything else is in the style of Old Navy chinos could easily turn into a distraction.

Don’t take this to mean I’m against curving, high-pigment nails as an accessory. I’ve worn them. My mother wears them. My oldest friend just cut hers down. But what’s great for personal style is not always good for company returns.

An etiquette instructor once told my leadership seminar that people can only process a handful of visual stimuli at once. Glasses, a bib necklace, dangling earrings and Barbie pink lipstick might smother your message in the clamor of your outfit.

Similarly, a broadcast instructor at my alma mater discouraged long hair because it’s distracting on camera. So it’s not hard to imagine that neon lacquered three-inch claws or sparkling rhinestone-cluttered junk nails might both captivate and infuriate managers and customers. Especially if you’re dealing with a hand talker.

We’re not talking about a rare phenomenon here. It may seem like a small thing — c’mon, nails! — but it’s part of how you present yourself to the world. Your image extends all the way to your fingertips. I’ve been pulled into conversations about my manicure choices at work often enough that I opt toward bare or plain nails during conventions, trade shows and interviews. But does that mean expressive nails should be banned in the workplace? Well, no.

A universal shunning of nail art is an extreme response. Certainly long nails are not practical for a cellist or proctologist, while makeup artists might delight in wild and vivid creations. In fields such as beauty, fashion and others where personal style is considered an asset, unique designs are often encouraged. In any professional space, tidy, well-kept nails are appreciated.

A professional person, no matter what her capacity, should be aware of whether her appearance is a distraction or out of line with her company and responsibilities. And like your outfit, so long as you’re not breaking any dress code rules, you should be free to adorn your nails as you see fit.

Just please: Type quietly.

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