I live in a New England beach town and work from home. I wear mascara maybe twice a week. If neon nail polish had a moment in 2012 or whenever, I missed it. Then, around this time last year, I was watching season 1 of Transparent. This was when Sarah was hot, and becoming a lesbian, running around wrecking things with perfectly overdone eyeliner and the neon nails of a 15-year-old. Natascha McElhone, who I think is close to perfect, showed up with neon manicures throughout whatever season of Californication we’d lately been watching, too. I liked that these were women over 40, moms but not Moms, sort of casually caring but not done up, with great hair and these nails that seemed a purposeful but non-desperate fuck you to the expectations of their age, which, by the way, I was closing in on. It just also looked like fun, like they were throwing confetti every time they gestured.
I’ve never been all that inspired by TV fashion, but this is how and why I became obsessed with finding the perfect shade of neon nail polish. I bought a bunch from eBay, gave the rejects to my 7-year-old niece, and kept two from Color Club for myself: Warhol, a hot pink, and Koo Koo Kachoo, which is a traffic cone orange. Both are matte, get brighter as the week goes on, and the bane of any manicurist because they require three coats to get an even finish.
I like to think going around, all year round, late 30s with my nails flamed out in a shade called Koo Koo Kachoo, works because I keep my nails very short, and because my clothing these days is pretty casual. I’ll often take a break and wear no polish, but when I’ve tried to experiment with other, more classic colors—a nice red or dark gray, maybe—I feel too conspicuous, too manicured. Natural pink feels too meek. As my co-blogger put it, neon is my neutral, even though it’s obviously pretty damn conspicuous. As it was the time I found myself standing in a blizzard, my neon orange nails fumbling with the zipper of a giant snowsuit in preparation for a truly terrifying, fairly physical, snowmobile ride across the Arctic. “All I can see is your nails right now,” said my companion. He had two daughters; he wasn’t judging. Still, if I hadn’t been so busy fretting I would have felt a little silly.
And yet: While there are times, like that one, my nails might feel too fussy or flashy or incongruous or all of the above, I love them too much to care. They’re sort of not very me, and yet—unlike other beauty efforts I might make—feel like they’re truly for no one else but me. On the way to Hawaii last August, we saw friends in L.A. “You got your vacation nails on,” said one, and he was talking about my Warholian fingers, not totally making fun of me but not not making fun of me either. I might have worried which it was if his statement weren’t patently untrue, since by then of course I’d been wearing them around the house for months. —Alyssa