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.
This article was published at an earlier date and has been updated.