I have had lilac nails for the past 18 months. I haven’t found the world’s longest-lasting nail polish (although if you do, call me) – just slavishly painting and removing and repainting in the exact same shade, for a year and a half now.
It’s a perfect lilac, to my mind. Not too mauve, not quite lavender. A fresh little pop of pastel, like having a sugared almond on the end of each finger. They go with nothing, and therefore with everything. They look floral in summer and icy in winter. On grey days, I admire their retro glow against the handle of my umbrella.
My lilac nails are a series regular in my camera roll. There they are, holding an ice cream in Lisbon! A mulled wine in Stockholm! A kebab in Finsbury Park bus station! I’ve bought bottle after bottle of the exact same shade, mourning each chip but enjoying each bedtime ritual. Paint, fall asleep, smudge nails on duvet, repeat ad infinitum. Always lilac. Whenever I’ve tried painting them any other colour it feels wrong, as though another person has their hands in my sleeves.
Without realising it, I seem to have fallen into another beauty rut – or as I prefer to brand it, a ‘beauty signature’. It’s not exactly a classic red lip or an brooding brow, but still, there’s a pleasure in a having a trademark that transcends fickle fashion and becomes recognisably yours. It’s something to put in my obituary when I die. “She always had her signature lilac nails!”, they can write, and everyone can paint theirs to match for my funeral.
Part of the appeal of a beauty signature is that, unlike clothes, there’s no stigma in repetition.
Other ruts/beauty signatures I’ve fallen into, ditch-like, over the years include: cobalt blue eyeshadow (2007), a quiffed fringe (2004-2006), coffee shimmer lipstick (1997) and winged liquid eyeliner (such a staple between 2005 and 2009 that anybody seeing me without it used to ask if I was ill). I dabbled in emerald nails for a while, inspired by Cabaret’s divinely decadent Sally Bowles. But the lilac came seemingly from nowhere, and now I can’t imagine ever getting bored of it.
Part of the appeal of a beauty signature is that, unlike clothes, there’s no stigma in repetition. Society still says we’re not meant to wear the same outfit three days in a row (“hahaha you must think I have no clothes!” we trill, if we have the audacity to rock up for a coffee date in the same dress we had on last time), but wearing the same lipstick or eyeshadow is allowed, even encouraged.
Like the secret comfort of a school uniform during a tumultuous adolescence, there’s a sweet reassurance in a familiar detail that stays constant while everything else feels in flux. My Gran’s generation have long been teased for their steadfast attachment to the cauliflower perm – but I can’t help thinking that if I’d come of age during the war, maybe I’d want rock solid hair too.
And even if you love the possibility for endless transformation contained within your make-up bag, there’s still something to be said for the simplicity of picking up the same product every time. We live in a world overwhelmed by choice, but each new decision uses precious mental energy – not to mention time and space. With my lilac-only policy I am claiming back bonus minutes spent dithering in the beauty aisles, and escaping the guilty clink of gloopy, half-used colours cluttering up my bathroom.
You can call it boring; I say efficient. I will measure out my life in bottles of lilac nail polish. Leave me in my rut, I like it here.