Name something more iconic than being Queen Elizabeth’s favorite nail polish shade. I’ll wait. Essie Ballet Slippers is so beloved by the monarch, in fact, that it’s reportedly the only color that she’ll let touch her royal fingernails. While my own love affair with Ballet Slippers isn’t as well-documented as the Queen’s, it is just as passionate (yes, you can be very passionate about nail polish, especially when you work at Allure).
When I was in the heat of my pre-teen years, I would wander off and peruse the beauty aisles of my local drugstore while my parents were shopping. I’d browse the newest skin-care product, claiming to get rid of my blossoming acne fast, then move over to nail polishes where I was always mesmerized by the variety of colors, sorted in rainbow order.
During one of these shopping expeditions, I became drawn to a sheer, light pink shade, but fell in love when I saw that it was aptly named Ballet Slippers — I was a ballerina my entire life and felt that the name was kismet: we were meant for each other. It was the first nail polish color that I ever picked out on my own and remained a mainstay in my (rapidly expanding) lacquer collection.
Ballet Slippers has been around since 1982, only one year after Essie Weingarten launched her line of nail colors. Reportedly, it was named to pay homage to Weingarten’s girlhood ritual of getting manicures with her mother after ballet class every Saturday. The enduring appeal of the shade’s romanticism and femininity is not unlike that of ballet itself.
Whenever I am doing my nails myself (which actually tends to be a lot), I start with a drop of the Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Remover on each nail. After a quick push and more general cuticle maintenance with Deborah Lippmann Cuticle Oil, I’ll always pack on additional hydration to both my nails and my hands by applying Weleda’s Almond Hand Cream — I find that moisturizing before applying polish helps everything feel fresher and sometimes last longer. To give yourself major staying power and insurance against chips, I also recommend swiping on a quick layer of Essie’s Here to Stay Base Coat before getting to the main event.
The trickiest part about applying Ballet Slippers is that it’s a very thin and sheer shade, obviously, so brush strokes can become apparent if you’re not careful. With every layer you add on, the more streak-free the look becomes — three layers for me tends to be the sweet spot. If you’re looking to make the soft, pink color stand out a little more, borrow this tip from Lauren Weisberger’s 2003 novel The Devil Wears Prada, where Ballet Slippers makes an appearance: layer it on top of one coat of Essie’s Marshmallow, a sheer white shade.
Even though I’ve experimented with bolder nail art (ombré neon nails, anyone?) and colors, I’ve always had a fondness for this oldie-but-a-goodie. It brings me back to the days when I would wander the drugstore beauty aisles, desperate to try every single product. And, if wearing Ballet Slippers gets me one step closer to royalty as a result, I’m here for it.
The Essie Ballet Slippers Nail Polish is a 2020 Allure Readers’ Choice Award winner. See the complete list of this year’s winners here.