How Essie’s Ballet Slippers Became the Most Popular Nail Polish Shade
This palest-pink shade is fit for a queen. Specifically, the Queen of England.
Walk into any nail salon in the South and you’ll find a wall lined with Essie nail polish. While the company has many, many wonderful shades and is constantly adding new ones to the mix, if you’re heading to a wedding, a bridal shower, or just to the office, Ballet Slippers is the classic choice. It’s such a classic that it’s reportedly the only shade truly fit for a queen, specifically, The Queen of England. So how did Ballet Slippers become the nail polish of choice for a Queen? Fittingly, it all started with a girl from Queens.
Essie—as founder Essie Weingarten is known—grew up in the New York City borough in the 1950s. As a child, Essie loved getting a manicure at the salon with her mother, which they would do as a reward if Essie performed well at her ballet class. “I loved getting my nails done,” she told Entrepreneur. “But I felt, as a little girl, that the colors in the salon were quite boring.”
When Essie got older, she thought back to those times with her mother after ballet at the salon and all the good memories they shared there and knew what she wanted to do for her career. In the early '80s, Essie, who came from a family of entrepreneurs, decided to create her own line of nail polishes. She quit her job as a hosiery fashion buyer (was there a more 80s career than that?) and teamed up with a chemist to create a line of a dozen signature colors. It was husband—who was also her first employee—that suggested she put her name on the bottle and while she was reportedly horrified at the time, but now admits he was right.
To kick off her newly-minted company, Essie had a plan of going to Vegas, because she wanted to gamble—not a Vegas-style bet, but on herself and her dream job. She packed up ten cartons of nail polish, including the Bordeaux color that is still popular today, with the idea of peddling her wares to the fashionable women found there. The hope was that they would love her vibrant nail colors and spread the word about them. She knew that if she could get the card dealers, dancers, cocktail waitresses, and showgirls wearing her nail colors, others would want to as well. She went to salons in all the fanciest hotels and casinos and soon enough was getting orders and not just from Las Vegas residents. “We had women on vacation that went to the salons, loved the product, went back to their home in Texas or Florida or Illinois or Massachusetts and we started getting calls from all over the country,” she told Entrepreneur.
WATCH: The $9 Nail Polish the Queen Always Wears
From there, Essie nail polish blew up with women falling in love with the ever-expanding palette of eclectic colors with quirky names (Mixtaupe?) In 1982, Essie created Ballet Slippers, naming the palest pink shade after her childhood pastime, harking back to those early days in the salon with her mother. A few years after it launched, the sweetly neutral shade got a sales boost thanks to the Queen of England herself. According to Essie, the queen has been a fan of the polish since at least 1989. That’s when she received a letter embossed with the Royal Crest requesting a bottle of Ballet Slippers as it was "the only color Her Majesty would wear." Other royals have fallen under its spell, too. It’s reportedly the go-to polish for Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle is said to have worn it on her wedding day.
Since it received the royal stamp of approval, it has become the the best-selling color in Essie’s line. According to The Zoe Report, 818 bottles of Ballet Slippers are sold every day in the United States alone — that’s about 34 bottles every hour.
There’s a good reason, too: It looks good on almost everybody. The pale pink color looks great on nearly every skin tone and pairs well with almost every outfit. It makes a subtle statement that looks polished and appropriate whatever the occasion. That’s why over the last 40 years, it has remained a fixture on the finger nails of celebrities on the red carpet, brides going down the aisle, grandmothers at Easter church, career women, ladies who lunch, working girls, busy moms, and young girls getting manicures with their mothers after ballet class.