Unlike the neon brights, pearly hues and girlie pastels that have long dominated manicurists' tool boxes, the new mattes are often dark -- think shades of slate, cement, tar -- with little hint of sheen.
Even the lighter colors -- and there are matte whites reminiscent of Wite-Out Correction Fluid, a startling turquoise and burgundy -- have a flat patina, conveying an edgier and more avant-garde sensibility.
"New surfaces are becoming very interesting," said Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, executive vice president and artistic director of OPI, which this month launched six new matte shades.
"Matte colors reflect the light differently. They show depth."
The OPI colors run the gamut from Alpine Snow, a bright, crisp white, to Lincoln Park After Dark, a plummy purple shade.
Some say the trend is a throwback to childhood days of painting on nails with a marking pen from the stationery cupboard.
"When we were kids, we used to use Sharpies to color our nails," said makeup artist Mike Potter, whose KnockOut line features several matte shades.
The latest, Pool, a bright turquoise, and Concrete, a steely gray, hit retail stores this month.
"I've always been attracted to industrial-looking colors," said Potter, whose Calamine, a pink with a name that captures its chalky essence, is among the collection's most popular.
Even brands that aren't rolling out an entire line of matte colors are offering tricks for converting an existing high-shine polish into something more modern.
In August, Essie is launching Matte About You Matte Finisher, a $10 brush-on product that replaces a top coat and essentially gives any polish that flat matte look. Potter of KnockOut has also created Flatte Top, a colorless polish to wipe the shine out of an existing varnish and mute the color. Beauty blog fave Zoya has a Matte Velvet collection of silver, dark gray and burgundy.
Given the nature of the look -- and despite Chanel's huge success with its Black Satin polish three years ago, matte nails retain an underground sensibility. Chicago-based ManGlaze Matte Nail Color was launched two years ago at a hard-core punk festival in Yokohama, Japan; since then, its Matte Finish Grey and Matte Finish Black have built a cult following among the skate-surf and goth-rave sets.
Not that the look doesn't have potentially wholesome appeal. Miley Cyrus and Jennifer Garner have worn it on photo shoots.
"It's all about finding the perfect color," said Robin Coe-Hutshing, founder and creative director of Studio BeautyMix at Fred Segal.
"The wrong color will be dead wrong. It is unforgiving."
Although she said the look can take "some getting used to," a matte pale cream on a pedicure can be pretty for summer.
"I think it will be a great fit for fall, when matte charcoal gray, black and dark red feel more seasonal," she said.