Black Nail Artists on the Chokehold of Press-Ons
If you would have told 15-year-old me — a Black girl who had finally been deemed old enough to start getting acrylic tips added to my manicure at the neighborhood salon — that I would one day abandon full sets, I wouldn't haven't believed you. And if you went so far as to suggest press-on nails as a reason to abandon those coveted manicures, I would've been downright offended.
Custom nails were (and for many of us still are) one of the most important accessories for Black girls; one of many ways we creatively express ourselves. It's not uncommon to get your nails done with one specific outfit in mind, or to get your lover's name painted across the tips, or cut an additional twenty-dollar bill into tiny pieces to have them glued into the nail art. It's an art.
In those days, you could only find press-on nails at select pharmacies or beauty supply stores in limited color and sizing options, and often made of thin, flimsy material. It was red-oval this or pink-oval that; they stuck on sloppily, would constantly pop off, and brought none of the creativity we were getting handcrafted at the salon. But it's 2022 now, and self-care doesn't have to be as expensive, inconvenient, or tacky as it once was. There's a whole press-on revolution happening in beauty right now, and one thing that has remained consistent is the fact that Black women are continuing to set the standard when it comes to nail trends.
For (and former lead nail stylist on TNT's Claws) press-ons were just part of her everyday work. Using different adhesive techniques, press-ons were "a more efficient way to alternate between looks on set and keep the pace going," she says. Like lace-front wigs, press-ons have transitioned from being a best kept secret for actors and other performance artists and are now a normalized part of DIY beauty routines. Gracie recently launched her own press-on brand called .
The most obvious reason for this shift toward pressies is the impact of the ongoing global pandemic. We have all been forced to reconsider the activities that put us in close proximity with strangers. When COVID-19 first hit the States and lockdown mandates were enforced, non-essential businesses were impacted the most; and these included our beloved nail salons. Nail connoisseurs were forced to consider other options for our manicures and press-on nails were a natural go-to — beauty entrepreneurs were happy to address this need, with brands like Chillhouse and Olive and June quickly pivoting to press-ons, and copycat companies swarming our Instagram feeds seemingly overnight. But this also became a moment to shine for Black-owned brands that were already around before 2020, like Williams' HVN, , and , just to name a few.
In the words of Gracie J.: "People want fun and easy. They don't want to over complicate their lives." Unlike other pandemic fads that are already showing signs of slowing down () I doubt that pressies are going away anytime soon. The market is ripe for new artists wanting in on the action, but Williams has some advice. "It is really important to have a plan to scale. You cannot complete thousands of orders by hand so start thinking of your long term growth plan." Spifster predicts that more existing brands will begin adding press-ons to their product lineups, covering more customers' needs in the drugstore-to-luxury continuum. This will make it even easier to get nail content up on the 'gram, and thankfully we don't have to sacrifice convenience, style, or the opportunity to #BuyBlack.
Sesali Bowen is a culture reporter, podcast host, and author of Bad Fat Black Girl: Notes from a Trap Feminist, .
The State of the Arts is InStyle's biannual celebration of the Black creativity and excellence driving fashion, beauty, self-care, and the culture at large.