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I Use Press-On Nails to Convince the World I Have My Life Together

They've come a long way since the '90s and early '00s.
press on nails

Listen, we all want to seem as though we have our shit together. But I firmly believe in the "fake it 'til you make it" philosophy. Isn't that what "Wolf of Wall Street" and "Catch Me if You Can" tried to teach us? Hasn't Leonardo DiCaprio devoted a substantial portion of his career to playing scammers just so that we could all feel a little better about our own occasional scammer-like behavior? For my part, I tend to channel my inner Frank Abagnale with a simple, harmless con: I love convincing the world that I have my shit together because my manicure looks perfect. And I rely on press-on nails to do it.

Not to get too hyperbolic, but press-on nails, fake nails — whatever you want to call the entire Sally Hansen aisle of the grocery store — have saved my life. My mom was never a "manicure" lady, and I never understood the culture of always having your nails done until my friends started getting engaged, and I was stuck looking at my own plebeian, ring-less hand, thinking that was the reason no one would ever want to marry me. (To be clear, my hands are not actually the reason, and I'm great. It's just that heterosexual dating in New York in your late-20s is like choosing between laying in a bed of fire ants or swimming in a vat of acid made from your enemy's leftover donated plasma. But I digress.)

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Press-on nails have gotten a bad rap over the years: In the late '90s and early '00s, they became a cheap, clichéd staple, signifying a lack of taste. But the time I take to attach my press-on nails every week is the closest thing to self-care I get on a regular basis. I save money and time because applying press-on nails actually combines several of my personal favorite pastimes and priorities: crafting, precision and impressiveness. I used to get the same sort of satisfaction from melting Perler beads into iron art at Girl Scout camp back in the day.

What's more, the new generation of press-on nails is a far cry from their '90s predecessors. With my reliance on brands like Marmalade Nails, Static Nails and Kiss Nails, I'm able to appear convincingly put together, even if I don't always feel that way (I'm a chronic nail biter, after all). Nail companies are no longer leaning on the French manicured tips of the Britney Spears/Jessica Simpson-dominated early 2000s; instead, they're taking style cues from Instagram nail pros like Miss Pop and Mar y Sol Inzerillo to create on-trend looks most of us could only dream of achieving with actual polish. 

Now that I have the process down, it takes me about 30 minutes to go from bare nails to a full, impressive manicure: First, I'll size the provided nails in a box, matching up 5 in 2 lines to align with my hands while I watch a rerun of "The Real Hotwives of Orlando."

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My next step is buffing my nails to prep them. You know when you go to the nail salon to get acrylics and they take what looks to be a grinding tool designed by the cruelest of dentists to your nail beds? You want to do that, but for yourself, and not nearly as violently, of course — that's a one-way trip to Nail Breakageville. But the idea is that you want to create a rough layer for the nail glue to cling to. When I skip this step, the lifespan of my press-ons is cut in half.

After I blow off the excess dust from filing, and I put a dot of glue on one nail at a time (I use a special fast-drying nail glue because I am both impatient and lazy). I spread it around on both my nail plate and the press-on for good measure. Then I do the actual press-on part of applying press-ons, holding each nail in place as I apply it to ensure staying power. 

The writer wearing press-on nails.

The writer wearing press-on nails.

My extra special bonus hack? I buy a multipack of press-ons in the length and shape I like (I'm a short-and-square or medium-coffin kinda gal) and use nail stickers or gels, like the ones from Dashing Diva, to extend the longevity of the press-ons and save myself the from boredom and monotony of wearing the same nail design over and over again. Usually, my press-on manicures last about 10-14 days before I have to reapply them, but I'm also not afraid to press on a pinky nail with glue I carry with me, hidden in my purse. Who will ever know?

We live in an Instagram-dominated culture, wherein everyone is cut, dyed and curled to the nth degree, and it's hard to imagine that everyone isn't constantly living their best lives. As a functioning adult woman with anxiety, melanin and personality in abundance, let me tell you what a lie that is. Even appearing to have your life together is enough for most people — and I'm the queen and a pro at reminding you that that notion is bullshit. My hair? A curled wig I popped on my head. My legs? Haven't been shaved for weeks. My nails? Done 10 minutes before I came to meet you, courtesy of my beloved press-ons. 

In the gallery below, shop a selection of my favorite press-on nail designs.

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