Are men in acrylic nails the final frontier in male beauty?
While boys in nail polish have been mainstream for a minute, longer styles are still stigmatised.
Left: courtesy of Kidd Snooze. Right: courtesy of Humza.
You would think that nail polish on men wouldn’t be much of a story in 2021. Thanks to Lil Nas X, Troye Sivan and Marc Jacobs, as well as early-adopter heterosexuals like Bad Bunny, A$AP Rocky, and Post Malone, men with their nails done should be just another form of accessorising. With other fans including Brad Pitt and Keanu Reeves, Chanel capitalised early and launched its own line of male nail polish last year. Machine Gun Kelly is also dropping his own later this year.
So far so passé — except there are still many places in the world that need to catch up. This was highlighted last year when 17-year-old Texan student Trevor Wilkinson was suspended for wearing nail polish to school. The ruling was later overturned, but the outrage on social media was light years ahead of the discourse around Snoop Dogg’s french manicure in 2014.
While nail polish on men (and male-presenting people) might have shifted into the mainstream, wearing acrylics is still stigmatised and a lot less common. No, those memes of Chris Evans with photoshopped nails don’t count.
“I was hesitant at first to get them but once I did I honestly fell in love,” shares model and acrylic-wearer Humza Syed, who first experimented with a Christmas-themed set last year. Since then, he’s remained manicured, matching the colours to his dyed hair or going all out with clashing colourful designs. “I would say they complete my aesthetic. It’s as if it was meant to be for me to wear them. So whenever I dress up, the nails seem perfect with anything I wear in my head,” he adds.
Kidd Snooze, a musician and fellow acrylic wearer agrees. “My favourite part about wearing my nails is how they look, they’re very aesthetically pleasing,” he says. “I wanted to try them because I am genuinely a huge fan of nail art and you can do so many different things with acrylics. I never cared about the perceived ‘gender norms’ of them.”
Humza and Kidd Snooze are part of a small but growing group of male acrylic aficionados, and you’ll find more just like them scrolling on TikTok — the hashtag #boyswithacrylics sits at just under 100k views. But, with the talons unfortunately comes people’s preconceived notions of what kind of person should (and shouldn’t) be wearing them. The videos often come with captions calling for the normalisation of men and male-presenting people as well as inevitable trolls in the comments who think wearing them is negatively feminine.
In fact it’s quite the opposite. Model, actor, and TikToker Mason Hooper says it’s powerful women — from Catwoman and American Horror Story: Hotel’s The Countess — who inspired him to first try acrylics. “I always thought the aesthetic of sharp almond style nails was so badass,” he says. “All of these femme fatales use fingertips as fashionable facilitators of fury, and I think that is so cool." It’s a direct jab at patriarchal structure and uses traditionally stylish and effeminate aesthetics as a source of influence and power.”
While it might seem obvious to most, it bears repeating that nails aren’t connected to gender or sexuality and can be worn by anybody — something that is sadly lost on naysayers. “People think that if you wear acrylic nails, you’re automatically gay or not straight. Most people who see me with nails assume I’m LGTBQ+ and when I tell them I am not, they are always astonished,” says Humza. “It’s annoying because we should be able to express ourselves the way we want without misconceptions hanging over our heads. I do them because I simply love getting my nails done and love how it looks on me.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by Kidd Snooze, who is also heterosexual, but constantly asked if he’s gay or trans simply because of his nails. “It’s a huge misconception that people think men wearing acrylic nails are gay,” he says. “People also think we do it to impress people or because we want attention which is not the case either. We wear nails because we like them!”
While you might expect the LGBTQ+ community to be somewhat less judgemental, Mason suggests this isn’t the case. “As a sexually fluid queer person, my nails can be a turn off for straight women, but more shockingly I have found this similar mindset in men within the queer community,” he says. “Receiving a ‘painted nails are too gay’ message on Grindr is one of the more quizzical oxymorons of life, but those kind of misconceptions are bred through internalised homophobia and a lack of education and experience.”
It’s not all bad news though, as things are slowly shifting in the right direction, according to nail artist Danny Tavarez. “Queer people have always took part in nails as a form of self expression but now that more cishet men are catching up, it’s becoming more socially acceptable,” he explains. “I’ve had a few conversations with men who were scared and their fear always stems from how they’ll be perceived by others — the root of it all really is toxic masculinity. At the end of the day nails are just a form of self expression like any other art form.”
Despite the trolls and their dated viewpoint, all the acrylic wearers agree that experimenting with beauty has taught them a lot about themselves. “I learned that I’m just a regular boy who dresses up,” Humza says. “I want to inspire other people out there who struggle dressing up the way they want — whether it’s because of friends, family, or even themselves — to go out and be expressive.”
Mason is similarly upbeat, and thanks Gen Z and TikTok for moving fashion and beauty trends away from dated gender norms. “Gender norms are merely playthings now,” he says. “It’s been a trend for male-presenting people on TikTok to wear skirts and maid outfits. E-boys and their make-up looks go viral. The blurring of gender lines is no longer a shock value tactic in mainstream media but a valid and appreciated form of expression.”
So, what are you waiting for? If you’re interested in experimenting yourself, Danny assures that it’ll be worth it. “I understand how big of a decision it is to make and how nerve-racking it can be, but I can’t emphasise enough the confidence that comes with a fresh set of nails,” he concludes. “Owning who you are and taking up space is your right!”