Was it Adele scooping up a Golden Globe and an Oscar with far-reaching, almond-shaped nails (in glittering burnt orange and sheer nude, respectively), or was it Nicole Richie’s sharp black points that flashed like little knives on the Today show? Or Katy Perry’s gilded nails that offset her Dolce & Gabbana dress at the Met Ball? Certainly, by the time model Daria Werbowy’s delicately honed tomato red talons debuted in the fall Céline ads, the trend was clear: Long, pointy nails were no longer the badge of the unrefined; they were chic.
“Long nails are more sophisticated—the shape has evolved,” says Kimmie Kyees, an L.A. manicurist who works with many of the aforementioned superstars. “That blunt square shape wasn’t always working on people.” The new shapes—pointed, oval or a combination (some call this a rounded stiletto)—do for your fingers what four-inch heels do for your legs. They make them look longer and skinnier.
But serious talons are easier for a celebrity; she has assistants to help her get dressed (and Instagram her outfits). But an ordinary person? “You get used to it,” says Regina Rodriguez, a manicurist at Vanity Projects in New York (who, it should be noted, practices what she preaches: Her nails are bafflingly long). I ask her to give me inch-long cherry red, rounded stiletto nail extensions. To create instant length, she overlaid gel polish on glued-on tips (most manicurists agree that acrylic powders are less adhesive and can cause the nails to turn yellow). The polish, from Japanese brand Nail Labo, was a bright red called Marcato—the perfect finishing touch. My hands were reasonable facsimiles of Werbowy’s; after a lesson on typing (keep the hands super-flat) and, more important, texting and tweeting (use the sides of the fingers, not the pads), I was good to go. Or so I thought.
Despite the instruction, I felt like a T. rex who’d discovered an iPhone; working on an actual keyboard was worse. Removing contact lenses at night was tricky too, as was tying my running shoes.
“There’s a learning curve,” Kyees had warned me. “When I first put them on Nicole Richie, she had to hand her phone to her hairstylist and ask her to text for her.” Likewise, she says, Rihanna never goes to such lengths that she can’t use her iPhone.
I quickly learned that over-the-top anything—hair, eyelashes, thigh-high boots—means people will gawk; nails are no exception. My red tips got reactions that ranged from jealousy (“Your fingers look so long and lithe!”) to confusion (“How do you do anything?”). Men liked them. On the train, one smiled at me, but when he kept staring, I folded my hands to hide my nails, the same way I’d cross my arms if a stranger were staring at my chest.
Were they too much? “If you can’t close your fist lightly, they’re too long,” says New York manicurist Lisa Logan, who does Beyoncé’s nails. “Can you grip a steering wheel without stabbing yourself?” She had a point—I couldn’t.
So I had Rodriguez trim the extensions a bit. (Kyees says even Adele has her nails taken off after work so she can take care of her son.)
Though I went to the salon, Essie celebrity manicurist Michelle Saunders says this look is relatively easy to accomplish on your own. Ideally, have a manicurist start you off with the right shape, bringing the sides to a point or an oval, then keep the shape as you file them yourself every few days. She also says to apply a protective strengthening base coat every week—and be careful with your hands. “You can’t go straight into the drawer or fridge,” she says. “You have to watch what you’re doing.” Skip the nail art, paint them any solid color but neon and channel Rihanna and Daria and learn to text with the sides of your fingers. —Kayleen Schaefer