Vintage press-on nails transformed 20th century manicures – here’s how

How vintage press-on nails transformed 20th century manicures - Click Americana

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Press-on nails have been a staple in the world of beauty for more than half a century, proving that good things — or in this case, beautifully manicured things — indeed come in small packages.

Introduced to the beauty market around the 1960s, vintage press-on nails were an instant hit, offering a simple solution to achieving the well-groomed appearance that has before been only achievable through a visit to a professional salon.

When first launched, press-on nails were relatively straightforward. Designed to emulate a clean-cut, professionally-done manicure, these enhancements were simple yet elegant, providing an accessible and cost-effective solution to the often time-consuming task of nail grooming.

Vintage Lee Press-On Nails store display (1987)
1980s Store display for Lee Press-On Nails showing the wide variety of products available back in 1987

As the years rolled on, press-on nails didn’t just stay static; they evolved in response to consumer demands and advancements in technology. In the 1960s and 70s, manufacturers began to offer a wider range of sizes to cater to more women, and the adhesive technology improved significantly to provide a stronger, more durable bond.

By the 1980s, the “artificial nails” industry was booming, and brands started to offer a vast array of styles. But it wasn’t just about aesthetics; advancements in materials made them stronger and more flexible, leading to a more natural look and feel.

Vintage 80s press-on nails

People in the 1990s loved the pre-decorated and pre-polished false nails. Women could now simply press on a set of nails that were already painted and decorated, offering an instant manicure with no drying time required.

This collection below captures the evolution of vintage press-on nails from their early days through to the end of the 20th century. It’s a celebration of a product (still in high demand to this day!) that recognized the need for convenience in beauty routines and continuously adapted to meet it!

Vintage 1970s fingernail length

Before press-ons: False length for nails with painted-on plastic tips (1954)

From Life magazine – October 25, 1954

The problem of broken nails, which make the fingers look squat, faces typists and housewives who would usually prefer them fashionably long.

Painted-on plastic provides strong tips: The fearsome fingertips above are undergoing a new beautifying process which will, in a couple of hours, transform stubby fingernails into glamorous talons so durable that even a hardworking housewife or typist can keep them intact.

The fingernails are not glued-on falsies but a plastic substance called Patti-Nail, which is molded to the natural nail. They not only stay on tight but even grow with the wearer’s nails. The secret formula was developed by Dr Tom Slack, a Philadelphia dentist, from a plastic he first encountered as a filling for teeth.

False length for nails - About painted-on plastic tips (1954)

Introduced last week at Saks Fifth Avenue stores, these fingernails cost $16.50, will soon be available in all beauty shops. They are now applied professionally only, but may wind up as a do-it-yourself package.

A special boon to people who have injured a nail or have had one break off a perfect hand, they should also appeal to women who have lost false ones in their dishpans. Besides covering up for habitual nail biters, they also discourage further chewing, since they are so hard that teeth slip right off. In addition to being durable, they can hardly be distinguished from the real thing.

Vintage press-on nails: 1960s Eylure Self-Adhesive Nails (1969)

Eylure just invented Self-Adhesive Nails that stick on instantly — for moments like this. If you have just 10 seconds, you have time enough. Eylure nails stick on without glue, stay on until you take them off, and never betray you by looking phony.

Vintage 60s Eylure Self-Adhesive Nails (1969)

“SwingerTips” vintage press-on nail polish (1972)

Stronger than liquid nail polish and just as beautiful. SwingerTips are something different in nail polish. They’re just as beautiful as liquid nail polish – but they’re stronger. They help protect your nails from breaking or snagging. They even cover snags you already have, while your nails grow out long and strong again.

SwingerTips are so easy to put on. Just press them on and file them off. SwingerTips come in 12 beautiful colors. There are enough for six complete manicures in a package. SwingerTips — the press-on nail polish. Where do you buy them? Wherever you used to buy your liquid nail polish.

1970s SwingerTips press-on nail polish (1972)

DON’T MISS: Vintage 70s prom dresses were a feminine fusion of bohemian & chic – Click Americana

Fancy Fingers nail tip kit and nail glue (1979)

The easiest-to-use tips for long, beautiful nails. For mending or lengthening nails.

You can quickly mend a nail or lengthen all ten with Fancy Fingers. It’s the easiest-to-use nail tip kit because it comes with more tips in more sizes — 20 naturally contoured nail tips in 10 graduated sizes. That means you have much less cutting and trimming. So, they’re easy to put on.

Just a drop of instant nail glue from our spill-proof applicator, press the tip on, and then lightly file to shape. They’re easy to take off too, yet need never be removed. And there you have them beautiful long nails that look perfectly natural — done just that quickly and easily.

At cosmetic counters everywhere. As seen on TV: “Take a tip from me: for longer, more natural-looking nails, try Fancy Fingers.”

Fancy Fingers nail tip kit and nail glue (1979)

SEE MORE: See top vintage nail polish colors & retro brands

Vintage press-on nails: Ultra Crazy Nails by Kristy Wells (1983)

The only nail tip with Crystalex. Now you can apply tips with less skill, in less time than ever before. They are so natural looking, only you know they are not your own.

Ultra Crazy Nails by Kristy Wells (1983)

Vintage 1980s Lee Press-On Nails fingernail application instructions

Vintage 1980s Lee Press-On Nails fingernail application instructions

Jonel nail tips and manicure products from Kmart (1983)

Pretty nails begin with Jonel. These fine manicure aids help promote beautiful, healthy-looking nails.

Jonel nail tips and manicure products from Kmart (1983)

Jonel nail tips – naked nail unpolished look (1985)

Lengthen your short nails with tips so natural-looking that you can wear them bare. Really!

Jonel nail tips - naked nail unpolished look (1985)

Now Nails: Press-on colors and paint-on stencils for fingernails (1986)

Why be boring when you can sizzle? Now Nails gives you the freedom to let the REAL YOU shine through. Unique. Expressive. Creative. Cool. Dynamite designs. Easy to use. For a dazzling you!

Now Nails - Press-on colors and paint-on stencils for fingernails (1986)

Retro 80s polished artificial adhesive Krazy Nails (1986)

In beautiful fashion colors that never chip or fade. Now you can have the nail length and color you want instantly… without the messy polish.

MORE: See 109 colors of retro 1980s Revlon nail polish

Vintage 80s Polished Stick-On Krazy Nails (1986)

Stick-On Krazy Nails – Work ‘n Play length (1988)

Now you can work hard, play hard, and still have beautiful nails. Perfect for everyday activities such as typing, housework, and sports, while pretty enough for a night on the town.

Stick-On Krazy Nails - Work 'n Play length (1988)

Retro 80s Barbie Magic Message Nails for kids (1989)

Color change designs reveal a secret message in each press-on nail.

MORE: See vintage Barbie & Ken dolls, friends, dollhouses, accessories & fashions from the 60s, 70s & 80s

80s Barbie Magic Message Nails for kids (1989)

1980s Lee Press-On Nails Natural Length package

Full set of vintage natural length press-on nails by Lee.

Vintage 1980s Lee Press-On Nails Natural Length package

French manicure version of stick-on Krazy Nails (1987)

Give your nails a French accent with these French manicure nails which come in beige and white or chiffon and white.

French manicure version of stick-on Krazy Nails (1987)

Little Fingrs nail tip kit for teens (1990)

Everyone will notice. No one will know. World’s finest salon quality nails and nail care accessories.

ALSO SEE: Vintage Tinkerbell manicure sets, BO-PO nail polish, & other retro beauty goodies for little girls

Little Fingrs nail tip kit for teens (1990)

Miss Lee press-on fake nails for girls (1990)

Add the perfect touch to any outfit with six fun fashion colors your little girl will love. With beautiful nails like these, she can be glamorous every day!

Miss Lee press-on fake nails for girls at Toys R Us (1990)

ALSO SEE: Vintage manicure how-tos & products that women used to use for pretty nails

Retro 70s Lee Nails nail repair kit (1997)

Surprise somebody. Have long, perfect nails by tonight. Perfect I s better — even if you cheat a little. And you can with Lee Nails.

Lee Nails nail repair kit (1977)

Retro 90s fake nails: Dream Dazzlers Nail Designer Kit (1999)

Kit includes press-on fingernails, jeweled decorations and shiny stripes to make your look unique.

Retro 90s Dream Dazzlers Nail Designer Kit (1999)

NOW SEE THIS: Nail polish ads from the ’80s: Popular colors & top brands (1980-1989)

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