My mom looked me dead in the eyes and told me she would pay me to get my nails redone. I laughed. If my mom hates something, it just means whatever that thing is, it’s really damn cool.
She took my hand in hers, flipping it over and under, observing the intricacies of my new set of acrylic nails.
Intricacy isn’t even an overstatement. These nails, in my humble opinion, are BAD. Like Khloe Kardashian and Cardi B bad. If you love nails, you know “bad” means really, really good, and that Khloe and Cardi are the epitome of just that. My nails were a long stiletto shape, meaning as sharp and clawlike as possible. They were different colors of pink. My thumb, pointer, and pinky were all a peach to bubblegum pink ombre and my ring finger a tie dye of light and hot pink. My middle finger was coated in silver sparkles. To top it all off, gemstones were scattered all over.
I guess I understood why my mom hated them — they were extra as hell. But stepping back and admiring my hands, I viewed her horror as a stamp of approval.
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💖ALL ACRYLIC SET! @guccierr let me freestyle this all acrylic color set on her today!🌸 🙂 she’s my 2nd attempt but they turned out pretty cute! 💓 Thank you guys so much for supporting me and letting me perfect my craft on y’all 🥺💛 very happy that I can see myself improve more and more everyday! #chicagonailstudio #nailsofinstagram #nails #nailsonfleek #nailsnailsnails #chicagonailtechs #chicagonails #uptown #uptownnails #chicago #nailtech
“I have been doing nails for as long as I can remember,” said Tracy Nguyen, the 20-year-old nail tech I was visiting for the first time. The sound of her nail file buzzed over my natural nails between her words, preparing them for the acrylic powder. Tracy was more gentle with my nails compared to other techs, holding my fingers softly with one hand while her other did the filing, just barely grazing over the surface of my nails.
Nguyen grew up doing nails. Originally from Ypsilanti, Michigan, her family owned a nail salon called Modern Nails next to a Walmart in a large plaza. She remembered running around the salon during her childhood, watching her parents do their clients’ nails. When her family later moved to Chicago, Nguyen’s uncle opened a salon in Kankakee, Illinois. She goes there over the weekend sometimes when she needs some extra cash or they need a helping hand. The salon is called VN Nails.
“Also next to a Walmart in a huge plaza,” she said, smiling.
Family is important to Nguyen, I noticed. Looking around her 27th-floor apartment overlooking Lake Michigan, the pale yellow walls were heavy with old photos. There were pictures of kids smiling as big as they could, older people with toddlers, some recognizable photos of Nguyen herself. It was clear that at the core of who she is and where her business came from, is a foundation built on family and trust, something very personal. That is apparent even in her work.
Nguyen tapped the liquid acrylic onto the synthetic tips on my nails, gliding the quick-drying material to fit the shape almost effortlessly. A Jeffree Star video played on her TV in the background, and bottles of wine and other spirits lined her shelves. The room was dim, with the main source of light being the LED above my nails. It felt like I was hanging out with a friend watching one of my favorite YouTube series and gossiping about fashion and beauty, which is rare in a busy nail salon setting most people are used to.
It was personal. It was intimate. It was comfortable.
When I mentioned how much I loved Jeffree Star and how I’d been wanting to watch the video she was playing, Nguyen’s face lit up. She explained that was the exact vibe she was aiming for.
“My clients feel more like my friends who I get to give cute nails and hang out with,” Nguyen said, her eyes darting up from my nails for a second to meet me with a little laugh and a smile.
Stephanie Staudohar, a 27-year-old client of Tracy’s, agrees.
“It was casual and comfortable, but still professional. You have an awesome view of the lake from her workspace, and we just chatted and I got my Queer Eye fix,” Staudohar laughed, referencing the popular makeover Netflix show.
Staudohar heard about Nguyen through a mutual friend. She went in for a set of Halloween-themed acrylics and left declaring Nguyen her new regular nail tech.
Nguyen stepped back from my nails to admire them, explaining how she rarely gets to do the stiletto shape and that she was “so so happy” with how they turned out. My nails were sharper than they had ever been, and that was exactly what I wanted. After my old nail tech moved locations, I tried my hand at various different salons, searching for the perfect stiletto shape. Almost everyone made them too round, and, due to my laid back demeanor, I would usually just let it be. This time, they were so sharp that I felt like I had to be careful not to scratch myself too hard because it might hurt. And that? That’s perfect.
Equally excited as I was with the results of my nails, Nguyen offered to put gems on my nails for free. She pulled out an array of tiny crystals and sequins, asking me what I liked. I told her I trusted her judgment and let her freestyle whatever she wanted on my nails. It was a bold move on my part. But hey, it clearly worked out because my mom hated my nails — which means they looked totally badass.
Nguyen received her nail license over the summer and started her business out of her Rogers Park apartment. Her prices are very reasonable, charging $40 for acrylic powder, $25 for a regular acrylic manicure, $15 for a no-chip manicure and $10 for a regular one. Currently, Nguyen is doing gemstones and add-ons for free, which is not normal for most nail techs. As her clientele grows through her instagram, @trizzly.nailz, which is where most of her clients find her, Nguyen hopes to increase her prices and eventually find a studio space for her business.
Although she is starting small, Nguyen is aiming big.
“I think my dream client would be Cardi B… Or any pop princess.” She paused, reflecting for a second.
“I would also love to be the nail tech of anyone up and coming in our generation. That would be awesome, to be a part of something from the bottom up.”
With her licensure and fast-growing clientele, going from the bottom up is exactly what Nguyen is on her way to do. Watch out Jenny from Nails on 7th, Trizzly Tray is on the rise.
Header image by Yusra Shah, 14 East