There are plenty of tough decisions to be made at the nail salon. But while we talk a lot about choosing a color, nail shapes are just as important (if not more so). Not only can different nail shapes change the look of your hands, they can also set the mood for your mani before you even pick the best nail polish shade or nail art ideas. Think about it: short, nude round nails and nude stiletto nails have a very different vibe.
While which nail shape you go with mostly depends on your preference and personality, there are a few things to keep in mind before heading to the salon or picking up a file. “When picking a nail shape, I like to look at the shape of your cuticle area,” says manicurist and Sally Hansen brand ambassador Hannah Lee. “I find that if it’s more rounded, then a round or oval shape typically looks best. And if it’s wider, then a square or squoval shape may work.”
It’s also important to not only keep your aesthetic in mind, but also your lifestyle. “I would avoid extreme nails shapes if you’re conservative with nail trends,” says celebrity manicurist and Kiss ambassador Gina Edwards. “And if you’re in a labor-intensive industry with your hands, you can wear most nail shapes, but start with a shorter length then grow into a longer nail.” She adds that while you should always treat your nails with care no matter what the shape, longer shapes need to be handled with extra caution and your should never use your nails as tools. And if you can’t decide on a shape, it’s super easy to switch it up with press-ons.
Below, Edwards and Lee break down what you need to know about every nail shape out there.
1. Round Nails
As the name suggests, round nails have a rounded tip and look great with nails of any length. They’re also easy to maintain and do yourself at-home. “This shape works best if you have shorter fingers since it will make your fingers look longer,” says Lee. “It’s also great if you’re active, since a shorter rounded nail won’t break as easily and requires no special care.” To get the shape, she suggests to file from one side following the natural shape of your finger tip until you have a rounded shape. Lee likes a classic French manicure on rounder nails, but they also look great in deeper red shades.
2. Oval Nails
Think of an oval as an elongated round nail. “This shape gives an elegant look if you have long nails, and also lengthens if you have wide nail beds,” says Lee. “Oval nails are great for those that want classic medium-length nails.” To get the shape on your own, file each side of the nail going in one direction using a slight diagonal angle to create an almond shape, then slightly round out the tip. Lee says ovals make a great base for nail art, but she particularly loves an ombré.
3. Square Nails
This one is pretty self explanatory, as a square shape has a straight across edge. “I find it looks best if your cuticle area is not super rounded,” says Lee. When it comes to square nails, length makes a huge difference. Shorter square nails look more fresh and modern, while square acrylics have a fun ’90s feel. Short square nails look amazing with deeper shades, or consider trying a crisp white.
4. Stiletto Nails
Like the heel of a killer pair of shoes, stiletto nails have a long, pointed tip. They are daring and edgy, and a popular choice with celebrities like Cardi B and Rihanna. “This shape is best with long nails and narrow nail beds, and is popular with acrylics so if you’re looking for an edgy look, this is for you,” says Lee. “Since stilettos are longer and done mainly with acrylics, you want to make sure you care for them so they last long, so don’t use them as tools. Rhinestone designs are great for this shape since you have a lot of space to work with.” Want to try them on your own? There are plenty of cool press-on options like these ones, below.
5. Coffin Nails
Another celeb favorite, coffin nails have angled sides and a squared-off tip to create the coffin shape. Lee recommends coffin nails for those who aren’t afraid of a bold look and says the trend looks amazing on slender fingers with acrylic nails. “Like stiletto, these require salon maintenance, so make sure to get your fills when needed,” she says. “Also, don’t use them as tools to help them last longer.” Coffin nails look cool with any color, but a subtle ombré or matte finish adds extra edge.
6. Squoval Nails
A squoval nail shape combines two looks in one—a mix of square and oval. Basically, you file straight across for a square shape first, but round out the edges. “These work well on long or short fingers, and looks best if they are medium to short in length,” says Lee. “A squoval shape is great for someone who is active and doesn’t want to worry too much about their nails.” Since it’s such a subtle shape, it works with pretty much any color or art you want.
7. Almond Nails
“Almond shapes are very flattering and chic and work best with longer nails,” says Lee. “It’s common with acrylic nails, so if you go that route it will require salon maintenance. This shape is great if you want something chic and modern.” If you have long nails, you can get the almond shape by filing each side of the nail to create a peak, and then rounding it out for the pretty almond shape. Lee loves negative space designs on this nail shape, while pastels look super ladylike.
8. Ballerina Nails
Ballerina nails are similar to coffin nails, except the sides are a little more curved before they hit the flat tip—like a ballet dancer’s pointe shoe. “They’re best with long acrylic nails and will require salon maintenance,” says Lee. “Rhinestones or glitter gradients look great with this shape.”
9. Lipstick Nails
“This is for those who want a statement trendy nail,” says Edwards. A lipstick tip has a straight across square shape, with one angled side to create that cool lipstick shape. It has to be done with acrylics, so be prepared for upkeep if you’re after this look. Lee says that minimal designs like a slanted French tip look best with this trend to really show off the unique shape. But if you’re really feeling bold, go with a cartoony manicure for something totally one-of-a-kind.
10. Flare Nails
Flare nails have a very early aughts feel. Particularly because with this shape, you really have to commit to acrylics or tips. “The tip flares out wider than the rest of the nail so there’s no way to really get this shape unless you get them formed or used flare tips,” says Lee. “The most common designs I see are French tips with some bling.”
Bella Cacciatore is the beauty assistant at Glamour. Follow her on Instagram @bellacacciatore_.