The Ultimate Nail Shapes Guide

Bye, basic manicures.

(Image credit: Selin Alemdar)

Treating yourself to a fresh manicure, whether done by a pro or by yourself, is undoubtedly a self-care staple. It’s the best way to care for the health of your cuticles and nail beds while experimenting with fun and exciting new nail trends. But while manicures should be a relaxing way to unwind, they can be riddled with overwhelming decisions. From choosing between a gel manicure or an acrylic set to finding your best nail shape—it's a lot! You want to pick a shape that accentuates not only your nail length but also your finger shape and nail bed width.

To help nail which shape is right for you (get it?), we consulted manicure expert Elissa Schell from The V Spot Nail Spa for a primer on each shape, from how to distinguish between styles to how to select the right angles for your tips. Ahead, the ultimate guide to your hand’s most flattering nail shape and nail color recommendations, so you can get back to enjoying that hand massage.


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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

Basically, this is a perfect square with no soft edges. Sure, with a square shape you do run the risk of your hands looking stubby, but it's great for those with short nails and narrow nail beds. The straight edges are a lot more durable than other shape options and a lot less likely to break. Plus, this is the perfect shape for a low-maintenance manicure. Pair your square shaped manicure with a bold dark color, like OPI's Complimentary Wine.

Squoval/Soft Square

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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

This shape is similar to square nails, but the edges are a lot softer. It's a good compromise between square and oval, so you get the best of both worlds. The soft square is easy to maintain on shorter nails and looks universally flattering on every finger shape.Pair your soft square shaped manicure with an eye catching shade, like Essie's Bed Rock and Roll.


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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

Schell recommends round nails for clients who tend to think of their fingers as short or chubby. Similar to a square-shaped nail, round nails have straight sides but are rounded off at the edges. Round and almond shapes elongates your nail beds to make them appear wider and more slender. Pair your round manicure with a muted gray, like Essie's Without a Stitch.


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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

An almond-shaped nail is slender on the sides and wide on the base, coming to a peak—reminiscent of an actual almond. This slimming silhouette works best on medium to long nails and creates the illusion of extra length. Although it's a very flattering shape, the strength of natural nails tend to break easily when worn in this shape. Use a gel polish or try acrylics for extra reinforcement. Add just a touch of shimmer to your almond shaped manicure by going for a bronze tone, like OPI's Fall-ing for Milan.


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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

Oval is very similar to almond-shaped nails, but the tip is soft and much more blunt. Sorry, nail biters—oval and almond shapes only work with longer nails. The oval shape looks most appealing on wider nail beds and serves as the perfect base for nail art. Try out a sheer pink with your oval shaped manicure, like Dior's Incognito.


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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

A big misconception is that almond is stiletto—it is not. Stiletto nails, popular amongst celebs, have a much more drastic point. Plus, the stiletto is not possible on natural nails because they don't have enough strength to hold the shape, meaning that the nail might very well break off in a couple of hours. If you want this look to last, opt for nail enhancements like acrylics. As for nail color, keep it bold by pairing your stiletto shaped nails with the perfect pop of red, like Christian Louboutin's Edgypopi.

Coffin, a.k.a. Ballerina

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(Image credit: Design by Monica Park)

Coffin-shaped nails are also similar to stiletto nails, but with a squared off tip, which makes it look like a coffin, or in a slightly less macabre description—a ballerina slipper. This is a favorite amongst those that prefer long nails and it's a cool shape if you want to try something different. You can certainly pull off the coffin look if your natural nails are long and sturdy, but nonetheless it will hold up better with an acrylic nail. Pair your coffin shaped manicure with solid shade, like OPI's Less is Norse.

For those with barely-there tips...

If your nails have been bitten down to nubs or cut super short, some of these shapes won't work, but that doesn't mean that your manicure can't look fab. Ask your nail technician to follow the shape of your nail–does it look more round or more square at the moment? And if you are looking to grow out your nails, read up for Schell's advice.

Put on cuticle oil every night.

When nails get moisture, they can grow and stay strong. Schell likes Hydrating Cuticle Treatment by Deborah Lippman. Or, for a full-on nail care kit, try Arianna's nail kit with cuticle oil, a miraculous nail buffer that creates lasting shine, and a smoothing mineral hand treatment.

Get down with gel.

Gel manicures help nails grow out because they provide reinforcement that prevents nails from breaking as easily. If you're going to get gel, just make sure to never peel it off yourself, and get the color replaced every two weeks. And if you want to cut down spending on gel manis, invest in a cheaper, easier to remove at-home gel solution like Essie's Gel Couture or OPI's Infinite Shine Long-Wear Lacquer polishes.


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(Image credit: Courtesy of Zoya at Prabal Gurung SS 2020)

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Alanna Greco

I'm a writer and editor based in New York City. I love a good coat, a well-articulated feminist rant, and face masking (yes, that’s a verb) like it’s nobody’s business.