7 Popular Nail Shapes and Why to Choose or Avoid Them

BY: Colleen Loggins |Feb 24, 2017

"How do you want them filed?" You'd think that, as a beauty writer, I wouldn't be so flummoxed by a nail technician asking me this question. Yet for years, whenever I went to a nail salon, I would inevitably forget that I had to do more than just pick out the color. I was also supposed to pick out which of the nail shapes I wanted.

"Um. Natural-looking?" was almost always my response, and it almost always elicited a furrowed brow. I would eventually manage to convey what I wanted, but now I know I should have said that I was looking for squoval nails.

To help others avoid similarly confusing experiences, I've created a guide to the seven most common nail shapes. I've also broken down why you may or may not want to choose them based on your lifestyle (looking at you, stiletto and coffin).


Coffin nails (a.k.a. ballerina nails) 

These long tapered nails have squared-off tips and are said to resemble coffins (if you have a dark mind) or ballerina slippers (if you have an even darker mind).

Why choose them?

They elongate the fingers and provide a bigger canvas for nail art. And they obviously add a bit of edge to every outfit. They've also been seen on the fingers of myriad celebrities, from nearly all of the Kardashian-Jenners (Jenner-Kardashians?) to Zendaya.

Say goodbye to these activities

Playing sports, washing dishes, typing quietly on a computer

Almond Nails 

With their slim, tapered sides that end in a rounded point, almond nails resemble the nut whose name they borrow.

Why choose them?

They can slenderize thicker fingers and wider nail beds, and they keep your nails fairly strong, despite their filed sides. What's more, you can wear them shorter for a look that's a little more natural while still maintaining an edge. However, they do require some length, either from growing out your natural nails or adding acrylic tips, which you can learn more about with our comprehensive guide to acrylics.

Say goodbye to these activities

Opening cans of soda or beer, quickly unbuttoning clothes, picking anything up off the ground without pausing to consider a strategy

Stiletto Nails 

Take one look at these nails, and it's immediately clear that their name references the knife, not the heel. Stilettos taper into an extremely sharp point that could probably cut someone—or at least successfully spear through cheese cubes at a cocktail party.

Why choose them?

Like coffin nails, these elongate the fingers and are the fiercest shape you can get. Plus, a lot of celebrities wear them. But that's just it—they're made for people who have a glam squad on call and a team of assistants doing everything for them.

Say goodbye to these activities

Putting in contact lenses, flicking your assistant when she brings you the wrong vial of unicorn tears to drink, using your hands as tools in general

Oval Nails 

The classically feminine oval shape mimics the shape of the base of the nail at the top of the nail. It features slightly tapered sides that round into a blunt oval.

Why choose them?

They elongate the nails and are the preferred shape for the catwalk. They also widen narrow nail beds to create a more balanced look. Furthermore, they are one of the strongest shapes and least prone to breaking.

Say goodbye to these activities

Nothing. Feel free to jam your fingers into every purse and pocket without a care in the world!

Square Nails

Square-shaped fingernails look just like a square (or a rectangle, depending on how long they are) and thus don't have any soft, rounded points.

Why choose them?

When worn short, the precise straight edges keep the nails strong, making them great for people who work with their hands a lot. However, a short square nail can make shorter, thicker fingers look stubby.

Say goodbye to these activities

Drumming your fingers against a hard surface and hearing a satisfying clicking sound, wearing silky fabrics that can catch on the edge of the nails

Squoval Nails

This part-oval, part-square shape takes the sharp edges of the square nail and rounds them out, creating a softer look.

Why choose them?

Squoval nails flatter all fingers and because of this, they never go out of style. They also work with both short and long nails, and they help keep nails strong.

Say goodbye to these activities

Unlike squares, they don't have sharp edges that catch on things; like ovals, they're very durable. So jam your fingers into all of the tight spaces and wear all of the silky fabrics.

Use a square, oval, or squoval shape as a base for nail art that works in a conservative environment.

Round Nails

Classic round nails combine short lengths with curved edges and tips. Round nails look very similar to oval nails, especially when they're long, but they are more round.

Why choose them?

This shape is probably the least likely to break, making it ideal for people who don't want to stop and think before doing something with their hands. Short lengths make them particularly durable.

Say goodbye to these activities

Scratching an itch in a satisfying way, untying complex knots


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