Seconds after you sit down in the nail salon, you’ve historically been forced to make a binary decision: square or round? But it’s not that simple anymore. These days, nail shapes are more varied than ever, thanks to influencers and celebrities alike sporting a variety of far-from-traditional silhouettes. It’s not just about picking the perfect nail color or showing off a funky design anymore — nail shapes are the new it-factor when it comes to nailing a manicure (no pun intended).
“Trying out different nail shapes definitely keeps things fun, and it’s a great way to express ourselves,” Lilly Rojas, founder of Brooklyn’s Lili and Cata nail salon, explains. “Just like experimenting with colors you normally wouldn’t wear feels brave, finding your perfect nail shape can provide a sense of self confidence and empowerment.”
With that being said, you also want to find the shape that works best for you. According to Anastasia Totty, a LeChat nail educator and owner of Artistique Salon in Jacksonville, Florida, there are a few things to keep in mind when choosing a nail shape: your personal style, your personal preference, and your occupation. “It has to enhance your look, make you feel beautiful, and fit your idea of what looks good. Trends come and go, but finding your unique style is extremely important,” she says.
If you want a quick tip to discovering your most natural-looking nail shape, manicurist Deborah Lippmann says it’s all about following the cuticles. “The best way to find the best shape for you is do a proper cuticle pushing, and then mirror the shape of the tip of your nails to the shape of your cuticles,” she explains. “That gives you the most natural elongated nail and is how you find your best personal nail shape.”
Plus, it could be fun to play around with some different options. “I would suggest trying out a new nail shape every few months because you never know, it might become your new favorite shape,” Rojas says.
The square nail shape is pretty self-explanatory. Square nails are square — they’re flat on top with straight, sharp corners. They neither flare out nor taper in and are a popular shape for those with short nails or long, narrow nail beds.
“Square nails are typically seen as stylish and clean but also low-maintenance,” founder of nail-care brand Ciaté London, Charlotte Knight, explains. “This shape looks amazing with a bold, block color.”
The classic round shape is another favorite for those who prefer to keep their nails clipped short. “If you feel you have shorter fingers, you may be more likely to go for a round nail as it can elongate fingers,” Knight says. Like square nails, round nails start with straight sides but curve at the edges to follow the natural shape of the fingertip.
If you want to go bold with color but aren’t sure about the shape, Knight says there’s no going wrong with a round nail shape. “They truly look brilliant with any shade of polish you’re in the mood for,” she says.
Square oval — or squoval — nails are perfect if you’re into the flat edge of the square but hate sharp corners. Knight notes that this classic, universally beloved shape seriously suits everyone. However, it can be especially appealing for those with wider, longer nail beds as it will help balance out everything.
Yes, round nails are different from oval ones. Here’s how: Oval nails are filed down on the sides in addition to the tips. The curvature is more extreme, so it tends to make fingers look a little longer.
“Known to be a classic choice, an oval shape will also elongate the nail to give the illusion of length,” says Knight. She also points out that an oval nail shape is especially great if you want to do a bit of nail art.
Looking for a super glamorous nail shape? Then the almond nail shape is for you. Like oval nails, almond nails are filed along the sides. The nail wall is tapered to end in a round peak, similar to the shape of an actual almond. Natural nails are often too weak to hold this structure on their own, so most almond manicures are reinforced with gel or acyclic.
Possibly one of the most striking nail shapes you can opt for, stiletto nails are all about the drama. Shaping this spiked look starts off the same as its nuttier counterpart, the almond, but ends at a much sharper point with a wider base. Knight notes that this shape is quite high-maintenance, “but it can showcase creativity with color, art, and texture.”
Ballerina nails, also known as coffin-shaped nails, are Kylie Jenner’s go-to nail shape (or at least they were, before she joined Team Short Nail). “We are seeing a huge spike in coffin-shaped nails at the moment,” Knight say. “As inspired by the resurgence of Y2K beauty and that throwback style that has made a huge comeback.”
The shape is essentially the same as a stiletto nail but with a square tip instead of a pointed tip — resembling the shape of a coffin and ballerina slipper. This shape offers the length of a stiletto nail without the sharp drama of the tip.
Another easy-to-understand name, lipstick nails are shaped like the cut angle of a fresh tube of lipstick. This squared nail style slants diagonally at the tip for a seriously unique nail shape. Rojas notes, “They work well with any nail length and they’ll definitely make you stand out.”
As the name suggests, this nail shape flares upward and out, and is also known as the duck bill shape. Totty says the best way to enjoy a flared nail is to just have fun with it. “They can’t be plain; flashy colors, fun prints and bling are the way to go,” she says. “You have to really like attention to be able to rock these beauties.”
However, if you work with your hands a lot, this might not be the nail shape for you. “If you work at a bar or you are a hairstylist, have a small child who needs diaper changes, or operate a cleaning business it just won’t work,” Totty says. “They definitely get in the way compared to more traditional shapes.”
Edge nails form a point, but the point is not as long as a stiletto shape or as aggressive as an arrowhead. However, it offers a slightly sharper angled tip than a mountain peak. “They’re shaped with the sides extending straight before the top edges are filed to look like an edge,” Rojas explains. When created with acrylics, the edge nail also forms into a ridge through the center of a nail, mimicking an edge.
If you’re thinking of giving this shape a try, Totty notes that it’s important to be comfortable with the sharpness of the shape. “Those edge nails are very sharp and may get in the way,” she says. “It’s also important to get them filled in more often and reshaped to avoid wear and tear.”
With that being said, Lippmann recommends giving this one a try if you want something different and exciting. “Anyone that wants to try a new nail shape should try this,” she says. “A new nail shape is just as fun as trying out a new nail color.”
Arrowhead nails are a less severe version of a stiletto nail with a shorter point featuring more dramatic angles to create the tip. “These are perfect for those that don’t have or like the super long nails,” Rojas says. In fact, this shape is great for someone who wants to test drive long, pointy nails before fully committing to the stiletto shape.
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