How to Pick the Best Nail Shape for Your Hands, According to the Experts

by Michelle Rostamian

Hand with Coffin Shape Nails in between purple curly hair
Photographed by Naima Green for W Magazine V4 Originals, 2020

An Instagram-worthy manicure may end with a swift coat of polish, but it starts with having a solid nail shape. And just like knowing your face shape is essential for creating an expertly chiseled contour, knowing the best nail shape for your hands is necessary for inciting some serious manicure envy. There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing the right nail shape—your nail beds, your finger shape, and your nail length. From square to almond, squoval to coffin, here are the most common nail shapes manicurists see, plus who they suit best.


Round nails are contoured around the edge and circular at the very tip. “This shape works best if you have shorter fingers, since it’ll make your fingers look longer," says Hannah Lee, professional manicurist and Sally Hansen ambassador. “It’s also great if you’re active, since a shorter, rounded nail won’t break as easily.” (Not to mention, it’s easier to maintain than other nail shapes.) To get the look, begin filing from one side to the other, following the natural shape of your fingertip and making sure to round out the tip.


It doesn’t get much more universally flattering than an oval nail shape. “Oval nails give an elegant look if you have long nails and lengthens if you have wide nail beds,” says Lee. The rounded shape features corners that curve inward into a semicircle. While any nail length can pull off an oval shape, you can take advantage of its nail-elongating advantages by pairing it with lengths that extend a little bit off the finger. The shape starts off similar to that of an almond shape: to achieve, 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, says Lee.


Have shorter fingers? An almond nail shape is a sure-fire way to fake length. With slim sides that taper at the tip, it’s one of the most sought-after nail shape on your social media feed because of its chic, modern look. “A slightly longer, almond-shaped nail is very slenderizing, quite sexy, and still very strong,” notes celebrity manicurist and brand founder Deborah Lippmann.


A square nail shape extends across the entire width of the nail and features blunt sides with a blunt top edge. Because it can make the fingers appear shorter, Lippmann recommends a square nail shape for those with longer fingers and a narrow nail bed.


Think of a squoval nail shape as the cousin to the square nail shape but with softer edges. “It’s a good in-between nail shape of square and oval that looks good on both short and long fingers,” notes Lippmann. This is a go-to nail shape among nail enthusiasts since it’s low-maintenance and quite similar to the way the nail naturally grows for most people. To achieve a squoval look, Lippmann says to begin by filing the edges of the nail at an angle as you would an oval shape, then file straight across in one direction to flatten the peak.


Edgy in nature and certainly not for the faint of heart, a coffin-shaped nail is essentially a square shape with tapered ends. Get the look by filing the edges of the nail toward the center and then squaring off the very tip, says Lippmann. It’s not an ideal nail shape if you use your hands a lot since it requires some length, but it can be a great option if you have short or weak nail beds since it’s usually common with acrylics (which helps protect the nail from breaking).


“Ballerina nails are very similar to coffin nails except they have slightly curved sides that go up to the squared-off tip,” says Lee. Beyond making the fingers appear longer, they allow space on the nail to get creative with design. To get the shape, Lee says to file each side at a soft angle so that they’re slightly curved. Then, then square off the tip by filing in a straight line.


If squoval is the Libra of nail shapes, the stiletto is the Leo, bringing all the drama one finger at a time. “Stiletto nails are similar to an almond shape but with a much more drastic point,” says Lippmann. It’s certainly a red carpet-worthy shape, thanks to its striking, bold aesthetic and ability to give the illusion of a long, slender look. It requires some upkeep to maintain the shape, which is why you’ll typically see it on gel or acrylic nails. To get the look, file the nail from both sides towards the center until the edges are tapered.