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7 different nail shapes — and how to find the right one for you

Picking the polish color isn't your only manicure decision. The nail shape you choose will set the tone for your whole look to come. We asked the experts — including celebrity manicurist Deborah Lippmann, who has prettied the nails of nearly every A-lister — to explain which shape you should ask for at the salon, as well as how to actually file the shape yourself if you prefer to DIY.

And while there are more shapes than we list here (the options are seemingly infinite!), our experts advise that these are the best to choose from today. Other, more extreme shapes can weaken the surface, causing your nails to easily catch on things, split or break — and no one has time to deal with that!

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Almond nails

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Nail Shape guide

Who is it for:

Celebrities love this option to bring a sense of glamour to the red carpet and Lippmann has become known for her rendition. “Almond nails are very slenderizing, quite sexy and still keep your nails strong,” she says. The go-to for most European women, almond nails are also known to show off jewelry with style. “To me, this is the chicest shape,” adds Lippmann.

How to DIY:

Once you’ve pushed cuticles back, look at the curve at your base and essentially mimic the same shape at the tip. This strategy produces the most flattering, elongated and consistent shape. Cuticles and the resulting nail shape will naturally vary for every woman, making your manicure look more customized to your hands, says Lippmann.

Square nails

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Nail Shape guide

Who is it for:

This statement-making shape is known to go in and out of style, though Lippmann says it’s considered super edgy and on-trend at the moment thanks to a certain platinum blonde. “Gwen Stefani loves to rock a super cool, square nail,” says Lippmann. The shape is often associated with free-spirited types who love to experiment with fun fashion and beauty looks.

How to DIY:

First, a dose of honesty: Square nails are not universally flattering on everyone, and it’s a fallacy that the shape will make anyone’s nails stronger, says Lippmann. If your nail grows straight from 1/8 to 1/4 beyond your finger, you’re a good candidate for this shape. File straight across, though never in a sawing motion back and forth as this weakens the nail. Instead, lift the file with each stroke. Then gently soften the edges with a buffing stroke or two so they don’t catch on fabrics.

Squoval nails

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Nail Shape guide

Who is it for:

This one-size-fits-all shape that marries a square base with an oval edge looks beautiful on everyone, and is the most modern choice according to our expert. “A well-kept squoval manicure evokes a sense of effortless elegance, which is both understated and chic,” says Lippmann. It’s also an ideal canvas to show off creative nail art, if that’s your style.

How to DIY:

Similar to filing an almond shape, you’ll want to push back cuticles first and then look to them as a guide to mimic the oval shape on the edge of your nail. Once your oval is finished, go back and flatten the edge by filing straight across, the way you would with a square shape. Again, be careful not to file back and forth in a sawing motion or you’ll weaken the nail. Instead, the file should lift up with each stroke. And, voila!

Oval nails

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Nail Shape guide

Who is it for:

If you’re looking to grow out your natural nails, this is the best shape to choose, says LA nail artist Fariha Ali of Enamel Diction salon. The long oval shape is more utilitarian than others, since the edges are least prone to breaking when you go about your daily life – from texting and washing dishes, to reaching into your bag to grab your keys. It’s also the easiest to maintain in the long term.

How to DIY:

Choose a file that isn’t too rough for a smoother file along the edges. Mentally divide the nail into two parts: left and right. Then file from the left towards the middle until you have rounded out that side and proceed to file from the right towards the middle. It’s important to always file toward the middle of the nail to prevent damage. Although, the amount of taper is totally up to individual preference. The narrower, more almond-shaped ovals look better with longer lengths, while a rounder shape looks more flattering on shorter nails, adds Ali.

Stiletto nails

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Nail Shape guide

Who is it for:

“This is very ladylike, but with an edge — and for me, the sharper, the better!” says nail artist Chaun P of Enamel Diction, who shapes this nail for client Khloe Kardashian. If you have digits that are on the shorter or wider side, it can look especially flattering, as it creates the look of elongated, slender fingers. While it can be done with medium to long nails, it’s much easier to shape on very long nails. If you have short nails, acrylics would be needed to achieve this.

How to DIY:

Start with a square nail, either by clipping your nail straight across or by following our directions above. Then clip the uppermost portion of the two sides diagonally into a triangle. With a file, focus on curving the sides evenly to get a teardrop shape that softens the triangle. Whatever you do on one side, do on the other side. For example, if you do three files on one side, do three on the other so that it looks symmetrical — which is key to, ahem, nailing this look.

Coffin nails

Angeliki Jackson / TODAY
Nail Shape guide

Who is it for:

Essentially a more tapered square shape, this style is ideal for long nails. The more length you have, the more options you have to play with, says LA nail artist Salina Neou of Enamel Diction, who creates the look for client Kylie Jenner. Shorter nails can still experiment with the style, but less tapering is advised for the most attractive look. “Nothing is sexier than a set of nude coffin nails, it’s super classy and chic!” adds Neou.

How to DIY:

Start with a basic square shape, either by clipping the nail across or following our directions for square nails. Then using a file that’s not too rough or too soft, file the sides at a slight angle, alternating with a few light swipes on the left, and the same number of light swipes on the right to keep things even. (In other words, don’t file one side all the way and then move to the other side, or else it’s too easy for the nail to come out uneven! Patience is key.) Once you have the symmetrical shape and length you prefer, finish the corners of the tips with quick, light filing that either keeps the edges square and sharp or soft and rounded – the preference is yours. Neou prefers square and sharp for her celebrity clients.

Short nails

If your nails are too short to create the looks above, be sure to apply cuticle oil every night to help them grow. Or, gel manicures can be a good option in the meantime. Just be sure to never peel them off yourself.

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