The History Of Trending Nail Shapes

Nail styles reflected their times, all leading up to the current nail art renaissance.
Publish date:
April 8, 2015
1980s, 1970s, 1920s, 1950s, beauty history, nail shapes

An '80s baby who came of age in the early aughts, I’ve always favored short, rounded nails to keep statement shades from making too much of a statement, if you know what I mean. Conversely, my mother was a 1980s Career Woman, who walked to work in tennis shoes before changing into her heels, had a penchant for shoulder pads, and liked her nails long, square, and red.

We were both equally convinced that the other had a sartorial screw loose.

Recently, however, I’ve realized that all of my prenatal and postnatal vitamins are doing incredible things for my nails. They are growing like weeds, and while once prone to breakage, they are now strong and healthy looking. I began deviating from my short, round shape in favor of an oval, then almond.

It got me thinking about the evolution of trending nail shapes and general manicure styles; like any fashion, it seems nail shapes, lengths, and colors stand to say something about the times we live in.

First, here’s a brief chronology of popular manicure styles in America.19th Century

Prior to the invention of nail polish, ladies kept their nails on the shorter side, bare but buffed, and neat-looking with rounded or almond tips.


Nail polish is invented as a derivative of the paint used for those newfangled automobile thingies everyone and their mom is talking about. The first color available on a mass scale is pink, and women start growing their nails out with oval tips to show their manicures off.


The oval evolves into something not quite square, but less rounded--the squoval. By now red has overtaken pink as the most popular nail shade, and women routinely wear their nails long.

'70s and '80s

The birth of acrylics gives rise to the longest nail yet, with squared-off ends. By the '80s, when the whole world apparently exploded in primary colors, people are choosing more adventurous shades.

'90s and '00s

First, nail polish stops being gendered so strictly as female; it’s not uncommon to see men wearing nail color or at least getting a manicure. Second, in response to the bold ’80s, nails become short, round, and in many cases dark or neutral shades.

Present Day

I will make the argument that we are living in the era of nail art and unprecedented experimentalism, using many different mediums for styling our nails. The pointed nail is now a thing, which seems hugely impractical, but makes for a dramatic look.

With that, let’s do a quick review of the shapes covered.

Personally, I’m going to continue to do rounded, shorter nails because I like to lift weights and, as a writer, I can’t stand tapping overly-long nails on a keyboard. However, I will continue to experiment with fun colors instead of falling back on my tried-and-true neutrals.

  • How do you shape your nails? What length do you prefer?
  • Do you have anything you want to add to my history (like any knowledge about styles in other countries)?
  • Show me your nails!