Cat-eye shades just scream, “I am woman, hear me roar.” Made popular in the ‘50s by glamorous celebs, cat-eye sunglasses add the perfect amount of drama to any look. Today, cat eyes of all sizes are still sunglass staples.
Cat-eye glasses are one style that has stood the test of time. Nearly a century old, the cat-eye has managed to create its own distinct look each decade. Cat-eye glasses were first created in the 1930s. The frame later became a huge trend for sunglasses in the 1960s when Audrey Hepburn famously wore them in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Since then, we’ve seen the cat-eye on everyone from Barbie, to Marilyn Monroe, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, and today’s top fashion influencers.
Discovery Of The "Harlequin" Frame
Altina Schinasi was born in Manhattan's Upper Westside in 1907, after receiving schooling in the US she made a trip to Paris in her late teens to study art. It was here that she developed a deep passion for the subject, so she changed her choice of college to art school in New York.
Altina graduated and took up work as a window dresser on Fifth Avenue for Peter Copeland, where she would collaborate with the visionary artist Salvidor Dali. It is during this period in her late 20's that she registered her patent on the Harlequin frame. Inspired by the lack of interesting frames for women available in opticians in New York, Altina designed the first prototypes of a more glamorous silhouette. Her original shape designs were cut away from the romantic and whimsical harlequin masks worn at ballroom dances at the time and it is from this mask that the cat-eye shape got its first name "Harlequin".
After initial scepticism from stores, Altina grew her business substantially over the 1930s as women across America voted with their wallets and purchased these fun, playfully shaped feminine frames. In 1939 Altina was awarded the Lord & Taylor Annual American Design Award for her avant-garde transformation of the eyeglass frame into a proper fashion accessory. Vogue and Life magazines credited Schinasi with revolutionizing the eyewear industry and aesthetics.
Altina exited the eyewear business in the early 40s to continue her other passions including painting, sculpture, film making and the anti-fascist and civil rights movements.
Rise In Popularity Cat-Eye Glasses
Throughout the post-war years, the popularity of the cat-eye frame for prescription lenses soared. Eyewear companies started to truly cater to the market for feminine frames adding stylistic touches such as diamante, gold stars and elaborate flairs to the tips of the frames.
Everyone from movie stars like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, politicians like Shirley Chisholm, professional women and stay-at-home mothers favoured the cat-eye silhouette, which tended to be smaller with a super-exaggerated, upswept flair. Cat-eye shaped eyeglasses made waves in the 1950s. Worn by the idolized Marilyn Monroe, these iconic glasses featured an upsweep at the top of the frame and were available in a variety of styles. These glamorous glasses could even incorporate rhinestones and gems.
When Audrey Hepburn's character Holly Golightly wore the large tortoiseshell oversized cat-eye "Manhattan" glasses by Oliver Goldsmith in the movie "Breakfast At Tiffany's" that was it. The cat-eye glasses frame was now number one. Sophisticated, feminine, romantic, and seductive all in one this larger silhouette opened up the cat-eye design to a whole new audience thanks to the addition of tinted lenses. Previous to Breakfast at Tiffany's, winged-out glasses had been worn by Hollywood starlets such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor, but throughout the 60s the style was more accessible to a larger amount of women through the addition of tinted lenses.
After the surge in popularity of the 60s, throughout the 70s the eyewear world was getting shuck up by funky large square and circular designs made famous by Jackie O. Whilst the frame stayed in manufacture it was no longer the dominant silhouette on the street and throughout the 90s and early noughties, they became associated with your Grandma's frame as opposed to being fashion-forward!
Design of Cat Eyeglasses
The original cat eyeglasses of the 50s and 60s were exaggerated in shape and often had small lenses that were upturned towards the outside of the face. This style of frame has been through peaks and dips in popularity since withstanding the popularity of round frames, aviator-style frames, and bug eyeglasses in the 70s.
Cat eyeglasses, and especially sunglasses, today have larger rounder lenses that suit a variety of face shapes and have large but gentle winging out of the frames. Compared with the past, cat-eye frames available at the moment have a more subtle and chic appearance, depending on the particular choice of frames. Thick dark frames like the Converse Jack Purcell P001 make a sophisticated statement, while thinner frames like the Anna Sui AS214A are more playful and can be more flattering on some face shapes.
Some glasses wearers steer clear of coloured frames, but these work very well for cat eye shapes as they play on the idea of modern pin-up fashion. A number of designers have introduced coloured winged out frames, such as the Versace.
In recent years we’ve seen the feline frames gracing the faces of stars such as Jessica Alba, Olivia Palermo, Dita Von Teese, Nicole Richie, Katy Perry and Zoe Saldana, to name just a few.
Can I pull off cat-eye glasses?
Truly a versatile style, cat-eye frames suit a variety of face shapes, and the pair that best suits you depends on your most defined facial features. Round faces will look best in frames with bold, angular lines; these striking details will help to sharpen soft facial features and rounded jawlines.
Faces with more angular or prominent features, on the other hand, would look best in a round or oval-shaped pair of cat eyeglasses. The winged cat-eye shape will help to balance wide jawlines of square or triangle faces, while the rounded lens will soften sharp features.