The History of Cat-Eye Frames

Cat-eye frames are one frame that will never go out of style. Their distinctive look and celebrity following have turned them into an elegant style that adds character and flair to any look. No sunglasses collection is complete without a pair of cat-eye frames. They’re one of the most feminine styles you can find, with a unique history and a heritage that takes it from Old Hollywood to the modern era. We’re deep-diving into the world of cat-eye frames, looking at their features, what face shapes they work with, and how you can incorporate them into your style.

The history of the cat-eye design

Cat-eye frames were a style made for women by women. During the 1930s, Altina Schinasi was disappointed by the lack of style options available for women. So, she set out to design frames that would be flattering for women, taking inspiration from the masks worn in Venice. The cat-eye silhouette was chosen as it exaggerated the eyes, helping to frame your face. After searching around the city, Altina had her glasses stocked in a boutique in New York. 

Before we called them cat-eye frames, they were originally called ‘Harlequin’. In the 1940s, the thick frames had a rectangular lens, with a slight uplift at the sides to give them their distinctive shape. Early styles often featured details alongside the corners of the frame, often with stars or gold detailing. 

The 1950s is when cat-eye frames jumped into the mainstream. The frame became narrower with a pointed edge. Once Marilyn Monroe started sporting the style, every woman wanted a pair. As the trend gained momentum, cat-eye frames began to take a larger shape, moving to become the go-to sunglasses style. In 1961, Audrey Hepburn wore the style and brought the trend to new heights.

Since the 1970s, cat-eye frames have developed with increasing success, adopting more dramatic silhouettes and even larger shapes. The uniqueness of the cat-eye frame is that it remains elegant, even with contemporary design elements.

Culture adoption of cat-eye frames

Cat-eye frames have become synonymous with Old Hollywood and vintage fashion. They were immortalized by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and have been in style ever since. The frame style even took on the name Manhattan in homage to the backdrop of Hepburn’s iconic 1961 film. Some of the most famous women in the world – from Marilyn Monroe to Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Maria Callas. These were stars long before influencers became a concept.  

If you look through vintage photographs from the height of Hollywood – when stardom was in its early days – it’s hard to find a celebrity who wasn’t wearing a cat-eye frame.

During the 1980s, cat-eye frames became the go-to trend amongst celebrities. Princess Diana was frequently photographed wearing dramatic oversize frames made with metal. The extravagant shape meant that the style was compared to a face shield, making it popular with celebrities who wanted to hide away from the press.

Today’s celebrities prefer a minimalistic but oversized silhouette for their cat-eye frames with a touch of glamour on the legs. More dramatic styles incorporate a geometric shape and are smaller, closer to the size of the original cat-eye. These frames are popular with celebrities like Rihanna when they’re out partying or walking the red carpet.

Features of the cat-eye frames

Cat-eye frames have a dramatic shape, exaggerating the top of the frame, with a lighter design on the bottom. They tamper towards your temple, giving cat-eyes their distinctive shape. Cat-eye frames have a larger width on the top than the bottom. All styles of these frames have maintained this, whether it’s the smaller styles of the 1950s or the exaggerated shapes of the 1990s. 

Best fit for round face shapes

The beauty of cat-eye frames is that they’re amongst one of the most versatile styles. You want to find frames that complement your face shape. Choosing the wrong style can make your face appear shorter and frame your face in the wrong way.

The general rule of thumb is to choose a style opposite of your face shape to find the perfect match. For example, cat-eye frames are best for round face shapes as they complement the softness of the shape with geometric shapes. They help to add definition to your face, especially as they sit off your cheeks. 

If you have an angular face, it’s also worth checking out cat-eye frames. The prominent wing shape of the frames can help balance your jawline or sharp features.

How to wear and style cat-eye frames

While the cat-eye frames have been known by many names over the years – harlequin, Manhattan, upswept glasses – they’re a timeless frame that will never go out of style. They ushered in a new era of chicness for eyewear and have been synonymous with the fashion of some of the most glamorous women in the world.

You might think of cat-eye frames as ones you can only wear for special occasions, but they’re amongst the most versatile and adaptable styles that you can choose. They can take a casual outfit and give it an elevated look or bring your formal wear to the next level.

If you’re heading out for a night on the town, choose a smaller cat-eye frame with a rectangular shape. You can pair them with anything from a little black dress to a twinset and blazer. You can take styling inspiration from supermodel sisters Gigi and Bella Hadid.

Your cat-eye frames can be worn with everything, from an athleisure look for your morning coffee run to a bikini to wear at the poolside. Or keep it classic and channel your inner Jackie Kennedy by pairing denim jeans with an oversized button-up and tote bag. Your cat-eye frames will give the outfit a chic finish. For more looks, check out our Pins and send us some suggestions to be included on the board.

At Mosey Style, our handmade bamboo sunglasses come in several options of cat-eye frames. They’re a sustainable alternative to plastic sunglasses that look stylish to wear while protecting our environment. You can check out our handmade bamboo and wood sunglasses here.