Known as the “Manhattan”, “Harlequin” and “upswept glasses”, cat eye glasses first appeared on the eyewear scene in the 1950s. Dreamed up by socialite and designer Altina Schinasi, cat eye glasses marked a new era of chic style for eyewear lovers. Prior to the emergence of the cat-eye style, glasses were generally rounded, simply designed and focused on function rather than fashion. When cat eye glasses were introduced, it added style, color, flair and fashion to this age old utility.
While cat eye glasses were originally created to be worn only with optical lenses, the style became more accessible to a wider audience in the 1960s through the addition of tinted lenses. Audrey Hepburn kicked off the trend for cat eye sunglasses after her starring role in iconic 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, where she wore a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses designed by Oliver Goldsmith, similar to that of the bold style of the Vista Sun. People began to refer to this trendy new style with the term, “Manhattan”, a name inspired by the film’s iconic cityscape. This would be the start of something big for cat eye glasses.
While Hepburn sported the silhouette as character Holly Golightly, cat eye glasses were worn by Hollywood starlets such as Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. The style of glasses also became associated with some other fictional characters like Barry Humphries as Dame Edna Everage in the 1978 musical film Grease. In popular culture and media, whether it be the clear-lensed look similar to that our the Olive glasses or tinted sunglasses similar to our Del Rey, the cat eye style was almost synonymous with a beehive or bob hairstyle throughout the mid- and latter-half of the twentieth century.
The original cat eye glasses of the 50s and 60s were oversized, exaggerated in shape, and usually held small lenses that were upturned towards the temples of the face. Compared to their exaggerated forebears, contemporary cat eye frames tend to have a more subtle design, which allows for more flexible styling within any wardrobe. Cat eye glasses today – especially cat eye sunglasses – have larger, rounded lenses with gently winged out ends that serve to flatter a variety of face shapes. For a more traditional, exaggerated cat-eye shape, our Vista frame is a winged metal style with flared cat eye curves that comes in both sun and optical. Olive is a pared down version of Vista’s recognizable cat-eye silhouette; it follows the familiar cat-eye shape, without Vista’s acetate tips. With its flattering colorways and simple metal construction, Olive is an ideal cat-eye frame for customization. And, of course, if you’re craving a cat-eye but don’t know where to start, your best bet is our wildly popular GLCO x Clare V. collaboration sun frame.
For a frame at the intersection of cat-eye-chic and wraparound-cool, Del Rey is your best choice. This frame comes in universally-flattering black acetate, our newest tortoise, feather tortoise; and edgy, flattering pink crystal and blonde acetates. Vienna, a back-to-basics cat eye shape, is heavily influenced by the 90s with a color palette to match. Last but not least, there’s Loyola, a gently curving optical style with a slight cat-eye and a medium, feminine fit, which comes in new GLCO acetates, feather tortoise and tiramisu. When it comes to expressing your luxury style in the sun, cat eyes have enough variety to give your face a fierce new perspective. If you need help figuring out what frame will look best on your face shape, check out our guide on Choosing Glasses for Your Face Shape.
Here at Garrett Leight California Optical we only use the best frame metals and acetates and highest quality glass and CR-39 lenses to craft the best California designs. Visit us in store for the best fitting experience and get sunglass prescription lenses cut or custom lenses tinted exactly as you want them.