Cat eye Glasses

The Complete Guide To Cat Eye Glasses

Introduction

We are dedicated to bringing you genuine vintage eyeglass frames from the 1850s to the 1970s. We do not sell reproductions. We put a strong focus on cat eye glasses and try to always maintain a nice selection. 

Years ago when we started out there were not many modern companies manufacturing cat eye glasses. Most of the cat eye frames on the market were genuine mid century vintage frames. As time has gone by the cat eye shape has become more and more popular and now seemingly every major eyewear manufacturer is manufacturing cat eye glasses. 

We still believe in the allure of genuine vintage cat eye glasses. We give our unique perspective on cat eye glasses coming as we are from dealing with the real deal – genuine vintage cateye glasses.

What are cat eye glasses?

Cat eye glasses are eyeglass frames that are upswept in the corners where the frames meet the temples, generally with an elongated look which is similar to that of a cat’s eyes. Cat eye glasses were popular mainly during the 1950’s and 1960’s as womens vintage glasses, but if we dig deeper we can find its roots as far back as the 1930’s.

Harlequin Glasses

The earliest source of inspiration for cat eye glasses was a woman named Altina Schinasi. Born in 1907 in NYC, she went to Paris soon after graduation to study art. After graduating she settled in NYC and took her first job as a window dresser. It was during this period that she invented Harlequin Glasses. The inspiration came in the 1930’s as she was walking by an optician’s office and noticed how boring all eyeglasses were at the time. 

In her own words (from the documentary film “Altina”) “I thought, well, something better can be done than just these awful glasses that look like the time of Benjamin Franklin, Then I thought, what would be good on a face and I thought of a mask, a Harlequin mask.”

Altina used the romantic Harlequin mask worn at plays and ballroom dances as a starting point and began to cut masks into frames. She set up a Company, production and sales channels. Thus the first cat eye shaped Harlequin glasses were born.

In 1939, Schinasi won the Lord & Taylor Annual American Design Award for transforming eyewear into a real fashion accessory. Vogue  magazine credited Schinasi with revolutionizing the eyewear industry and aesthetic.  Eyeglasses had always been worn for their utilitarian purposes. This was to end.   

The history of cat eye glasses

As much as we can credit harlequin glasses as being the inspiration for cat eye glasses, cat eye frames only really took off years later in the 1950’s.

If you own an original pair of cat eye glasses you will notice how they are often full of design and decor, embellishments and stones. Even it’s shape is extreme and pointy. It’s almost as if they were purposefully made to stand out and look different. Taking a look at some of the vintage ads helps explain the reasons for this and how this came to be.

An ad for Harlequin frames from 1943 reads “No longer is the girl who wears glasses doomed to look owlish, bookish, or just plain dull. Flattering Harlequins are so gay and debonair they give your very spirits a lift!

An ad for Glamor glasses from 1954 reads: “ A collection of model spectacles designed as fashion accessories rather than as functional necessities”

An ad for Martin Wells reads “Frames your eyes in high fashion”

The message of these ads is that cat eye glasses are beautiful, fashionable, and glamorous. The marketing is trying to change the earlier narrative of vintage eyeglasses as boring and bookish medical devices. The famous Dorothy Parker line: “Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses” was no longer true. Cat eye glasses changed that.

This explains why vintage cat eye glasses were often so decorative and extreme in shape and style. There was a statement being made and a narrative being told. Today cat eye glasses do not have the same message, and the styles match that: Not as pointy, not as bold, not as decorative.

Cat eye glasses prescription

Cat eye glasses can be fitted with regular prescription lenses. If you are wearing genuine vintage cat eye glasses you need to ensure that the lenses are at least 30mm tall in order to have bifocals / progressive lenses fitted in them. Vintage cat eye glasses were generally elongated and exaggerated, and the lens height was generally between 25-37 millimeters, so while most cat eye frames can have bifocals, some are just not tall enough. Modern reproduction cat eye glasses generally do not have this issue as the shape is “modified” and not authentic, with the frames being much larger overall and the lens height much taller. While they are not the same shape as genuine vintage cat eye glasses, they do have their advantages when it comes to progressive lenses.

Cat eye sunglasses

While cat eye glasses were originally made for prescription eyewear, they were later adapted to be worn as sunglasses in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Many companies (Cool Ray etc) made budget friendly cat eye sunglasses that were unable to hold prescription lenses and could only be worn with the sunglass lenses they came with.

Large cat eye glasses

As mentioned above the size of cat eye glasses has grown significantly over the past 50 years. The lens size on womens cat eye glasses in the 1950s generally ranged between 42mm and 48mm. Today a “small” pair of cat eye glasses is 49mm, with the larger ones going up to 51, 53, 55 and even larger. The lens height (B size) on vintage cat eye  frames was 25-37mm, today they often start in the mid 30’s and go until the mid 40’s.

Many people today are looking for large cat eye glasses. Vintage cat eye glasses were worn much closer to one’s face, and faces were smaller overall. As we sell frames from 1860 it is fascinating to see how with every decade vintage glasses got wider and wider!

Cat eye glasses face shape 

What is the best face shape for cat eye glasses? We get asked this question many times and there often isn’t a simple answer. Each color, style and shape is unique and will fit different faces differently. We will dedicate another guide to help you figure out which cat eye glasses suit your face shape.

Designer cat eye glasses frames

Today almost every optical company is manufacturing and designing cat eye glasses. Some of the earliest designers were

Cat eye glasses with rhinestones 

Cat eye glasses came in all colors and and with various types of embellishments. Some had pearls, others had jewels and yet others flowers.  One of the most popular types of embellishments for womens 1950 and 1960s cat eye glasses was rhinestones. Spread throughout the front and temples, or concentrated in one area, rhinestones gave cat eye glasses much of their flair and character. Many companies made the same model with and without rhinestones. No need to guess which were more popular

Mad men glasses

Many people become familiar with the 1950s and 1960’s via their  portrayal in popular culture. Some even referring to 1960’s glasses as Mad Men Glasses. One of the more famous shows popularizing 1960’s fashion is AMC’s Mad Men. Set in the 1960’s, it is only natural for the women to be wearing cat eye glasses. From Joan Harris (Christina Hendricks) Peggy Olsen (Elizabeth Moss) to the unnamed secretaries and telephone operators, everyone is wearing cat eye glasses!

Marilyn Monroe Glasses

As the most popular eyeglass frames of the 1950’s and 1960’s, many celebrities of that era wore womens cat eye glasses. The list is long, but some of the more popular ones were Manryin Monroe, Grace Kelly, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Tura Cat Eye glasses

One of the earliest companies in the cat eye glasses scene was Tura. Founded in 1949, Tura cat eye glasses were some of the most distinctive and memorable 1950s eyeglasses frames. With their signature metal body and multitudes of floral embellishments, Tura was one of the most creative and distinctive eyewear manufacturer that existed to date. They will surely go down in the history books as a creator and innovator in the fashion scene.

Schiaparelli Cat Eye Glasses

While not as common as vintage Tura eyeglasses, Schiaparelli Glasses  made up for that with creativity and originality. Of their 100 eyeglasses in their collection, many were made out of solid gold or other precious gems. Price was not a concern when aiming to be top of the line, but that certainly had the effect that there weren’t many made and there certainly there aren’t many frames around today.

Mid Century Eyeglasses

Cat eye glasses are sometimes referred to as mid century glasses, due to the fact that they were manufactured in the middle of the 19th century. Their were many other types of vintage eyewear manufactured in the mid 19th century but cat eye glasses were by far the most popular style for women.