Would Breakfast at Tiffany’s be the institution it is today if not for Audrey Hepburn’s cat eye sunglasses? Maybe, but our money’s on no. Classically sported by stars of the golden era of film, cat eye frames were the first solely feminine style and were the epitome of glamour and sophistication.
The winged upswept corner style is widely synonymous with the 1950’s and 60’s and was often paired with a perfectly coiffed beehive and pencil skirt, however the feline frame was actually created in the late 1930's by sculptor and filmmaker, Altina Schinasi. Schinasi felt uninspired by the styles she saw in opticians window displays and wanted to create something different. Taking inspiration from Harlequin masks, she set out to design eyeglasses that "could be attractive and look good on a face" a frame that "a woman could wear on her face that would be romantic” and so the Harlequin frame, later known as the cat-eye, was born.
Credited for being the first style to make eyewear fashionable, famous wearers of the cat-eye don’t come more well-known than the aforementioned Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and the equally alluring Marilyn Monroe, who famously garbed a pair in the 1953 comedy ‘How to Marry a Millionaire’
The sunglasses Hepburn wore in Breakfast at Tiffany’s were actually custom made Oliver Goldsmith ‘Manhattan’ shades. Despite what the classic black and white stills from the film would have us believe, the frames were actually a subtle tortoiseshell effect paired with oversized green lenses.
Such was the desirability of the cat eye, women used to don a pair despite the fact they didn’t actually need a prescription. Plain lensed glasses were advertised as the must-have fashion accessory.
As this American Optical Company advert suggests, cat eyes were considered the go-to frame to ensure one looked glamorous in glasses, with the style being credited for bringing 'eye fashion to high fashion'
The cat eye look has remained popular with current designers bringing out new, re-imagined, frames like they’re going out of fashion- but, of course, they never will.