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Cat-eye glasses: A buyer’s guide

woman wearing cat-eye glasses

When you think about vintage glasses, chances are your mind conjures up something in the shape of cat-eye glasses.

These frames first grabbed our attention as prescription or clear cat-eye glasses in the 1950s, but they really took off when Audrey Hepburn donned her elegant, tortoiseshell sunglasses version in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

Since then, the eye-catching style has been reimagined over and over again, working its way into nearly every glasses trend across decades. Now you can wear cat-eye glasses in dozens of different ways, from vintage-inspired, brightly colored cat-eye glasses to the subtle eyebrow arch of semi-rimless, wireframe cat-eye glasses.

How are all these different styles considered “cat-eye glasses?” While the exaggerated, upper-rim wingtip at the temple is the telltale sign of cat eyes, the bottom rim that sublimely slopes upward to the top of the wearer’s cheekbone really gives cat-eye glasses frames their signature look.

These two elements are also what make cat-eye glasses so flattering on so many faces. They draw the eye upward through sophisticated angular lines, complementing face shapes from round to rectangular. If you’re looking for the perfect pair of cat-eye glasses, consider updates to some classic styles, or go for a completely modern twist on the iconic look.

Classic cat-eye glasses 

Because cat-eye glasses have incorporated so many different trends over their half-century-plus of cultural prominence, you have a lot of options available in cat-eye styles. For those interested in the vintage, classic cat-eye glasses look, there are several variations that are retro-chic.

Black cat-eye glasses

This is the standard look, the kind that conjures up 1950s yearbook photos of young women with chunky black cat-eye glasses. And they’re still easy to find. While vintage frames may have a few rhinestones or some filigree on the wingtip, you can still find slightly played-down versions. These Ray-Ban cat-eye sunglasses offer the chunky black look with extended wingtips.

Red cat-eye glasses

The red cat-eye glasses are also a statement-making retro look: These glasses don’t hold back; they are striking both in color and design. So if you’re looking for red cat-eye glasses, go all out, like with this Moschino pair. They offer a modern twist on the classic look but are just as playful and daring. Bright pink or purple cat-eye glasses also make a statement similar to red styles but may work better with your skin tone.

Tortoise cat-eye glasses

The tortoise cat-eye glasses and sunglasses have real staying power, and today, the tortoiseshell look is still popular. Part of its appeal: You get the playful shape in an understated pattern. If you’re looking to capture the look of the cat-eye sunglasses that Holly Golightly made famous, this Hepburn pair will give you the shape. If you’re interested in a more muted, softer look, gold frames were also popular in '50s cat-eye glasses, but they don’t pop quite as much as black or colored pairs.

Rhinestone cat-eye glasses

Cat-eye glasses and rhinestones make a perfect combination and often give cat eyes their elevated, vintage appeal. While bejeweled or rhinestone cat-eye glasses are harder to find nowadays, they are still available. This Nicole Miller pair combines a semi-rimless frame — a more modern design element — with very vintage black rhinestone cat-eye upper rims.

Modern cat-eye glasses

While vintage cat-eye glasses are still stylish today, you may be looking for something that appeals to more modern sensibilities and embraces the trends of today’s glasses. If that’s the case, take a look at some of these cat-eye styles that are popular spins on the archetypal frame.

Semi-rimless cat-eye glasses

While the semi-rimless cat-eye glasses offer a twist on the typical frame, the look itself draws inspiration straight from the 1950s. The famous pair worn by Marilyn Monroe in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” have nearly clear bottom rims with accented wingtips. Nowadays, you can get the same look while completely eliminating the bulk of the bottom rim. This stunning pair of Ted Baker glasses have a marbled teal accent on the eyebrow rim that wing out slightly in the corner.

Oversized cat-eye glasses

With the oversize glasses trend still staying strong, it’s no surprise that oversized cat-eye glasses are popular as well. While cat-eye glasses’ frames are typically known for having smaller lenses that mimic the shape of an eye, oversized cat-eye glasses offer a playful alternative. These glasses ditch the bottom rim that sweeps intensely up the side of the lens and opt for a more traditional rounded, D-shape lens. These clear pink Charlotte glasses are a great example of oversized cat eyes.

Accented cat-eye glasses

While the cat-eye glasses with rhinestones, scalloped edges and metallic or sparkly filigree were popular in the 1950s, more demure, angular accents are available on today’s frames. A color-blocked version like these Prada cat-eye glasses with small shapes of contrasting color at the edge draw focus to the wing without dominating your face.

Can I pull off cat-eye glasses?

Cat-eye glasses are so versatile they look good on almost anyone. Plus, modern cat-eye sunglasses come in so many different shapes, sizes, colors and frame sizes — even the signature wing can be subtle or severe — that you’d be hard-pressed to not find a pair that works for you. With cat-eye glasses, it’s really more a question of which kind of cat eyes look best than whether you should wear them at all. 

Cat eyes that work for each face shape

  • Oval – The versatile oval face shape is defined by being longer than it is wide, with cheekbones that are slightly wider than forehead or chin. Oval-shaped faces are typically able to pull off any glasses style, including cat-eye shapes. Be bold, be daring and try something fun like a color-combination frame or a unique detail like rhinestones or a metallic accent on the wing.

  • Round – A round face has the same height and width and generally a more rounded jawline and hairline. While many styles look good on round faces, angular glasses tend to work best, and that means cat eyes. The traditional cat-eye shape with its exaggerated wing and sloping bottom rim draw attention upward and can slim a wider face.

  • Square – With a square face shape, you could effectively draw a straight line along the sides of your face, from forehead to jaw. Because square faces are more linear, rounder or curvier frames tend to contrast well with your face shape and soften strong, angular lines. In this case, you’d be looking for glasses where the bottom sweep of the cat-eye is not as severe and looks more like round-shaped glasses, and the angle of the wing is more subdued and less pointy.

  • Diamond – People with a diamond face shape have more prominent cheekbones that are wider than their forehead or chin. Because those with this face shape have stronger cheekbones than browlines, adding impact to the brow line without adding unnecessary bulk to the cheek is key. Because cat-eye glasses already emphasize the brow line, they work well on these face shapes, particularly the semi-rimless or delicately rimmed frames.

  • Heart – A heart-shaped face has a forehead and cheekbones that are the same width, with a significantly thinner chin. Cat eyes are a little more complex here, because they mimic, rather than contrast, the lines of the heart-shaped face. Standard advice is to look for a frame slightly wider than your forehead. For cat eyes, look for a more subtle wing and a deeper base that’s similar to a slightly winged D-frame.

  • Oblong – An oblong face shape is similar to an oval face shape in that it is longer than it is wide, but the cheek line is long and straight. Bold shapes and decorative details on the temple area are perfect for this face shape, so cat-eye glasses work well, especially those with filigree, color-blocked accents, unique patterns on the brow line or rhinestones.

  • Base-down triangle – The triangle face shape, which looks like a pyramid, is the opposite of the heart-shaped face. Those with this face shape have a wider jaw than forehead and the cheekbones are no wider than the chin or forehead. Standard cat eyes are ideal for this face shape because they draw attention to the top portion of the face and balance out the heavier bottom portion. They also pull the cheekbones upward, which can create slimming lines and emphasize cheery cheeks.

Regardless of your face shape, there are a pair of cat-eye glasses out there for you — you just may have to be careful to find the right combination of materials, rim shape and ornamental details or colors near the temple.

READ MORE: The best glasses for your face shape and skin tone

Buying cat-eye prescription glasses and sunglasses online

If you’re looking for the perfect cat-eye prescription glasses, you can maximize your options by shopping online. This way you can achieve the perfect balance of qualities, the right flair of the wingtip, the perfect color and the exact shape that is most flattering to your individual features.

While the process of buying prescription glasses online is a little different than walking into your local eyeglasses shop, it doesn’t have to be intimidating. Here’s a quick outline of how to buy cat-eye glasses online.

  • Get your prescription and measurements – Chances are you’ve saved it from your last visit to the eye doctor, but if not, your doctor can provide it for you. If your prescription is more than a year or two old, you will probably need to visit your eye doctor for an eye exam to get a new one. Online retailers will also tell you which measurements they require and how to get them.

  • Select an online retailer – Read reviews, browse the selection and check to see if the site accepts your insurance, if you have any.

  • Read the return and exchange policies – Make sure you’re clear on what you’ll need to do if you have to return your glasses. You may consider buying the frames from an online retailer and calling your local eyeglasses store to see if they will put the lens into your frames. This may allow you to maximize the return policy of an online store.

  • Choose your lenses – Decide what lenses are right for you: clear, single vision, bifocal, trifocal or progressive. Select any coatings like anti-scratch coating, anti-glare coating or blue light blocking.

READ MORE: Buying glasses online: A step-by-step guide

Buying vintage cat-eye glasses and sunglasses online

Truly vintage cat-eye glasses, meaning those actually produced in the 1950s and ’60s, are still available at vintage stores, both brick-and-mortar and online. Many of these frames come without lenses, but they may have clear lenses or prescription lenses that are not your own.

If you need cat-eye prescription lenses, however, you can take the frames to an eye doctor or eyeglasses store and get your prescription lenses cut and inserted into the frames.

Retro or vintage cat-eye glasses share a similar blueprint: They generally feature smaller and thinner lenses than many modern glasses, which tend to be a little larger. The entire frame is often constructed of the same material, creating a chunkier look. They also often have sparkly accents.

Vintage cat-eye sunglasses may be a little larger than clear cat-eye glasses, but they are still often smaller than other sunglasses. They often have chunkier frames in a single color or tortoiseshell, and, because of the darker lens, many have a more pronounced wingtip so the look stands out.

Not ready to commit to full-time cat eyes?

If you’re not sure you want to commit to donning cat-eye glasses full-time as your primary glasses, test drive this unique style with a pair of specialty glasses, such as reading glasses, computer glasses, blue light blocking glasses or even just classic sunglasses. 

Since you won’t be wearing cat-eye reading glasses or computer glasses all the time, you can try a daring or chunky design that is both stylish and functional.

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