By Preston Fassel

They were the style you thought would never come back.

The trendy girl’s frame of choice in the ’50s, CatEyes were among the first exclusively female styles to emerge from the unisex wasteland that was frame selection pre-1950s, at last giving women the opportunity to differentiate their eyewear from men’s. Yet their ubiquity was also their death sentence. CatEye glasses became shorthand in the late 20th century for a particular TYPE of woman. When you saw someone in CatEye glasses, you could almost SEE the wood paneling, SMELL the smoke of a thousand cigarettes, HEAR the electronic organ music. Sort of the sister frame to browlines, CatEye glasses were too deeply entrenched an icon of the ’50s and early ’60s to survive the cultural revolution of the ’70s: The perceived docility and obliviousness of ’50s women hung CatEyes with connotations of passivity and frigidity. Unless she was a part of the nascent rockabilly subculture, a woman in CatEyes was stodgy and creepy, atavistic and rigid, and most definitely did not have a social life. Sassy librarians aside, a woman in CatEyes meant she was just plain no fun.

Not. Any. More.

In the opti-sphere of the 2010s, all that is old has been made new again, and CatEyes are no exception. Brought back from the brink of death after several decades on life support, CatEyes have been seized upon by designers seeking to recapture the aesthetic refinement of Eisenhower-Kennedy era America, reinventing classic designs for modern consumers. It’s a move that’s been a long time coming; after all, CatEyes have the rare distinction of being one of the only frames scientifically proven to be good for the wearer. The distinctive swoop of the CatEye causes an optical effect in which the wearer’s face and features appear to be drawn upward, creating the illusion that the individual is smiling even if she isn’t (and making her appear super happy if she is). As demonstrated in laboratory testing conducted by doctors from the University of Liverpool, women who are smiling (or appear to be smiling) are perceived as friendlier, smarter and more trustworthy than women who are frowning or have neutral expressions. Want to win friends and influence people? WEAR CatEyeS.

There’s almost no excuse not to wear them: Just about every brand has jumped on board. Today’s CatEye is sleeker, softer and generally more understated than in the past, allowing fashion-conscious women of the New Millennium to flatter their faces without overpowering them. Take for example Tory Burch from Luxottica, whose offerings are a veritable smorgasboard of CatEyes, ranging from the rounded-out 2021 style in zyl to the 1015, a faux-clubmaster style in steel with metallic-toned bottoms and earth-toned tops. Likewise, Nine West from Marchon, whose CatEyes are beautifully rendered fusions of contemporary fashion with ’50s style. Chief among them are a frame slated to become a modern classic, the NW5002, crafted in a shape to suit almost any face and coming in a variety of neutral chassis with colorful temples to spice the frame’s image. Those seeking something a little more bold can turn to Gucci from Sàfilo, whose CatEyes lean closer to the hipster aesthetic, coming in big, blocky models that edge close to the sharpness of traditional cats without completely slipping onto their turf. The 3559 style for example, strikes the perfect balance between 2010s chic and 1950s gauche to create a frame that’s both classy and bold at the same time and would be at home either in the boardroom or the bowling alley.

Lest any retro aficionados reading this believe the traditional CatEye they have come to love is really and truly dead, fear not: The style lives on and has indeed enjoyed a renaissance of its own, thanks to the popularity of its more understated brethren (sisteren)? Shuron Optical for instance, still offers their Nulady models, classic CatEyes that come in every possible rockabilly configuration from transparent to rhinestoned. On the newer end of the spectrum, Victory Optical is perhaps the biggest success story in making what was once a stigmatized style sought after again. Utilizing his family’s authentic ’50s and ’60s era blueprints, third-generation designer Bill Marfuggi has crafted a series of CatEyes that are genuine Atomic Chic masterpieces, ranging from the severely swank Tang to the big ’n’ brassy El Ria.

So be ye meek of spirit or bold of face, seek and find this wonderfully retro, amazingly now, new old style. With the trend just picking up steam in middle America, it’s sure to endure for the remainder of the decade, set to emblazon this era with its unique mark the same way it did the 1950s. This time around though, let’s hope it stays.

Welcome back, CatEyes. We missed you. ■

From top: MONALISA 8873 from Clariti Eyewear; ERNEST HEMINGWAY H4461 from New York Eye; KOALI 7444K from Morel; NATALIE 607 from Teka Eyewear; ELLE 13350 from Charmant Group