Ian Prince’s Interchangeable cats eye glasses from the Fifties

Vintage eyeglasses designers, just like their modern counterparts, have striven to offer something new and different to their clientele with each release. In doing so, they have created a fascinating panoply of styles, gimmicks, and quirky details which immensely enrich the history of vintage eyewear and reveal the endless eccentricity of which the human mind is capable. In the days of the Fifties, when fashion was bursting out in an exuberant flowering following the austerity of the war years, Ian Prince, an English company, made some of the most unusual cats eye glasses of the period.

Since eyeglasses had become a fully acceptable fashion accessory and statement of good taste during this time – thanks in great measure to the need for skilled workers during the early 20th century, necessitating the education of clever children with poor eyesight and thus making the donning of eyewear a mainstream activity – people naturally wanted glasses for every occasion.

Changing cat eyes glasses to suit your mood or the circumstances you were in (shopping, at the beach, at a party, working, etc.) was a good way for people to display their fashion sense, but required them to buy several pairs of glasses and keep them on hand at most times. Buying several pairs was an expensive option, and carrying three or four pairs of glasses at all times was burdensome for anyone lacking a footman to carrying the items for them (that is, the vast majority of people).

cats eye glasses   Ian Prince, an English company of the time, came up with an intriguing technical solution for cats eye glasses construction, which may be unique in the annals of eyewear history: the “Maskerade”.

The Maskerade interchangeable trim for cat eye glasses

            The basic Maskerade cats eye glasses pair was a plain, transparent set of eyewear, with a mildly developed cat’s eye shape. The temples were also made out of clear Zylonite with embedded wires to keep them stiff and hard. If this had been the extent of the Maskerade’s features, it would have been a very drab and eminently forgettable entry in the vintage eyeware market.

However, the designers also made six different colored “masks” or interchangeable trims to attach to the Maskerade to change its appearance. These snapped into place and so could be changed in a matter of seconds for a completely different look. Each was made in one piece out of Zylonite, and fitted over the brows, bridge, and inner curve of the eyerim to give something of the exotic look of a masquerade vizard from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.

The colors were all finely speckled, to give a detailed look almost like exotic (and half-transparent) otherworldly leather. The colors included black speckles on a clear background for an extremely fine-grained “houndstooth” pattern, dark wine red (perhaps the most opulent looking tint), a rich aqua blue, bright red, hot pink, and a light orange-brown. Thus, the woman wearing the cat eye glasses could change from passionate red to cool and collected aqua in a moment.

cats eye glasses   The Maskerade was one of the most unusual solutions to the human wish for flexible fashions. Of course, it suffered somewhat from the same problem as carrying multiple pairs of glasses, which probably explains why its popularity was limited. The interchangeable trims were smaller than extra pairs of glasses, but they still represented something extra that needed to be carried, which could get lost, and so forth.

Nevertheless, this intriguing style of cats eyes glasses from the 1950s shows how designers of the time were just as willing as their forebears and descendents to experiment and “push the envelope”, creating unique and fascinating glasses variants in the process.

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