Illustration of a single eye with cateye makeup.
Illustration by Miki Kim

The New Yorker: Cat eyes, like leopard print and red lipstick, always seem to cycle in and out of fashion. But, this year, the cat eye—a sinuous black line drawn across the top of the lid which flicks up at the corner—left the confines of a makeup trend and became ubiquitous, boomeranging from runways in Paris to red carpets in Venice and across the cultural landscape. Cat eyes could be spotted on television and in film, trending on TikTok and Instagram, and even winding their way through books and pop songs. Usually, a cat eye feels nostalgic, even a bit cliché, evoking Sam Haskins and “Cowboy Kate,” Edie Sedgwick, or the old-world sophistication of stars like Sophia Loren, Meena Kumari, and Eartha Kitt (who not only wore a cat eye, but even played Catwoman on TV). In the past year, though, the style evolved into something much more dynamic and confrontational. Suddenly, there were spiky cat eyes, reverse cat eyes, double-winged cat eyes, bejewelled cat eyes, smoky cat eyes, and more—the bolder the line, the better. Less Jean Patchett on the cover of Vogue in 1950, more Dua Lipa in bustier minidress, fishnets, and rhinestones.

Diana Ross in costume as Tracy in “Mahogany.”
Diana Ross in costume for the 1975 film “Mahogany. ”Photograph from Silver Screen Collection / Getty
Twiggy in 1967.
A 1967 photograph of the model Twiggy’s mod makeup. Photograph from Michael Ochs Archives / Getty

Why this year? Our body is a battleground, as Barbara Kruger famously warned us, thirty-three years ago. The cat eye might be an attempt, however superficial, to draw a line. With that in mind, here are a few of the more prominent cat eyes that we noticed in 2022. Some are quite innovative, others more retro in spirit. Either way, they made an impression.

Hunter Schafer in scene from “Euphoria” Season 2.
Hunter Schafer, playing the character of Jules, in a scene from the second season of “Euphoria. ”Photograph by Eddy Chen / Courtesy HBO
Alexa Demie in scene from “Euphoria” Season 2.
Alexa Demie, playing Maddy. Photograph by Eddy Chen / Courtesy HBO

The Euphoric Cat Eye

The cat-eye trend kicked off in January, with the première of “Euphoria” ’s second season. With many of the characters in highly decorated cat eyes, the show’s makeup artist, Donni Davy—who I believe is changing the way we wear makeup—conjured a defiant teen glamour that stood in buoyant contrast to the despair rippling through the series like an undertow. Her cat eyes were accented by bright pops of neon color or decorated with “rhineys”—Davy’s nickname for rhinestones. In the first episode of the season, the character of Maddy (played by Alexa Demie) wears a pointy, elongated cat eye with glitter lining the creases of her eyelids, otherwise known as a glitter cut crease; in a later episode, she sports a pair of razor-sharp double wings. Maddy’s cat eyes, Davy told me, function “as armor for her everyday life. When we see her without her winged liner, she looks so much more . . . tender.” Maddy’s best friend turned foe, Cassie (played by Sydney Sweeney), also wears double wings, albeit in softer hues, an unintentional symmetry on Davy’s part that turned out to perfectly highlight their differences. Even Jules (played by Hunter Schafer) shows up with tiny triple wings—or “horns,” as Davy calls them—which allow her to float beatifically above the high-school fray.

Julia Fox outside the Schiaparelli show.
Julia Fox attends Paris Couture Week in January, 2022. Photograph by Edward Berthelot / Getty

The Chaotic Cat Eye

Oh, Julia Fox. The “Uncut Gems” actress has a flair for going viral (see “Unka Jahms”), and, whether you like or dislike her attention-seeking ways, you can’t deny that she was a frequent topic of conversation this year. Somewhere, in between arriving at the winter couture shows with Kanye West, in the midst of his divorce, and posing for Juergen Teller on a grimy New York City snowbank, Fox (who recently released a TikTok affirming that she stands with the Jewish people) began to rock several seriously chaotic cat eyes. Initially, she tended to paint both of her eyelids with charcoal smudges; the result called to mind a mask that could have come from Fox’s days as a dominatrix. (She gave a tutorial on her Instagram; the look also became a TikTok filter.) Later versions saw more swooping lines, empty spaces, and colored flames set beneath bleached or pencilled-in eyebrows. Fox likes mess and disruption, so it makes sense that she’d push the cat eye to its extremes. But I also think her penchant for the look speaks to her unrivalled self-confidence. Take last spring’s viral interview at an Oscar after-party. “I don’t like to speak of things before they’re finished,” she said, of her upcoming book, her big, bold cat eyes in place. “But it’s so far a masterpiece.”

A look from Tom Fords SpringSummer 2023 fashion show.
A model in Tom Ford’s Spring/Summer 2023 show, at New York Fashion Week. Photograph by Victor Virgile / Getty
A look from Thom Brownes SpringSummer 2023 fashion show.
A runway look from Thom Browne’s Spring/Summer 2023 show, at Paris Fashion Week. Photograph by Saviko / Getty

The Runway Cat Eye

I was riveted by the clip of Paris Hilton sashaying down the Versace runway at Milan Fashion Week, this September. It wasn’t just that the heiress turned reality star turned d.j. was back, dressed as a Barbie bride, in a hot-pink veil and matching fingerless lace gloves, but that she was sporting a dramatic cat eye, which added a touch of grownup insouciance to a cotton-candy look that seemed like a clear reference to Hilton’s heyday in the early two-thousands. Cat eyes appeared to be the default makeup choice for most designers this year; against an eclectic array of fashions, they became a kind of easy reference to glamour, from Molly Goddard’s sharp lines in her ruffled-and-knit Fall 2022 collection, last February, to the elongated cat eyes in the prep-meets-punk Chopova Lowena Spring 2023 show, last September. At Balenciaga’s July couture show, a campy medley of models, including Nicole Kidman, Kim Kardashian, and Netflix’s docusoap sensation Christine Quinn, walked the runway wearing various wings, flicks, and strokes. Seeing the look in so many collections reminded me of the utilitarian quality of the cat eye—it really does go with anything.

Elizabeth Taylor seen doing her makeup on the set of “Cleopatra.”
Elizabeth Taylor touches up her eyeliner, in a behind-the-scenes photo from the set of the 1963 film “Cleopatra. ”Photograph from Bettmann / Getty

The Cleopatra Cat Eye

Who wore the cat eye best? There really is only one answer: Cleopatra, a woman whose power and kohl-lined gaze have remained fixed in our historical imagination for more than two thousand years. This year saw the release of a clever début novel by the L.A.-based author Coco Mellors, called “Cleopatra and Frankenstein,” which features a young British woman, Cleo, who falls in love with an older, self-made man, named Frank, in 2007 New York City. Cleo is a broke artist, seemingly uninterested in succumbing to conformity or professionalism; when the two first meet, she has drawn “thick black wings over her eyelids, 1960s style, finishing each flick with a tiny gold star.” Her cat eyes feel like code for a certain kind of self-possessed literary heroine. As a persona, Cleopatra lives on in many forms, from Elizabeth Taylor’s memorable 1963 film role to Stacy Schiff’s 2010 biography, “Cleopatra: A Life,” to the Gal Gadot remake that will reportedly arrive in theatres in 2023. Meanwhile, the hunt for the real Cleopatra’s tomb continues: an archeologist named Kathleen Martinez and her team just discovered an underground tunnel beneath the temple of Taposiris Magna, on the outskirts of Alexandria, which might provide new clues.

Ziwe Fumudoh behind bars in a sketch on “Ziwe.”
Ziwe appears in sketches for her eponymous Showtime show. Photograph by Greg Endries / Courtesy Showtime
Ziwe Fumudoh behind a podium on “Ziwe.”
Photograph by Greg Endries / Courtesy Showtime

The Pointed Cat Eye

The writer and comedian Ziwe’s late-night talk show, “Ziwe,” premièred its second season, on Showtime, this year. Ziwe rose to fame with the success of “Baited with Ziwe,” a low-budget YouTube series that débuted in 2017, in which she questioned non-Black guests on their knowledge of race and politics. On the show and its subsequent Instagram Live iteration, the host asked guests how many Black friends they had, and quizzed them on Malcolm X’s life; the answers were often cringeworthy, partly owing to their candor and partly because her guests seemed eager to prove that they understood their privilege and were open to criticism. Ziwe’s new show takes the same format and recasts it with higher production values and better-known figures (Emily Ratajkowski, Charlamagne tha God). The result is a little less charged, and a little zanier. As a host, Ziwe is fond of wearing an exaggerated cat eye in purple, green, or pink eyeliner, which, along with the powder-blue tweed jackets, pink furs, and crystal-studded chokers she favors, calls to mind a millennial Joan Rivers.

Audrey Hepburn holding a parasol.
Audrey Hepburn’s iconic cat eye is making a comeback. Photograph by Herbert Dorfman / Getty

The Everyday Cat Eye

At some point this summer, on my way to meet a friend for a drink, I saw a young woman in shorts and a T-shirt sitting on a park bench, her head buried in a book. What caught my eye was her makeup—she had a bold, dramatic cat eye that flared out past the edge of her brows in thick, declarative lines. Next thing I knew, my Peloton instructor was wearing a cat eye as I grunted through her Pilates class, and a fellow-mom at my child’s day care was sporting one at the afternoon pickup. Walking through the Lower East Side one evening, I counted not one but four pairs of cat eyes on the street. These cat eyes seemed to be less about referencing the high-gloss beauty standards of the nineteen-sixties (think: Brigitte Bardot or Audrey Hepburn) and more about drawing a “Keep Out” sign across your face. They were often worn against bare skin, with no lipstick. All this emphasis on the eyes, I suspect, was in part a response to wearing masks throughout the pandemic, but it was also a reminder of the way that makeup norms have shifted. Foundation has become increasingly unpopular. Makeup is less about perfection than about expressing one’s individuality or a sense of playfulness. (Just consider these literal cat-shaped cat eyes, on the rock band the Linda Lindas.) On TikTok and Instagram, I observed countless tutorials and memes featuring the cat eye or one of its many variations, from the siren eye to the reverse cat eye. My favorite was one in which the voice from the Mortal Kombat games bellows, “KITANA WINS. FLAWLESS VICTORY,” followed by a bladelike slicing sound.

Taylor Swift in 2022.
Taylor Swift at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards. Photograph from Axelle / Bauer-Griffin / Getty

The Killer Cat Eye

Speaking of blades slicing through the air, cat eyes had one of their most dramatic moments of 2022 when “Midnights,” the record-shattering Taylor Swift album, dropped, in October. A song called “Vigilante Shit” opens with Swift singing, “Draw the cat eye, sharp enough to kill a man.” (Swift, as her fans know, is fond of the cat eye; in a music video for another song on the album, she wears at least three different kinds.) “Vigilante Shit” is a revenge tune—the pop star loves to keep score—and it’s believed to be about the entertainment executive Scooter Braun, whose former company Ithaca Holdings acquired the rights to Swift’s catalogue, in 2019, only to sell them again, to a private-equity company, in 2020. Her alleged jabs at Braun are satisfying to catch. (“While he was doing lines / And crossing all of mine / Someone told his white-collar crimes to the F.B.I.”) But the song is also a reminder of Swift’s ability to take a feminine gesture like the cat eye and make it lethal.

Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.”
Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde. ”Photograph Courtesy Netflix
Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll in “Dont Worry Darling.”
Olivia Wilde and Nick Kroll in “Don’t Worry Darling. ”Photograph by Merrick Morton / Warner Bros. / Everett

The Retro Cat Eye

Two movies this September, “Don’t Worry Darling” and “Blonde,” used the cat eye as a throwback to the nineteen-fifties, at once evoking a nostalgic allure and underlining the era’s repressive treatment of women. Olivia Wilde’s dystopian film was shot in the kitschy idyll of Palm Springs, California, conjuring a manicured suburbia in which all the men seem to work in mysterious government-related jobs while the women blithely stay at home, day-drink, and host intricate dinner parties to keep their husbands happy. Wilde played an alcoholic housewife named Bunny, whose hooked cat eyes hinted at the cost of maintaining a “Stepford Wives”-level sense of decorum. With “Blonde,” Marilyn Monroe is brought to life by the Cuban and Spanish actress Ana de Armas, under the direction of Andrew Dominik. Monroe, perhaps more than any other woman, helped popularize the cat eye, and de Armas is rarely without it throughout the film. (Monroe was fond of adding a small flick on her lower lash line to create a sleepy, sultry effect, according to the makeup artist Lisa Eldridge.) I found “Blonde” to be deeply disturbing for its obsessive fetishization of a woman’s pain. Watching it made me think about how Monroe remains a kind of surface onto which we project our own anxieties about celebrity and fame, as demonstrated by Kim Kardashian whittling herself down by sixteen pounds for the Met Gala, this spring, to fit into the legendary rhinestone-encrusted dress that the actress wore in 1962, when regaling President Kennedy on his birthday. “I thought it was a big mistake,” the designer Bob Mackie told Entertainment Weekly. “Nobody else should be seen in that dress.”

Amy Winehouse performing in November 2007.
Amy Winehouse appears in a pair of photos from 2007. Photograph by Kevin Mazur / Getty
Amy Winehouse performing in November 2007.
Photograph by Dave M. Benett / Getty 

The Iconic Cat Eye

As this clowder of cat eyes comes to a close, there are signs of a few more on the horizon. This summer, it was leaked that Marisa Abela, of HBO’s “Industry,” is likely to play Amy Winehouse in a forthcoming bio-pic set to be called “Back to Black,” directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who was a close friend of the late singer’s. I’m curious to see how Abela will transform into the English pop star. Winehouse was known for pulling beauty references from the nineteen-sixties—an unruly beehive, a thick cat eye—then updating them with denim cutoffs and a smattering of tattoos. In the same way, her music drew from the soul, blues, and jazz of the era, which she then mixed with more contemporary orchestration. Regardless, the cat eye was a defining look for the star, who died at the age of twenty-seven from alcohol poisoning. The movie, which could be released in 2024, might very well resuscitate the well-worn Winehouse Halloween costume. After all, they say that the best barometers of societal nostalgia are Halloween costumes and bio-pics.

By Thessaly La Force