In the great book of classic makeup looks, it’s safe to say there would definitely be a chapter dedicated to the cat eye. Think about it: It’s got ALL the makings of a technique that can stand the test of time…since it’s essentially stood the test of time. Yep, the winged look dates as far back as the 1920s—when starlet Josephine Baker helped popularize the cat eye by pairing it with super-dramatic, lush lashes. Since then, cat-eye connoisseurs like Audrey Hepburn, Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot have helped make the wing a mainstay in beauty. It has essentially left its flicked mark in every decade!
And these days, the power of the cat eye is still going strong. However, the cat eye is not to be confused with a basic winged liner look. The difference? Cat eyes are more dramatic (thicker) in general, and usually line both the top and bottom lash line (resembling the look of a real cat). A winged liner look would stay fairly close to the top lash line (in thickness) and only rim the top lash line, not the bottom. Whether the cat eye is worn in classic black, neon hues, textured glitter or an avante-garde shape, there seems to always be a time and place for the cat eye. The beauty of this technique—and the key to its multi-decade staying power—is that it works with every eye shape.
Want proof? Grab the eyeliner weapon of your choice–gel, cream, liquid or pencil– and check out these tips from celebrity makeup artists Elle Leary and Emily Oliver. They’ve both offered their expertise on applying a cat eye that anyone can do (even those of us who weren’t born with steady hands). Beginners and pros take note: To achieve a flawless flick at the wing, you’ll need an angled eyeliner brush, your chosen liner and a business card.
One thing we should explain is that the technique stays the same for everyone; it’s the thickness of the line and the length of the wing that change depending on your eye shape.
So the basic cat eye method will go as follows:
To begin, take your business card (a piece of tape will work, too) and align the edge with the bottom corner of your upper lash line. Card placement is key: Make sure you’re holding the card at an angle so the wing is going almost directly upward (at least 45 degrees) and not facing down or angled too horizontally.
Using the eyeliner of your choice, draw a line along the edge of the card. “The line should start as a continuation of your last lash, going up and out toward the outer edge of your eyebrow,” says Leary.
Then, go back and line the rest of your top lash line to your inner corner, staying as close to the lash line as possible. Do the same for your bottom lash line. Then make sure you fill in the area between the top line and bottom line at the outer corners with liner.
Now that the foundation is in place, find your eye shape below to figure out where and how much to build out the wing!
The dramatic wing of a cat eye can threaten to widen your already-wide-set eyes. Minimize the effect by keeping your wing short and pointed upward. “I love to keep the eyeliner on the waterline, using YSL Dessin Du Regard Waterproof Eye Pencil,” says Oliver. “Take care in lining the inner lower lashline and inner upper lashline. When working with a liquid, I love to extend the line inward a bit at the inner corners of the eyes to create intrigue and balance the look.”
Just as you would want to draw wide-set eyes inward, you’re going to want to extend close-set eyes outward. Make your line sleeker and longer, and slightly more horizontal, so it widens the eye shape. “I love to line the water line of the top lid,” says Oliver. “Try the Urban Decay 24/7 Glide-On Eye Pencil, as these really stay put. Make sure not to bring the liner all the way to the inner corners. Keep the focus outward to open up those eyes!”
For smaller eyes, try smudging the line a bit, as too tight or precise a line can make the eyes appear even smaller. “Oftentimes I’ll forgo a pencil and use a liquid eye shadow, such as the Giorgio Armani Beauty Eye Tint in Number 10 Senso,” says Oliver. “This pops the eye and adds structure without closing down the lid. Should you want to use a waterproof eye pencil (try the Urban Decay pencil mentioned above) just line the waterline of the top lid, and push the product into the LASHES of the top lids.” Add your wing and smudge it out, so it takes on a more smoked-out effect that will enlarge the eye area.
Long, thick and waterproof are Leary’s liner suggests for hooded eyes. “Since the lid is hooded, if you do a small line you will never see it when you open your eyes, so the thicker the better.” Leary uses Lancôme Liner Design and an angled brush to perfect this cat eye. Oliver recommends getting under that hood to let your liner take full effect. I’ll get under the top lash line and into its waterline to add some balance,” she says. “I also love to smudge the line outward a little for a sexy smokey cat eye.” For hooded and small eyes, Leary also suggests forgoing eyeliner along on the bottom lash line, as it tends to make the eyes look smaller. Instead just keep it at the outer edge of the bottom lash line.
To accentuate an almond shape, creating the look of bigger, longer, more seductive eyes, Leary says to keep the line thin along the length and through two-thirds of the eye. “At that point, intensify the thickness and finish with a semi-dramatic wing at the end” she says. For this shape, Leary also recommends bringing the liner (Leary used L’Oréal Colour Riche Eyeliner) onto the bottom lash line to really drive home the shape.
Upturned eyes take on a similar shape to almond shapes. However, they have a natural lift at the outer corners that draw them upward. This makes them ideal for a cat eye. Follow the natural uplifted shape and work the liner outward toward the temple,” says Oliver.
Downturned eyes droop slightly at the outer corners, so a wing is ideal in creating a nice, natural lifting effect. “The trick here is to start the line much higher than you would think,” says Oliver. “Try leaning your head back and making a line that points at a 45-degree angle, starting from the middle of the eye outward toward the temple.”
Because this eye shape does not have a crease, you want to keep the liner as close to the lash line as possible, and then go for a thick, elongated wing. “It really helps to give the eye some definition, shape and length.” To create a precise line Leary went over the base pencil eyeliner with a liquid formula, NYX Super Skinny Eye Marker. No matter what your eye shape, if you want your eyes to look rounder and more doll-like, or rounder, Leary suggests you keep the liner thicker in the middle of the eye and shorter at the wing. “This will create the illusion of an eye that is more curved,” she says.