Let’s face it – sunglasses are not just for the sun anymore. Yes, of course, it’s great that they help protect our eyes from the harmful rays of the sun, but these days, sunglasses are a must-have accessory for every fashionista. They can help elevate an outfit from ordinary to something chic and sophisticated. They can also help to make us feel like we are on trend. A good pair of sunglasses truly is amazing and their history and how they came to be the “IT” item in our accessories list is even more extraordinary.
History tells us that some of the earliest references to sunglasses were through The Roman Emperor Nero, wearing polished gems as he watched gladiator fights. The Chinese also used sunglasses in the 12th century. The interesting thing though is that sunglasses, back in the day, didn’t have UV ray protection - they just protected the eyes from the glare of the sun.
Fast forward to the 20th and 21st century, sunglasses with UV ray protection have become a staple. We’ve seen Hollywood’s starlets rocking them not only on the red carpet but in their daily lives. Now we’d like to take you on a journey of the history of arguably the number 1 summertime accessory – sunglasses.
25 The Wireframe Round Sunglasses (1910s)
The original sunglasses were round in shape and they had wireframes. Sunglasses were pretty much basic in these days and not much versatility was seen. While we now see eyewear of different shapes and can be advised to purchase different styles, according to the shape of our faces, the style here was just simple – small and round. This particular style could largely be seen as a style that has stood the test of time because even in this 21st century, many designers and manufacturers are still heavily influenced by it.
24 Sunglasses Start To Be Seen As Accessories (1920s - 1930s)
Mass production of inexpensive sunglasses took place in 1929 after Sam Foster started selling them to beachgoers. This, in turn, made them a must-have accessory when people were outside. This era still had the round shaped sunglasses we spoke about earlier but an interesting phenomenon was occurring – sunglasses were beginning to be seen as more than just protective eyewear. Sunglasses were now seen as a fashion statement. Hollywood starlets and many popular sports stars were regularly seen rocking a pair of their own.
23 A Play On Frames (1940s)
As both men and women were beginning to wear sunglasses more, many manufacturers and designers were starting to emerge and one can imagine that they had to create eyewear that would stand out. This gave rise to the interesting frames that were evident in the eyewear of the 1940s. As seen in the pic above, round frames were still quite popular, but they were now becoming thicker and had various patterns. Plastic frames were a big hit with women. Another big hit was thick white framed sunglasses, with dark lenses.
22 The Cat-Eye Emerges (1950s)
By the 1950s, pretty much everyone was wearing sunglasses as they were the undisputed fashion must-have item. The most popular style in the 50s was the cat-eye sunglasses. The frames were plastic and sometimes had a dab of sparkle on them. This was the retro era and the cat-eye influenced not just sunglasses, but spectacles, as well as they, also had this shape. This is one of the most popular eyewear shapes for women and the style is still very much popular these days.
21 The Wayfarer Is First Introduced (1950s)
Now, anyone who is an eyewear fanatic has themselves a couple of Wayfarer shaped sunglasses in their closet. They have the shape that goes perfectly with every face shape – whether your face is round, oval, square, heart-shaped…you will look good in a pair of Wayfarers.
Ray-Ban introduced this iconic shape in 1956. It is interesting to note here that while women were mostly wearing cat-eye sunglasses in this era, men were loving the Wayfarer as they initially were viewed as having a “masculine look”.
20 Browline Glasses Are Popular (1950s)
Along with The Wayferer, Browline glasses were a popular eyewear style for men in the 50s. We may now know them as a “Clubmaster style”, but “clubmaster style” specifically refers to the sunglass variation of this eyewear and they got popularised in the 80s. Browline glasses bring a particular focus to the wearers eyebrows by having a thick or dark material along the top of the frame and temples. Browline glasses were made popular by many public figures in the U.S, including human rights activist Malcolm X.
19 Rise Of The Square Sunglasses (1960s)
The 1960s brought with it its own shape for eyewear – the square-shaped sunglasses. Famous French singer-songwriter, Francoise Hardy, along with pretty much every woman who was on trend back in this day, could be regularly seen wearing a pair of thick-framed, white sunglasses that were square in shape. You’ll notice that this era in sunglasses was a continuation of the thick and white frames mentioned in the 1940s earlier, the only difference was that the shape was now square.
18 Men's Take On Sunglasses (1960s)
By the 1960s, men’s sunglasses were not as experimental as woman’s. Yes, men could previously be spotted wearing a pair of Wayfarers but unlike women, who had the fun play on frames that became popular in the 40s, men’s eyewear was great but pretty much – basic.
Iconic musician, Boby Dylan is part of the first men who wore sunglasses as a fashion statement back in the 60s, just like women. Dylan had a variety of sunglasses but he was often photographed with the square framed style, which was on trend. The female versions of this style had thicker frames while the male versions of the eyewear were generally darker.
17 The Aviators Are Much-Loved (1970s)
Now, how on earth are we going to have a breakdown of the history of sunglasses and not mention the iconic style of The Aviators? Although the first pair was created in the 30s, Aviators became a fashion statement only later on around the 1970s. They were originally created by Bausch & Lomb to protect the eyes of pilots from the sun (hence the name) and then later became trademarked as Ray-Bans. The Aviators were regularly worn by Elvis Presley, as well as other music stars.
16 The Oversized Trend (1970s)
Big, oversized sunglasses, have been popular for decades. You will notice how from the 1910s, where we started this list, eyewear was becoming bigger and bigger as the decades progressed. The oversized eyewear trend became a staple for women back in the 70s. An individual who could be attributed to making this a trend was former American first lady, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. There are very few pics where she stepped out without a pair of these and sure enough, women all over followed this classic look.
15 Big, Loud And Colorful '70s
While Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis regularly stepped out with a pair of oversized black sunglasses that gave a classic chic look, there was another style of sunglass around – the big, loud and colorful sunglass. This trend can largely be attributed to the disco music style that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s. The music was fun, upbeat and had a feel of the American urban nightlife scene. Sunglasses were not just big and colorful, they were also bedazzled on the frames.
14 The Wayfarer Takes Center Stage (1980s)
The Wayfarer is a classic style that has been on trend through different decades so it’s no surprise to see them back on the list again. After their popularity in the 50s, sales began to decline with the introduction of the big and oversized trend of sunglasses previously mentioned. Ray-Ban brought them back by signing a deal with Unique Product Placement in the 80s, and this involved the placement of the sunglasses in movies and television shows. The style was then seen on numerous films and tv shows and after Tom Cruise wore them in Risky Business, they pretty much took center stage.
13 Both Men And Women Rocked The Wayfarer Trend (1980s)
Perhaps the most loved aspect about The Wayfarer is the fact that not only can it be worn by people with different face shapes, the style is also loved and worn by both men and women. There are only a few styles of eyewear that can claim to be suitable for the female and male faces and the classic Wayfarer is one of them. In the 80s, both male and female stars, as well as regular people, were seen rocking this style.
12 The Aviators Make A Triumphant Return (1980s)
It is interesting to note here how a lot of the styles keep returning to fashion. The Aviator is one of the sunglass trends that has returned to fashion a few times over the decades, since their inception. They made their triumphant return in the 80s and it was largely because of Tom Cruise and his 1986 movie Top Gun. Perhaps one thing to appreciate about Aviators is how they pretty much don’t change much in terms of shape or form – compared to other styles.
11 A Colorful Era (1990s)
If you were around during the 1990s, then there’s definitely one thing you cannot dispute – the decade was filled with color…lots of it. Just like the celebrities of the previous decades were rocking the sunglass trends of those eras, 90s celebrities were hardly ever seen without a pair of colorful sunglasses. The eyewear here became slightly smaller in size compared to the oversized trend that rocked the previous decades. We also saw a return of the original small and round shape and size.
10 Seriously, There Was Color Everywhere (1990s)
The colorful trend of sunglasses in the 90s has to appear twice on the list because the colorful trend simply cannot be explained in one go. The 90s brought purple, blue, pink, red, yellow, and pretty much any other color lenses to the forefront. This may not be a favored era by many people as it is often remarked how style in the 90s was pretty much “everywhere”. There were so many fashion styles that emerged from the 90s that this colorful trend was definitely not a surprise.
9 Simple Black Sunglasses At The End Of The 90s
Okay, so maybe there was a bit of an overdose in the 90s in terms of color. Maybe the top designers all got together and said to each other – "We love color but this is a bit too much. We need to calm down a little…return to the classic look". Whatever the reason may have been, the end of the 90s brought back simple black sunglasses to fashion. Men In Black was a blockbuster released in 1997 and had the lead actors wearing this trend.
8 Chunky White Frames (2000s)
You’ll remember that thick white framed sunglasses were first introduced in the 40s as designers were introducing a playful take on the frames. We saw them on Cat-Eye, Round and Square shaped sunglasses. The new millennium brought back these sunglasses but as with most of the trends on the list, the sunglasses came back with a bit of an edge. Many musicians were seen rocking this trend of extremely thick frames and much darker lenses, which brought an interesting contrast to people’s eyewear.
7 Bedazzled Lenses And Frames (2000s)
As mentioned in the previous item, big sunglasses were IT in the 2000s. While we know that this was not the first take of large, oversized sunglasses, one can say that the 2000s went a little extra with this trend. It was not just the chunky white frames that were seen everywhere, big and bedazzled frames were quite popular. We saw a hint of the bedazzling trend in previous eras but in the 2000s, the trend was definitely bigger and maybe even better.
6 Bug Eye Sunglasses (2000s)
If you haven’t noticed by now, big sunglasses were the fashion must-have in the 2000s. Of course, they may have come in different shapes and forms, had interesting bedazzling and thick or chunky frames, but pretty much everyone was rocking them. These sunglasses have a larger and rounder look and thus received the popular name “bug eye”. Many view Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O as the original wearers of this style but in more recent history, they were heavily popularised by celebrities such as Nicole Richie and Paris Hilton.
5 Aviators Made A Comeback (2010s)
If you’re counting, you’ll notice that this is the third time that Aviators have made it onto the list. This is because this style has been a much-loved look and it has also simply been a staple for more than just one decade. Aviators in the 2010s have come back with a more “cleaner” or simplistic look. The original style and shape of the lens are still pretty much the same. The frames, however, are thinner and you’ll notice that they were not just the classic black color anymore.
4 Mirrored Sunglasses (2010s)
Mirrored sunglasses make a strong statement in the summertime. The reflective lenses will catch your eyes and have you fixated on the colors that are being reflected back. Unlike previously mentioned styles, mirrored sunglasses have been found in all different style trends – from aviators to the wayfarer, to cat-eye, and so many more. Many different brands have been using this mirrored sunglass trend so they are not particularly associated with just one brand. Just one look at them and it is easy to understand why they have been the fashion statement of this era.
3 Geometric Shapes (2010s)
Geometrically shaped sunglasses are a fun way to make a fashion statement for any fashionista. This style of sunglasses originated from the 60s but the eyewear was not as defined as we see it nowadays. While the shape of these sunglasses back then had a few interesting shapes and lines, it is now in this era that we clearly see designers and manufacturers having cleaner, more defined lenses, as well as frames to the sunglasses. From the image, you’ll notice the mirrored lens trend is still dominating.
2 Flat-Top Visor Sunglasses (2010s)
Okay, so if you have these in your closet then you are definitely a fashionista who loves to make a bold statement. Flat Topped Visors are thick, big, and bold and demand attention. One look at them and you know they demand power. These Visors have been a staple in this decade and have been a popular choice for celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham. The Flat Top Visors are particularly black and although the lenses may be a few shades lighter sometimes, most people tend to prefer the darker shades.
1 Retro Cat-Eyes (Summer 2018)
Now, finally, at number one – the retro Cat-eye trend. We know you’ve seen this on the biggest runways and red carpets in recent history, being worn by the most fashionable people. Again here, we see the famous cat-eye returning but this time, it is a lot more geometric, with clearly defined lines. The lenses are also considerably smaller than what they used to be before.
One can say that they have been influenced by the very popular Matrix films but now, they are a lot more angular. Looking at the history of sunglasses, it is clear to see that a lot of the shapes and sizes from one decade, directly influence the next. As summer lovers, we can’t wait to see what the next trend will be.