The History of Sunglasses

Those sunglasses look familiar. But what decade are they from? Retro sunglass styles each have a very poignant splash onto the fashion scene, so get to know the era and the celebrities that made them famous! Then, take a look at the History of Sunglasses for a brief lesson in the evolution of sunglasses!

The 1950s

1950s America brings to mind thoughts of the Cold War, conservatism, suburban neighborhoods, Betty Homemaker and consumerism.

The 1950s middle class loved to shop! It was the time of large sized everything, chrome, tail fin cars, shiny new appliances, and Barbie. Fashion meant the hourglass silhouette for women, fedoras for the men, and sunglasses for everyone!

Cat Eye Sunglasses

For women, the hot 1950s sunglasses style was the cat eye. With their upswept design, cat eye sunglasses were glamorous enough for icons Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn! Here Marilyn wears narrow cat eyes with a dramatic upsweep. Audrey’s cat eyes are more dramatic in size than shape.

Marilyn Monroe in SunglassesAudrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's

For the modern woman, cat eye sunglasses are a popular style of retro women’s sunglasses.

Browline Sunglasses

For the 1950s man, browline sunglasses were the rage. These glasses had a bar across the top of the frame and many times around the sides and bottom of the lenses. A rebel without a cause, James Dean was known to wear browline sunglasses. And activist Malcolm X was rarely seen without browline glasses.

James Dean in sunglassesMalcolm X in sunglasses

You can’t go wrong with a pair of browline sunglasses or men’s retro sunglasses.

The 1960s

A time of social upheaval and counterculture, The Vietnam War, the Space Race, and The Kennedys, the 1960s are referred to as the swinging 60s for a reason.

The political and social climate of the time was most definitely reflected in the fashion. The 1960s wardrobe included tie dyes, bell bottoms, miniskirts, crazy patterns, and mod style. Hairstyles ranged from the Afro, to the mop top, to long and straight on hippies, to short mod bobs.

Oversized Retro Sunglasses

All these eccentricities affected 1960s sunglasses in a big way. Huge, bug-eyed, oversized sunglasses became the rage. Iconic women like first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis made popular her large “Jackie O sunglasses.” Actress, model, and singer Brigitte Bardot was also known for big sunglasses. Here she displays another 1960s retro sunglasses trend: white sunglasses.

Jackie Kennedy in sunglassesBrigitte Bardot in sunglasses

Jackie O oversized sunglasses are a staple for the modern woman’s retro sunglasses collection.

Wayfarer Style Sunglasses

For men, wayfarer style sunglasses had their first heyday in the 1960s. Retro wayfarer style sunglasses are making a comeback right now in a big way, but in the 1960s, you would have spotted movers and shakers like Bob Dylan and Andy Warhol wearing wayfarer style shades.

Bob Dylan in sunglassesAndy Warhol in sunglasses

Today, male celebrities like Zach Galifianakis and Robert Pattinson are known for retro wayfarer style sunglasses.


The 1970s

The 1970s were a time of economic problems, inflation, a green movement, Richard Nixon, the oil crisis, Apollo 13, and Disco.

In terms of style, the 70s bring to mind polyester three-piece leisure suits, sideburns, peroxide blonde hair, and a color palate of orange, brown, olive green, and lime green.

Oversized Retro Sunglasses

Most 1970s sunglasses were big in size, and plastic, wire, and rimless frames were all popular. In the 70s, you also started seeing variations in lens color. Jane Fonda wore a lens that starts dark and fades to light in “Klute.” And so is Diane Keaton in “Annie Hall.”

Jane Fonda in Klute sunglassesDiane Keaton in Annie Hall sunglasses

Partial to Jane’s style? You need retro oversized sunglasses with a brown lens and wire frame. If you like Diane’s faded tan style, take a look at some retro style sunglasses in brown and white.

Retro Square Sunglasses

Apparently good sunglass style ran in the Fonda family. Here Jane’s brother, Peter Fonda, wears some plastic-framed rectangle sunglasses. On the cover of his 1972 album “Honky Chateau,” which features still-popular “Rocket Man,” Elton John wears square, wire sunglasses. Elton’s known for his eccentric shades, but these are pretty understated. (Notice the full beard and long hair on both!)

Peter Fonda in sunglassesElton John Honky Chateau sunglasses

If you like Peter’s 1970s sunglasses, check out these cool retro glasses. Elton fans should go with some square men’s retro sunglasses.


The 1980s

The 1980s in the US meant the fall of the Berlin wall, the Columbia Space Shuttle, the Challenger disaster, Reaganomics, Chernobyl,  the War on Drugs, the Mount. St. Helens eruption, John Lennon’s assassination, IBM’s first PC, and MTV.

As for fashion, a new wave of capitalism meant that designer clothes and eccentric style was in. Thanks to the popularity of 1980s themed parties, we all know 80s fashion is shoulder pads, jean jackets, big hair, jumpsuits, miniskirts, neon or bright colors, leggings, leg warmers, off-the-shoulder shirts, and acid wash jeans.

Plastic Retro Sunglasses

These eccentricities made their way into sunglass style as well. For women, this meant colorful, plastic stand-out frames. Princess Diana wore a pair of oversized, white sunglasses in the 80s. At the time, she would have been a newlywed and pregnant with Prince William. Even more over-the-top is Molly Ringwald in “Pretty in Pink” wearing a pair of red, winged sunglasses. Molly is known to be a great teen star who was an 80s fashionista.

Princess Diana wearing SunglassesMolly Ringwald wearing sunglasses

For Diana’s look, some white retro oversized sunglasses would give you her royal look. If you want truly eccentric, go for some red retro 80s sunglasses.

Retro Aviator Sunglasses and Retro Shield Sunglasses

A discussion of 1980s style wouldn’t be complete without the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. This photo was taken of him in 1984 when he visited the White House. His shield sunglasses are an iconic look for him. And aviator sunglasses became truly iconic on Tom Cruise in “Top Gun” in 1986. In fact, Ray-Ban aviators saw a sale jump of 40% because of the movie!


Michael Jackson at White House wearing sunglassesTom Cruise wearing aviator sunglasses in Top Gun

To get a Top Gun look, try retro aviator sunglasses with a gold frame and smoke lens. Some retro shield sunglasses with black and silver details channel Michael Jackson’s sunglasses.


The 1990s

The 1990s bring to mind Bill Clinton, the Gulf War, the Internet, Princess Diana’s death, the Hubble Space Telescope, and famous sitcoms like Friends, Frasier, and Seinfeld, and fads such as pogs and rollerblades.

The 90s saw an economic boom, which meant people were spending money on luxuries like clothes and sunglasses! 1990s woman’s wardrobe included blue jeans, oversized sweaters, boot-strap trousers, leather jackets, jean on jean, and a throwback to 60s and 70s fashions. Men wore flannel, graphic tees, loafers, cargo pants, and the business casual took-over full suits.

Retro Round Sunglasses

Wire round sunglasses were popular for women in the 1990s. Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen sported the style as did Courtney Cox. You might remember Courtney from a little show called “Friends,” which started its 10-season run in 1994.

Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen wearing sunglassesCourtney Cox wearing sunglasses in 1995

To get MK, Ashley, and Courtney’s look, try a pair of retro round sunglasses.

Retro Sport Sunglasses

Sporty-looking sunglasses were popular for guys in the 90s, largely due to Will Smith’s iconic shades in the 1997 movie “Men in Black.” Jeff Gordon wore similar sporty sunglasses in 1995 when he won the NASCAR Winston Cut Championship for the first time.


Will Smith in Men in Black wearing sunglassesJeff Gordon wearing sunglasses

To get sporty Jeff Gordon sunglasses or Men in Black sunglasses, try some retro shield sunglasses or sports sunglasses.

The History of Sunglasses Timeline

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