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Sunglasses Styles Throughout the Decades

Wearing sunglasses protect your eyes from harmful UV rays and the glare from the sun. However, the right pair of frames can showcase your personality and make a bold fashion statement. Like everything in fashion, there are trends that change throughout the years. The following are decades of shades.

Shady Beginnings

Sunglasses were by no means a new technology when it started to become popular in the 1900s. Even in prehistoric times, there is evidence of the Inuit people who would wear flattened walrus ivory glasses to block the harmful sun rays. Nero, the Roman emperor, would watch gladiator fights through his glasses which were made out of polished gems.

It wasn’t until the beginning of the 20th century that sunglasses started to become more widespread with Hollywood movie stars. Celebrities would love them because it hid their eyes and, therefore, concealed their identity. Sam Foster, mass-produced inexpensive sunglasses in America in 1929. People would buy them to protect their eyes from sun rays and imitate their favorite celebrities.

Sunglasses in the 1930s

Round

Around this time is where sunglasses popularity really started to take off. The mass-market sunglasses were round frames. The focus in this decade was to increase the popularity of sunglasses and not rapidly changing trends.

Round Sunglasses, like the one worn by Bette Davis, were popular in the 1930s.

Flim actress Bette Davis wearing round sunglasses. Image from vintagedancer.com

Sunglasses in the 1940s

Ornate

Around this time, pilots in World War II were wearing aviator sunglasses, but this wouldn’t be available to the mass public until years later. Instead, the people at home reinvented the round sunglasses. They gravitated towards thick, colorful frames and some of the shades even resembled flowers.

During World War 2, people at home reinvented the round sunglasses. They had ornate sunglasses that were thick and colorful and some of them resembled flowers.

These round flower frames are worn by two women. Image from crfashionbook.com

Sunglasses in the 1950s

Cat-eye

This decade is where things really start to spice up. People moved away from the round trend and go into the cat-eye style. Celebrities like Aubry Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe is what really made this style of frames take off.

For women, in the 1950s Cat Eye glasses became very popular. This picture shows Marilyn Monroe wearing the popular cat eye glasses in a film
Marilyn Monroe wearing cat-eye sunglasses. Image from selectspecs.com

Browline

For the men, the browline style was a popular choice of sunglasses. This sporty style was worn by popular activist figures like Malcolm X.

For men, wearing browline glasses, like the one Malcolm X is wearing, were all the rave in the 1950s.
Malcolm X sporting stylish browline glasses. Image from nerdglassesfashion.com

Sunglasses in the 1960s 

Square

In the 1960s, the sunglasses styled deviated from the typical round shape. Large square frames were in style, especially with bright, neon colors. Stars like Twiggy and Francoise Hardy is what really made this style famous.

Square sunglasses frames were in style in the 1960s. Francoise Hardy wore these white square sunglasses.
Francoise Hardy wearing her signature square sunglasses. Image from pinterest.com

Teashades

People like Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Ozzy Osburn were some of the stars that kicked off this trend for men.

The teashades sunglasses were used by varies icons in music, especially during the 1960s. This picture shows John Lennon wearing teashades sunglasses with yellow lenses.
John Lennon wearing his iconic Teashade sunglasses. Image from gotshades.com

Sunglasses in the 1970s

Oversized

Oversized sunglasses became iconic after Jackie Kennedy started wearing them in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Around the same time, hippies were also using large shades, but of softer colors and with lighter lens colored compared to the frames of the ’60s.

Jackie Kennedy would wear oversized sunglasses to hide from paparazzi.
Oversized sunglasses became a signature look for Jackie Kennedy. Image from Pinterest.com

Sunglasses in the 1980s

Aviators

Even though aviators have been around since World War II, these shades really exploded in the ’80s. This was after the movie Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.

In the 1980s' movie Top Gun, Tom Cruise wore Ray-Ban Aviators.
Tom Cruise as Maverick in the movie Top Gun wearing Aviators. Image from yahoo.com/lifestyle

Colorful

A new plastic, Optyl, came out during this time gave the ability to form glasses into heart-shapes, create shutter shades, and even tortoiseshell frames. The big hair in the 80’s matched the big personalities of the frames that were coming out and famous people like Madonna helped bring them into the spotlight. Even Princessa Diana would wear bright sunglasses.

The 1980's was a time of big hair and bright colors. Princess Diana would sometimes match her sunglasses to her outfits.
Princess Diana is wearing colorful white and red sunglasses to match her red and white outfit. Image from instyle.com

Sunglasses in the 1990s

Small Ovals

At the end of the century, big shades were being ditched and small glasses were in. It was wired frames with mostly dark lenses. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Courtney Cox were spotted wearing shades like this. Even young Britney Spears would wear small oval sunglasses, however, she would use more neon colors instead of the darker ones.

Small oval wired sunglasses were worn a lot in the 1990s. Black and grey lenses were more typical, but colorful lenses were also worn. Like the purple lenses Britney Spears has on her small oval frames.
Small oval glasses with purple lenses worn by Britney Spears. Image from marieclaire.com

Sporty

The sporty sunglasses for men served a more functional purpose than it did a fashionable one. It was mainly used by sports figures like NASCAR driver Jeff Gordan and everyday athletes. 

Sporty sunglasses became very popular among men in the 1990s. Jeff Gordon would wear them frequently, including when he won the NASCAR Winston Cup Champion in 1998
Jeff Gordon in his sporty sunglasses after his 1998 NASCAR Winston Cup Champion win. Image from auto.howstuffworks.com

Sunglasses in the 2000s

Bug Eye

These are kind of like the oversized sunglasses Jackie Kennedy used to wear back in the day, but bigger. These are round frames that resemble eyes of bugs. Celebrities like Nicole Richie and the Olsen twins tended to gravitate towards these sunglasses.

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, among other celebrities in the 2000s, wore bug eyed sunglasses. These sunglasses are big and round which resemble eyes of bugs.
Wear bug-eyed sunglasses like the ones worn by the Olsen Twins. Image from pinterest.com

Blinged Out Designer

Designer sunglasses with rhinestones were also popular. People like Paris Hilton would wear frames like these.

Blinged out sunglasses were a popular trend in then 2000s. People like Paris Hilton wore designer sunglasses with rhinestones.
Paris Hilton is showcasing her rhinestone sunglasses while posing for pictures. Image from yournextshoes.com

Today

It is still unclear what the standout trend is. But there is a lot of gravitation towards vintage frames as well as newer looking sunglasses. Mirrored sunglasses with pricey designer frames also seem to be rampant on the streets.

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