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Everyone has a favourite pair. Are they classic, timeless Wayfarers? Circular and white framed? Or are they the trendy, flashy look of the season?
Spring is coming, and sunglasses are an essential ‘warm weather’ accessory. Recently, trends have been quite eclectic, but where did all these inspirations come from?
Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961); wearing timeless tortoise-shell, oversized brown sunnies – called “The Manhattans” by Oliver Goldsmith
Variations of what we know today as ‘sunglasses’ have been worn for centuries by different cultures for numerous utilitarian purposes. At the beginning of the 20th century, this accessory began to take on a new shape, making its mark in celebrity culture. Film stars at the time started wearing them as a disguise in public (yes, Kim K drew her inspiration from somewhere!) and due to light sensitivity from working on brightly lit film sets (Cohen, 2014).
Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker from The Great Gatsby (2013); showcasing 1920s sunglasses style
By the 1920s, sunnies were gaining traction. In 1929, Sam Foster created the first version of mass-produced sunglasses on the boardwalk in New Jersey, which would one day become the company Foster Grants (Molomo, 2018). Throwing shade was officially in.
Sam Foster’s sunglasses empire grew throughout the decades; Carroll Grant in a 1965 ad for Foster Grants
The brand Ray Ban developed a new shape of eyewear in the 1940s for pilots fighting in the war that would become a staple in fashion: the aviators. It took a few years before this military-use uniform piece became trendy. During this decade, women wore chunky, plastic sunglasses rounded in shape; the trend was dark lenses and contrasting white frames (Molomo, 2018).
1940s, a pilot wears Ray Ban Aviators during the war
Marie Claire cover from 1940, a woman wearing the typical shape of sunglasses for the decade
Femininity and a love for futuristic pieces in the 1950s created a new style of eyewear for women. The cat-eye shape came in several variations– from dark, to light, to simple, with jewels glued on the tips (Molomo, 2018). No one can deny how glamourous Marilyn looks in these elegant glasses.
Marilyn Monroe in cat-eye tinted glasses, circa 1950s; photo by Limited Ruins
Most men at the time took to wearing Ray Ban’s latest creation, The Wayfarer. This style went down in history as well.
James Dean in Wayfarer sunglasses
The Mod influence extended to every facet of life, including accessories. In the 1960s, round, circular sunglasses were back, along with big square shapes. The trend of chunky, white plastic from years before also resurfaced for frames. Models like Twiggy made this kind of psychedelic eyewear iconic pieces of the era (Cohen, 2014).
Twiggy in iconic 60’s sunglasses
Sunglasses in the 70s became less dark and instead were lightly tinted; it showed the desire for transparency, openness and love at the time. They stayed oversized and were typically in pastels and softer tones (Webb, 2018).
Elton John in transparent sunglasses with rhinestone sparkle details, ready to perform in the 1970s; Photograph by Terry O’Neill; Morrison Hotel Gallery
Elvis Presley in aviators; Still from 2018 film, Elvis Presley: The Searcher; directed by Thom Zimmy
Ray Ban once again dominated in the 80s, with Aviators and Wayfarers the choice for both men and women.
Michael Jackson smiles in classic Aviators
Madonna and Sean Penn wearing Aviators in 1986
Sunnies shrunk down in the 90s. Celebrities started wearing small round lenses with wired frames. The lenses ranged in hue, from black to a cheerful tinted colour (Cohen, 2014).
Drew Barrymore in round sunglasses tinted with blue lenses; Getty Images
Justin Timberlake in 1998; Getty Images
After a decade of tiny sunglasses, fashion trends swung in the opposite direction; they got big again. The “bug eye” look, popular at previous times throughout history, was back. Always oversized, and often bedazzled, sunglasses in the early 2000s were worn to add an even bigger statement with their look than ever before (Molomo, 2018).
Paris Hilton, 2003; photographed by Frazer Harrison; Getty images
Designers today continue to enhance every aspect of sunglasses, whether it be the frames, lenses, or details included on them. They pull iconic ideas from each decade of history, embodying our generation’s love for eclectic styles.
Whichever trend you choose to follow when picking your shades for this year, I know we can already agree on one thing: You would look spec-tacular!