Eyewear: Styles through the Decades

If you've been following trends, you'll find that today's glasses and sunglasses styles make use of many trends from the past century. Vintage styles have gained popularity to combine with modern trends and technologies. But do you know which decades today's popular vintage styles come from?


In this blog, we'll go over trends from the last century of eyeglasses. Maybe you'll see or discover a trend that will inspire your own personal style.


The 1900s

Before the turn of the century, many people avoided wearing their glasses in public. But in the early 1900s, the upper classes started wearing their spectacles as a fashion statement.
The most popular style incorporated a circular wire frame and glass lenses. The French "pince-nez" style became popular in North America, largely thanks to the fact that Teddy Roosevelt wore them. The glasses have no temple wire, but sit snugly on the bridge of the nose.


Opera glasses were also popular among the high-society ladies of the time. These glasses could be easily held up to the face when they were needed, and moved away when the woman wanted to display her beauty. Some of the glasses were quite ornate, with bone handles, gold plating, or encrusted jewels.


The 1910s

Although tinted lenses were available before this time, Sir William Crookes of England invented the first spectacles that could absorb infrared and ultraviolet light. However, sunglasses didn't become popular among the public until World War II.

The 1920s
Lightweight lenses and round frames remained popular through the Great Depression. However, instead of wire frames, manufacturers used a sturdier metal and celluloid plastic. Celluloid is no longer in use because it is too delicate, flammable, and biodegradable to last long.
New metals like silver and gold plating made glasses more of a statement piece. Tortoiseshell also became quite popular because of its natural pattern. However, these glasses tended to be quite heavy and could be uncomfortable.

The 1930s
When the United States Air Force needed a solution for headaches and altitude sickness from long flights, Ray-Ban introduced some of the first polarized sunglasses to the market. The aviator-style sunglasses became popular among the general public in the late 1930s.


The 1940s

Manufacturers started moving away from simple wire rim frames and moved toward more creative designs. Changes in glass manufacturing made different shapes of lenses available to the public. Bowline frame styles took advantage of the new technology. The frames combined plastic and metal to create a style that followed the contours of the face.
The 1950s
Famous actresses like Marilyn Monroe popularized the cat eye in this era. This feminine style followed makeup trends of the time, widening the eye and adding embellishment to the face. Men preferred the more masculine wayfarer style, which featured thick black rims. Musician Buddy Holly was most notable in making the style a cool fashion statement.


The 1960s

Along with big hair and trim suits, eyeglasses grew in popularity. In this era, trends moved toward geometric designs, oversized frames, and contrasting black and white frames. Fashion forerunners Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Audrey Hepburn made supersized sunglasses the must-have item of the decade.

The 1970s
The hippies of the 1970s popularized earth tones and psychedelic colours. The trend moved back to small frames that only covered the eye, so they could be worn at the edge of the bridge of the nose and the wearer could look over the top. Musicians like John Lennon used tinted lenses in their look.

The 1980s
A wave of nostalgia hit the public in the '80s, when movies like Ferris Bueller's Day Off and Top Gun brought wayfarer sunglasses and aviators back to the forefront of popularity. However, the technology and colour trends made lightweight frames, invisible bifocals, and neon colours just as important as vintage trends. Better quality plastics allowed innovators like French designer Alain Mikli to create trapezoidal frames, bi-colour frames, and the famous wraparound style.

The 1990s
After the excess of the '80s, the '90s saw a return to minimalism and restraint. Consumers favoured simple black shades. Sports sunglasses also gained popularity. Movies like Men in Black and The Matrix made sleek, streamlined shades with smaller oval frames the most popular style of the decade.

The 2000s
Technological advances helped glasses manufacturers achieve leaps and bounds in the quality of glasses. Transitional lenses became popular because they allowed a glasses-wearer to go outside and keep using the same pair of eyewear as sunglasses, without having to carry two pairs of glasses around. Flexible frames provided greater comfort and reduced the likelihood of breakage.

The 2010s
Today, pretty much every designer has a line of glasses. To take advantage of the trend of high-end glasses, many people who don't have a prescription choose to wear glasses with plain glass lenses. Glasses of every style from every era are popular, and consumers wear them proudly.

Which style suits you?
Whether you want to channel Marilyn Monroe with a pair of cat-eyed lenses or don a pair of classic Ray-Bans like Tom Cruise, you're in good company. Glasses of every era are more popular than ever before. Visit your local optometrist at The Eyewear Place to try on a pair and see how vintage style meshes with your modern life.

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