Sunglasses have come a long way since their supposed origins in 12th-century China, with a number of iconic designs becoming widespread during the 20th century. As the world finally recognised that sunglasses could be a fashion statement as well as a practicality, the market for sunglasses skyrocketed, opening the door for an abundance of stylish designs.
These now-vintage styles are just as in demand today as they were in their respective heydays; from the catwalk to high street stores, everyone is still trying to emulate the icons of the past. As such, retro sunglasses are a timeless classic that will always enhance your look, whatever it may be.
If you’re unsure what kinds of vintage sunglasses are right for you, keep reading. This blog will take you on a journey through the decades, showing you the many infamous designs of the past 60+ years.
This decade saw a cultural renaissance of sorts, with styles shifting from the sleek and subtle designs of the 50s to the bold, colourful looks that the 60s are synonymous with. Everything from hemlines to the social climate was undergoing serious changes at this time, as were sunglasses.
With these changes in both the social and political world, the 60s saw attitudes to life, identity and self-expression evolve too. Stars like Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley and films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Easy Rider and The Thomas Crown Affair encouraged individuals to embrace their own style. Sunglasses were a popular way of doing just that; even US President John F. Kennedy often wore Ray-Ban glasses publicly.
While oversized round glasses were popular at this time, mod sunglasses offered a smaller, daintier alternative to these chunky styles. For anyone looking to embrace modernity, this style would have been a great choice.
Cat-eye glasses are closely related to browline styles, which were also a favourite in the 60s, differentiated by the frames sweeping upwards at the outer edge where the arms meet the main frame.
Not only were cat-eye glasses much-loved by the masses but they were also often spotted on the stars of the time - Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Dame Edna Everage, Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Windsor were all known to have worn this style on occasion.
Popularised by the likes of John Lennon, teashade glasses and sunglasses consisted of a delicate wire frame, nose pads, and small, perfectly rounded lenses. This style was considered rebellious and was often associated with those who embraced free thinking and the anti-war movement in particular.
The 70s saw sunglasses become a lot more mainstream due to technological advancements that enabled plastic lenses to become more common. As this made them much lighter, sunglasses saw a surge in popularity as a fashion accessory as opposed to just a protective measure.
The colour palette of this era was very earthy, with tints evolving to introduce ambermatic and graduated lenses to the market.
Women flocked to buy butterfly-shaped glasses during the 70s. They were an oversized, feminine option whose shape somewhat resembled a butterfly. Their lenses were often tinted, with the prominent element being the thick frames surrounding them.
Brands like Elisabetta Von Furstenberg and Cazal began producing iconic styles that celebrities such as Jane Fonda and Olivia Newton-John were often seen wearing.
Military-style fashion was incredibly popular in the 1970s, partly due to the pervasive coverage of the Vietnam War. This bought boiler suits and bomber jackets back into the mainstream and, while the first aviator-style sunglasses were designed to help reduce glare for pilots in the 30s, they now saw a resurgence as a fashion item. As such, stars like Slash, Freddie Mercury and Elvis were often seen sporting them.
Many things became bigger and better in the 70s, and sunglasses were no exception. One of the most popular styles of this time was oversized square frames, as seen on Elton John for a large portion of his illustrious career.
First Lady Jackie Onassis also frequently wore square-framed glasses in the 60s, the popularity of which extended well into the 70s and even led to the style being nicknamed ‘The Onassis Glasses’.
Power dressing and maximalism dominated the fashion industry in the 80s, which brought about a preference for darker lenses and sharper shapes. Ray-Ban glasses saw a particular surge in popularity at this time, with everyone from Madonna to Tom Cruise sporting their iconic Wayfarer style.
Having made their debut in the 50s, infamous fashionistas triggered a Wayfarer resurgence in the 80s. These sunglasses are lauded for their sleek, functional design - the perfect balance of practicality and style enabled them to stand out from the crowd.
Having evolved from the browline glasses of the 60s, Ray-Ban Clubmasters feature a sturdy, square upper frame and a much daintier rounded lower frame. As with the Wayfarer style, Ray-Ban has an actor to thank for the popularity of this style - Die Hard’s Bruce Willis. Willis sported a pair of browlines in the show Moonlighting, which acted as the trigger for the style’s rebrand as the ever-popular Clubmaster.
After a couple of decades devoted to oversized styles, the 90s saw a return to more minimalist looks, with new sportier styles and retro, rounded frames taking centre stage.
Sunglasses of this era were mostly dark in colour, as often seen on movie stars like Gwyneth Paltrow and Brad Pitt, but the end of the decade saw a rise in bright neon frames.
Circular framed sunglasses with trendy mirrored lenses were an iconic fashion statement in the 90s. They were particularly popular among young and famous people and considered to be the coolest type of eyewear at the time.
This style of sunglasses continued to be one of the most pervasive eyewear trends, even up until the present day, with celebrities like Beyoncé frequently donning them. A good example of this trend is the Ray-Ban RB3447, which has a retro appearance with a modern twist, thanks to its gold round frames and blue mirrored lenses.
Circular sunglasses with dark lenses were also a popular eyewear choice in the 90s. This style was favoured by Noel Gallagher, who even wore them in the music video for Wonderwall. Julia Roberts also played a role in popularising this style by wearing a pair in the well-known picnic scene in Pretty Woman.
For Quality Retro Sunglasses, Look No Further Than Ed & Sarna Vintage Eyewear
If you’re looking for a new pair of retro sunglasses ahead of the summer months, Ed & Sarna Vintage Eyewear is here to help. We stock a wide variety of sunglasses with original vintage frames, dating from the 1960s right through to the 1990s. Many of our styles are one of a kind and incredibly hard to come by - perfect for fashion lovers hoping to attract exactly the right kind of attention.
Sound good? Browse our full catalogue online today to find your perfect pair of retro sunglasses. You can even try on your favourite styles at home to help you decide! If you’d like more information or are unsure what styles will work for you, feel free to get in touch.