Classic Icons And Their Signature Sunglasses

Date Posted:7 February 2018 

Do you own a good pair of sunglasses you break out any chance you get? Or even a cheaper pair that you can still pull off well? If so, you’re not alone. Sunglasses are one of the most stylish and tailor-made accessories, and they have been since their invention. In prehistoric times, Inuit peoples wore eye covers with tiny slits to reduce sunlight – not block them – while some Roman emperors have been said to watch gladiator fights through emeralds on sunny days. However, their recent history is wide and broad, and most celebrities over the last several decades have rocked their own pair.

Sunglasses as we know them today have been around since the 1920s, but they first entered the mainstream fashion scene in the 1950s, with the invention of cat eye sunglasses. These were a variation on cat eye glasses, which were notable for having an upsweep where the frame joins the arms at the outer edges. 

Cat eye glasses (and sunglasses) were popular in the 1950s and 60s, and celebrities like Aubrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marilyn Monroe could be seen wearing them. In modern days, Katy Perry has made a comeback in cat-eye sunglasses, and if you have a rounder face shape, cat-eye sunglasses are the look for you.

While cat eye sunglasses were the go-to for ladies, browline sunglasses were popular for men around this time. They’re known for their frame, which frames the lenses like a pair of eyebrows, and everyone from actor Burt Lancaster to President Lyndon B. Johnson to activist Malcolm X were known to wear them. They’ve recently made a splash in the hipster and retro subcultures as well. 

Square sunglasses with full frames around the lenses gained popularity in the mid-late 1960s, particularly in the counterculture movement. Celebs like Andy Warhol, Bob Dylan, and other figures of free thought and youth rebellion could be seen wearing them, and many musicians today have given these a comeback. 

A variation on this was the oversized sunglasses, made popular by Jackie Onassis in the late 60s – fittingly nicknamed “Jackie O’s” -- and as they grew in women’s fashion over the years, they began to take on a huge range in shapes and sizes. Of course, they’re still around today, and recommended for those with an angular face. And they’re not just for women, either – Elton John popularized oversized glasses for men in the 70s, as part of his “Captain Fantastic” act – and forty years later, they’re almost a part of who he is.
However, the sunglasses you probably associate with the counterculture movement are the round tinted lenses. In the late 60s and early 70s, these sunglasses were worn by musicians like John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Janis Joplin…and millions of people who idolized them took on their fashion sense. These sunglasses became a symbol of a generation, and are still worn by celebrities like Elton john today.

Variations on this include the square-framed sunglasses, which featured oversized gold-tinted lenses and square frames. These were the glasses of the 70s, when Saturday Night Live was just starting out and disco was all the rage, and they can still be seen on some celebs today.

The 1980s saw a rise in shield sunglasses. You might not know them by name, but you’ve probably seen them before. They were made famous by superstar Michael Jackson in his heyday, and embodied the bold fashion trends of the 80s. Modern rappers today influenced by the King of Pop, such as Kanye West, have given these a strong comeback in cutting-edge fashion.

In 1986, the blockbuster “Top Gun” came out, starring Tom Cruise. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’d recognize the aviator shades he wears a mile away. This movie launched aviators into the fashion spotlight, although this was by no means their first brush with fame. 

They were developed in 1936 by American eye care company Bausch & Lomb – who also reinvented browline sunglasses for the 1980s – for pilots to wear to protect their eyes while flying. Their lightweight design made them a popular choice for soldiers, and General Douglas MacArthur made them a part of his outfit (along with a corncob pipe) when he was photographed landing in the Philippines in World War II. After the war, they entered mainstream fashion, and became popular both in the counterculture movement of the 60s and afterwards in the 70s, when superstars like Freddie Mercury and a newly-solo Paul McCartney took them on as part of their public appearances. When Tom Cruise showcased them in the 80s, Bausch & Lomb dedicated a line of aviators to General MacArthur.

As the 90s saw a rise in the sports scene, sport sunglasses became a new, valuable trend. With their sleek, aerodynamic lens and wraparound frame, they were the go-to sunglasses for everyone from tennis and volleyball players to cyclists and NASCAR drivers – and they still are today.

It’s worth giving an honorable mention to shutter sunglasses, though – they’re unique in that instead of using tinted lenses to block sunlight, it uses horizontal slats. You’ve probably seen them before – they’ve made a comeback within the last decade. But they’ve been around a lot longer than that. Taking direct inspiration from the Inuit design we talked about above, they were first commercially released in the U.S. in the late 40s and early 50s, and after a post-war dip in popularity, they saw a brief spike in the 1980s, and again nowadays. 

So that brings us to today, where we have a wider selection of sunglasses than ever before. This may make finding a good pair of shades a daunting task at first, but rest assured, the possibilities are nearly endless. No matter your face shape, eyesight, or visual tastes, it’s almost guaranteed that a celebrity out there has managed to pull it off. And if they can, why can’t you, too?

 


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