6 Timeless Sunglasses Shapes to Elevate Your Look

Sunglasses have evolved over the years. The sunglasses we know today have a long history. According to Warby Park, one of first direct-to consumer glasses companies, the roots of this stylish, yet practical eyewear date back to the beginning of the millennium. The evolution of sunglasses has been ongoing throughout the years. Most fashion experts agree that the sunglasses we wear today evolved from the tinted lensed gondoliers of the 18th century wore as they sailed the canals.

In the 1920s, modern sunglasses became popular in America due to the growth of mass production and distribution. The simple shades had lenses with a light tint, which were mounted in simple frames of metal or wire. They were often worn by the first car drivers. In the 1930s different styles began to appear, including the Aviator, which was invented by the U.S. military in 1935. This was followed shortly by the invention polarized lenses for added sun protection.

Sunglasses have evolved with fashion and technology over the years, so it’s easy to identify which decade has had the most popular frames. Aviator sunglasses may be the oldest style of sunglasses that is still seen regularly today, but other styles such as the Wayfarer and cat-eye sunglasses, are also very popular. We asked Dr. Jennifer Tsai, and Natalie Cantell to shed some light on how to select frames that will meet your practical needs as well as fashionable expectations.

Continue reading to learn more about the types of sunglasses we like, their origins, features that are important, face shapes that they suit, and some styles you can shop.

The Aviator

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It’s not surprising that the aviator style is the most popular vintage look. They were originally part of the uniform of the American Air Force. The metal frame features teardrop-shaped lens and a double bridge. This design is versatile and timeless and fits all face shapes.

Cantell also points out that aviator glasses are among the most iconic accessories to ever be worn by celebrities. Cantell says that aviator sunglasses are synonymous with Tom Cruise’s portrayal of the American rebel in Top Gun. But let’s also not forget Bianca Jagger, Stevie Nicks or Brad Pitt whenever he and his blonde highlights appeared on a red carpet alongside Jennifer Aniston. Cantell admits, “Spin-off styles such as the Ray-Ban Shooters with the circular detail between the eyebrows (which is perhaps not by accident the same size as a cigarette), are cemented in the collective memory thanks to Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas. But it’s the pair of blue-lensed glasses that Gloria Steinem wore that lives rent-free in her head.”

Cantell suggests aviator shades with lighter lenses and faux tortoiseshell frames. She confesses, “I’m a sucker when it comes to a pair of gold aviators with a more angular frame. Bottega Veneta’s and Celine’s current offerings are perfect. Although, the latter may have the edge due to the removable leather cord that I didn’t realize I needed.” You can be sure that your aviators will remain stylish for many years to come, no matter which version you choose.

The Wayfarer

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Are you looking for something more modern? Let us introduce to you The Wayfarer – another Ray-Ban classic. Cantell refers to this style as “the Cadillac of eyewear”, which has its origins in the 1950s. It quickly became as iconic as the Eames Chair. Wayfarer sunglasses are characterized by a slightly trapezoidal plastic frame in various colors, with dark rectangular lenses. These iconic unisex shades offer style and UV protection. They are a popular option for many, says Dr. Tsai.

We can also attribute the popularity of Wayfarers in the 1980s to popular culture. However, in this instance, the style has truly achieved icon status thirty years after its debut. Cantell says that while Marilyn Monroe, Muhammad Ali and other stars of the 1950s wore these frames Cantell attributes the popularity of this simple style to the teen films of the 1980s. She explains that, “Among the slew John Hughes coming of age films, Wayfarers were a nod towards being cool: the new leather coat.” Anthony Michael Hall wore Wayfarers when he smoked cigarettes with Judd Nelson, in The Breakfast Club. Cantell claims that Matthew Broderick, who played Ferris Bueller in Risky Business, smugly smirked at you while wearing his Wayfarers.

There are many options available for Wayfarers today, regardless of your budget. You can buy cheap frames that you won’t mind losing, or you can spend more on designer glasses that will last for years. Just make sure you keep them in your sight at all times.

The Cat’s Eye

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According to Cantell, the cat-eye style was the first ever eyewear designed to make women look like babies. She explains that “American designer and artist Atlina Schinasi, who was tired of men not making passes at girls wearing glasses,” created the ‘Harlequin” frames by using masquerade masks for inspiration.

Over the years, cat-eye frames have evolved. Some pairs are more angular than others (see: Anouk Amine in La Dolce Vita), while others are more rounded (Audrey Hepburn’s iconic sunglasses in Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Cantell’s favourite pair are those worn by Julia Roberts. She explains that Roberts’s cat-eye is more subdued, with her black beret and leather jacket. But the look still has an undercover movie star feel.

Cat-eye sunglasses today are a retro style that has pointed, upswept outer edges, which resemble the curvature upturned of a cat’s eye. They have oversized, feminine lenses and they add vintage appeal to any outfit, Dr. Tsai says.

The Round

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The perfect round wire-rimmed glasses are the epitome of ’90s style. This minimalist style appeared on American faces, as well as on screen in Melrose Place and Beverly Hills 90210.

Cantell was influenced by these shows as a child growing up in New Zealand, halfway across the world. She gushes, “The first shades I can remember coveting had round frames and were gold.” She recalls that “they were the coolest shades in the world as proved by everyone who mattered to her at the time, including Lisa Bonet and Drew Barrymore. George Michael was also there, along with Princess Diana, during the post-divorce period.”

Although round sunglasses are very simple to look at, Dr. Tsai explains that there are some characteristics which make them a signature style. She explains that the form is similar to the browline, but differs by having an upwards sweep at the outer edge where the arms or temples join the frame front. While wire metal rims continue to be popular (think of John Lennon and Janis Joplin from Almost Famous), acetate frames have seen a steady rise and fall in popularity due to their durability.

Both Dr. Tsai, and Cantell agree on the fact that round sunglasses do not always look good when worn with round faces.

The Oversized

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The moniker oversized sunglasses is misleading. They are not universally sized. It’s best to try a variety of sizes, shapes, materials, and proportions to find the right look for your face. If you want to look like retro and mod icons such as Twiggy, Peggy Lipton or Jackie Kennedy, then you should go for “bug-eyed”, giant frames. Cantell credits Jane Birkin’s tortoiseshell blue frames from La Piscine with being one of the most important pop culture moments that put oversized glasses on the public’s radar.

In terms of practicality, Dr. Tsai prefers the extra protection that oversized sunglasses provide against the sun. She explains that because they cover a larger surface area on the face, they are better protected against UV rays. If you are concerned about your nose appearing smaller, oversized shades may help.

In the early 2000s there was a major revival of large-sized sunglasses, thanks to celebrities like The O.C.’s Marissa Cooper, Lauren Conrad and the Olsen Twins. They would cover a third of the face with huge frames. Cantell confesses, “I was among the proud twenty-somethings of New Zealand who owned infamously huge Karen Walker eyewear when it became global. I felt very stylish.”

We’d be remiss if we didn’t pay tribute to the late Joan Didion, who captured part-time and professional fashionistas in a 2015 Celine eyewear advertisement. Cantell said, “That photo of Joan Didion wearing large frames after a life of championing statement style is still the coolest I’ve seen.”

The Wraparound

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Rent-free, we wear wraparound sunglasses on our heads. Although many people associate sporty sunglasses with the 1990s, these shades first gained popularity in the 1960s when audiences were obsessed with the light-gold wrap-around Ray-Ban Olympians that Peter Fonda wore in Easy Rider.

Wraparound sunglasses are different from other frames because of their curvy design. They provide coverage all around the face and block wind, dust, and glare from every angle. While this style of sunglasses is great for outdoor sports, Dr. Tsai warns that some wraparound shades do not accommodate prescription lenses. Be sure to check with your optician first before you buy a pair.

In an interesting twist, wraparound sunglasses gained a sportier flair in the 1980s after athletic brands such as Oakley entered the market. Cantell explains that traditional outdoor apparel designers moved from selling reflective goggles to sporty people, to sunglasses that achieve the same effect. She says that the style was popularized beyond Tour de France cyclists, recreational skiers, and even yuppies. The lenses were oily and mirrored.

This latest resurgence can be attributed by a fashion-forward crowd, such as Rihanna, Bella and Gigi Hadid, who wear super-luxe designer pair. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune for you to get the look. Wraparound sunglasses are making a huge comeback after decades of being displayed in gas stations. Bottega Veneta offers some elevated versions, but cool kids who love ironic accessories won’t agree.

Additional Features to Consider

You’re likely ready to buy your next pair quality eyewear if you’ve made it this far. When shopping for glasses, Dr. Tsai recommends keeping in mind the following tips:

If your prescription is strong… Frame shape depends not only on your bone structure, but also the strength of prescription. Higher prescriptions, for example, work better with smaller, rounder frames. They are lighter, and they can conceal the thickness of the lenses around the border.

If more protection is desired… Consider advanced lens technologies such as polarized or Photochromic lenses. You will be able to get the best possible sun protection and, therefore, eye protection. Do not forget to use UV protection. Many standard plastic lenses are not UV protected, including prescription, blue-light or sunglasses. Dr. Tsai advises her patients to choose lenses that offer 100% UV protection. These can be found in a variety of forms, including:

  • High-index polycarbonate lenses and polycarbonate lenses provide some UV protection.
  • Photochromic lenses darken in UV light, providing UV protection.
  • The UV protection of polarized lenses varies.

Consider fit over fashion. You may love the look of sunglasses, but choose one that you can wear. Fashions come and go but you want to protect your eyesight forever.

Check if there is a warranty on the frame. Accidents happen and glasses can be costly. It’s important to look for reputable brands that offer good warranties and excellent customer service. It is worth the extra money to protect against loss, damage or wear and tear.

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