Well-loved, timeless designs of sunglasses are constantly being revived nowadays with slight variations to give you all-new looks. A good chunk of one’s style sensibility depends on what popular models and other significant people are sporting – be it on runways, at movie sets or on the streets. There are several other factors that define what is “in”. Before we delve into the ABCs of what makes eyewear fashionable today, let us go back in time to understand the process of its evolution.
Flashback to the 15th century
Eyewear has been around for centuries and became popular as a vision-enhancing aid once the printing press in the 15th century made it possible to have books available for the public. Back then, materials such as tortoiseshell, whalebone (baleen), horn and leather were used to make the frames.
By the dawn of the 17th century, the widespread adoption of wire drawing made spectacles cheaper and easier to mass produce. Wire drawing is a process where the diameter of a thick metal wire is reduced by hammering and rolling through a die. Through this process, the bridge of the eyeglasses got a proper shape.
Wiredrawn spectacles became easier to wear as the bridge was made of copper wire that was lighter to sit on the nose. Copper wires were also relatively cheaper than other materials. However, wearing spectacles during those times carried negative undertones. There was a certain stigma that often persisted in the earlier times as the concept of sin and disability, went in hand in hand and were commonly worn among the elderly.
A century later, spectacles with stylish temple arms were manufactured – these could properly fit one’s face. During the same time, lorgnettes and monocles were constructed out of sophisticated materials including gold and silver, and spoke of one’s social standing. By the 19th century, pince-nez spectacles were constructed with no temples, and the pads on the bridge rested on the nose. But they were uncomfortable as they almost pinched the nose to manage their “hold” on one’s face.
By the 20th century, eyewear became much more than a visual aid. It began to be manufactured to protect one’s eyes from the sun. And gradually, it started becoming a serious fashion accessory among movie stars and other prominent figures. As protective eyewear became essential for pilots in high altitudes during the late 1930s, the famous aviator-shaped sunglasses were popularised by the heroic appeal of General Douglas MacArthur. These have become a distinctive style statement for many today.
What makes eyewear fashionable in the 21st century?
If we see the timeline of the famous sunglasses from the 1950s to the 21st century, there is a pattern that has remained constant among personalities and fashion icons:
Accessories: From rhinestone embellishments to additional flat-top bars, the classic designs of goggles also look distinctively modern and voguish. These frame designs have got a completely new makeover and cater to specific style statements today. Contemporary eyewear with double-bridge styles or subtle details makes them unique and trendy.
Brands: While several brands such as Ray-Ban, Carrera, Calvin Klein and Vogue, among others, have been around for decades, there are quite a few newer eyewear brands such as John Jacobs and Vincent Chase that are relatively affordable and add strikingly modern elements to the traditional designs. While Ray-Ban initially became popular during the Second World War with its aviator-shaped sunglasses, the brand has other timeless frame designs such as the browline and wayfarer-shaped sunglasses that appeal to people of all ages. Carrera is another significant brand from the late 1950s. It was named after one of the dangerous races of the world, the Carrera Panamericana. Apart from their other fashionable styles, the brand has its own reinterpretation of aviator-shaped sunglasses that look sporty and instantly distinguishable.
Colours: Nowadays, we find several modern and unique colours on sunglasses – either as lens tints or as frame shades. These complement anyone’s style sensibility, be it bold, cool, or anything in between.
Dress: Certain frame designs and colours complement particular outfits. Depending on the different types of dress codes for specific occasions, it is easier to incorporate different styles to get a unique look.
Films and/or TV Shows: Films and TV shows are a gateway to contemporary fashion. There you would see your favourite stars sporting eyewear with style and conviction.
Glamour: Eyewear has the ability to raise one’s style quotient manifold. Cat-eye, oversized and square-framed sunglasses with pastel-hues have a highly glamorous appeal.
Icons: Earlier, movie stars and important celebrities were remembered for their most memorable looks with eyewear. In the recent years, what fashion icons sport in their day-to-day lives or what they had sported on a runway can make for the most sought-after style.
Mystery: Mirrored and oversized shades exude a mysterious look while being highly trendy. They are a recent revival, bringing back the days of American rockstar Janis Joplin. These shades come in various colours.
Retro: It’s hard to go wrong with timeless sunglasses. Even though they come with modern elements attached, most keep the vintage look intact.
Sophistication: The most important element of eyewear fashion today is to maintain sophistication without being too loud. Tortoiseshell frames are the recent trend that suggest elegance.
Versatility: Not all eyewear goes with every look or age. The timeless aviator-shaped and wayfarer-shaped sunglasses have withstood the fashion sensibilities of the decades, which makes them quite versatile.
From being a purely visual aid in the 15th century to becoming the most sported fashion accessory of the 21st century, there are many similarities in eyewear fashion that cannot be overlooked. While round silhouettes are still popular even today, we can see a sudden revival of the timeless tortoiseshell pattern on various contemporary frame designs. Both young and the old alike, wear shades to not only protect their eyes from the sun but also don them to convey their own individual fashion statements.
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