Lifestyle + Fashion

The history of fashionable sunglasses

Every decade has its very own signature style.

3 July 2020
  • Every decade has its very own signature style.

Nowadays countless types of sunglasses are available. From mirrored sunglasses to clip-on sunglasses – not only are there different shades of lenses but there are also various shapes of sunglasses. Some of them have risen to iconic status. The classic cat eye sunglasses and aviator sunglasses are among the most well-known styles of eyewear available. Just like any other part of fashion, the styles and appearances of sunglasses has been ever changing. Especially sunglasses in movies made an impact on style and often reflected the current zeitgeist. We compiled an overview over various fashion icons and their influence on sunglasses.


1950s: Grace Kelly's Royal Style

1950s: Grace Kelly's Royal Style

In 1956 American actress Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier of Monaco. Before and after her marriage, Princess Grace was often seen wearing black sunglasses. Her signature style square sunglasses influenced current fashion and is still seen as the definition of vintage sunglasses chic today.

1960s: Breakfast at Tiffany's sunglasses

1960s: Breakfast at Tiffany's sunglasses

When Audrey Hepburn put on the famous cat eye sunglasses for the iconic movie Breakfast at Tiffany's, she created a long-lasting trend. The iconic shape is so closely linked to the actress, that they are sometimes even referred to as Audrey Hepburn sunglasses. It might have been the first time that sunglasses from movies made a major impact on fashion trends but certainly not the last time. Popular sunglasses from the 60s mostly followed Hepburn's classic example.

1970s: No in-betweens

Two iconic shapes come to mind, when thinking about sunglasses from the 70s. On the one hand there were oversize frames, while on the other hand there were small round sunglasses, such as frequently worn by John Lennon. Frames often referred to as John Lennon sunglasses are mainly associated with the hippie subculture of the 60s and 70s. These shades were worn in several colours such as blue, red or pink.

1980s: Between Top Gun and eccentric sunglasses of the 80s

1980s: Between Top Gun and eccentric sunglasses of the 80s

Top Gun (1986) is certainly the movie attributed to making aviator sunglasses for men fashionable. The pair worn by lead actor Tom Cruise were green sunglasses with a golden frame. Despite the movie's popularity, many people think of aviator sunglasses as police sunglasses. So called police sunglasses were frequently worn by Erik Estrada in his role as Officer Francis "Ponch" Poncherello in the popular TV-series CHiPS. Since Estrada portrayed a police officer, the connection between the iconic shape and the nickname for this type of sunglasses was even further established.

One person who will always be remembered for his eccentric choices of sunglasses is Sir Elton John. His choices may not always have been daily wear appropriate. However, they were among the most creative and unique sunglasses in history. Elton John was often seen sporting rhinestone sunglasses, oversized sunglasses or other kinds of funky sunglasses.

1990s: Supermodel chic

The 1990s were without a doubt a decade of supermodels. Popular models like Kate Moss or Claudia Schiffer opted for sleek frames and dark hues. Sleek, small designs dominated the fashion industry and grunge chic posed an edgy counterpart to the otherwise colourful and lively fashion of the decade. The late 1990s produced various hit movies which featured popular sunglasses. The most well-known example are probably the sunglasses from the Matrix movies, starring Keanu Reeves.

2000s: Heroic Sunglasses

At the beginning of the century, Marvel turned the X-Men comic book series into a movie franchise. In his role as Cyclops, James Marsden wore red sunglasses because his character used them to keep his power under control. The frame was rather small and in wraparound fashion.

Another major trend during the 2000s were rimless sunglasses worn by starlets such as Paris Hilton. Frequently worn colours included blue, red and various shades of pink. Sometimes the lenses were bedazzled or otherwise decorated.

Ever since its beginning stages in the 1850s, ZEISS has had a strong focus on optics. In the 1920s ZEISS started producing tinted lenses to enable the enjoyment of natural beauty without endangering the eyes by over-exposition to sunlight. During the century different shades were added to the portfolio. In the 2000s ZEISS Sunlens expanded their product range and added non-prescription sunglass lenses to their range of products.

2010s: Original Lenses – ZEISS Sunlens brings back the classics

2010s: Original Lenses – ZEISS Sunlens brings back the classics

To demonstrate our passion for sunglasses and all the beautiful colours and lenses we saw during the last century, ZEISS Sunlens introduced the Originals Lenses collection which designers use as a high-quality basis for their designs. Our vintage lenses collection showcases beautifully coloured tinted lenses and true classics to emphasise the heritage of sunglasses.

Even though ZEISS does not offer sunglasses to end-consumers, we offer tinted lenses to designers who use ZEISS Sunlens products to create the best sunglasses for eye protection. One of our partners is European brand Massada eyewear, which connects artful designs with protective eyewear.

* UV radiation is divided into three bands, though only UVA and UVB actually reach the Earth's surface. Short-wavelength, high-energy UVC radiation (100 - 280 nm) is almost entirely absorbed in the Earth's atmosphere. The term solar UV radiation is used solely to refer to the UVA and UVB components that reach us on the Earth's surface. UVA and UVB radiation is absorbed by the eye to differing degrees unless it is blocked by spectacle lenses.

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