What are Retro Glasses & Sunglasses? - Style Guide - Garrett Leight

What are retro sunglasses?

Flashback to the funk with
throwback frames from the 20s to the 60s

Words: Bobby Valentine
Optician at GLCO La Brea

Was there an era you wish you were able to experience, but were too young, or not even born yet? How about an iconic movie character, actor, musician, or artist that made a lasting impact on your personal style? Whoever and whenever they were they likely wore cool, unique eyewear. That’s how I got into vintage frames and retro styled glasses. I love that you could put on a certain piece of eyewear and have it reference characters and styles of times past.

Retro Eyeglass Frames - Harding - Arthur Miller, Marilyn Monroe
Retro Sunglasses - Harding Sun - Nick Wooster

1920s Glasses & Sunglasses
I’d say it was in the 20s when eyewear makers moved beyond plain utility and started designing frames with appearance in mind. It’s that time that you can start to see styles that are still being worn today. During the Roaring Twenties round wire frames similar to our modern day Wilson M were popular for their minimal silhouettes and the way the frame almost disappeared on your face. You might have noticed that this style has seen a huge resurgence over the past year.

In the 20s horn-rimmed frames glasses also became popular, a material that was eventually replaced by tortoise shell, and later, plastics. The more pronounced appearance of tortoise shell frames was a kind of proud moment for glasses wearers who decided they had nothing to hide anymore. Today we use marbled acetates sourced from Italy and Japan on many of our styles.

Vintage wire frame inspiration - Garrett Leight round retro frame

1930s Glasses & Sunglasses
Throughout the 20s and 30s, frames were tailor fit and appeared small by today’s standards. During the Great Depression wire frames made a comeback – metal was a more affordable material than the plastics of the time. During that decade you could also start to see a lot of Windsor rim frame treatments, a detail we include on our Wilson and Grant eyeglasses and sunglasses.

1940s Glasses & Sunglasses
With WWII General Douglas MacArthur became an accidental style icon when he won the Pacific wearing a pair of aviators, instant classics that inspired our San Juan. Beyond that you still saw a lot of metal frames, with thick, tortoiseshell frames beginning to make some headway. Circular rims with a low temple placement was a popular shape, a look that influenced our own Coeur d'Alene frames.

Vintage Retro Sunglasses Inspiration - Garrett Leight Coeur d'Alene
Vintage sunglass inspiration - Garrett Leight Aviators

50s Glasses & Sunglasses
And the 50s! Man, that decade is when the real good stuff started coming out, and when sunglasses became a must-have fashion accessory. In that decade iconic styles like the Wayfarer hit the streets – think Angelus, Dudley, and Harding – with chunky, rectangular silhouettes, a whole lotta plastic, and details like temple plaques that remain influential to this day.

60s Glasses & Sunglasses
For men combo frames like the Clubmaster reigned supreme with their strong plastic brows, metal rims and filigree detailing. Iconic figures like Malcolm X, JFK, and Jack Nicholson were just a few who rocked the brow line look. Check out the Lincoln and Washington frames to see our contemporary take on the style. Aviators also came back with a vengeance, this time oversized, a look popularized by counterculture heroes like Hunter S Thompson that still works today for Kendall Jenner in our Palms.

Retro Brow Line Frames - Malcolm X
Retro Frames - Kendall Jenner in Garrett Leight gold Palms aviators
Retro Sunglasses - Washington in Butterscotch Antique Gold
Retro Sunglasses - Classic Garrett Leight Aviators

While those styles were doing really well on men, women were all about cat-eye shapes like our Dillon and Lucille frames. Some were made of metal, some plastic with metal details, and some even made of aluminum. In those days you could see Marilyn Monroe, Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor, and Brigitte Bardot sporting that distinctive silhouette; today, similar styles are still being worn by leading ladies and artists like Lana Del Rey, Katy Perry, and Rihanna.

Retro Cat Eye Sunglasses - Grace Kelly
Cat Eye Sunglasses - Rihanna
Vintage Cat Eye Sunglasses - Garrett Leight Retro Inspiration
Cat Eye Sunglasses - Lucille Sun by Garrett Leight

The great thing about these wild and funky frames is that you don’t have to pull the weight of a star-studded style icon to wear them. Anybody can throw on a pair of Wilsons and give a subtle nod to John Lennon or Keith Haring without getting overly hippie-dippy – some retro frames are just timeless and never go out of style. Try your hand at mixing and matching silhouettes with different patterns and different colors. Before you know it, you might even amass a retro eyewear collection of your own.

Retro Sunglasses - Washington Sun
Retro Sunglasses for Women - Washington Sun

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