The History of Retro Sunglasses - Rad Sunnies

The History of Retro Sunglasses

Sunglasses have been around for centuries, but the term "retro sunglasses" usually refers to the styles that were popular in the 1950s to the 1980s. These sunglasses are not only fashionable but also offer eye protection from the sun's harmful UV rays. This article delves into the history of retro sunglasses, from their origins to their current resurgence in popularity.

Table of Contents

  1. The Origin of Sunglasses
  2. The Popularity of Aviator Sunglasses
  3. The Rise of Retro Sunglasses
  4. The Influence of Pop Culture on Retro Sunglasses
  5. The Revival of Retro Sunglasses in the 21st Century
  6. The Future of Retro Sunglasses


The Origin of Sunglasses

The first recorded use of sunglasses was by the ancient Chinese, who wore flat panels of smoky quartz to protect their eyes from glare. Roman emperors also used sunglasses made of emerald to watch gladiator fights. In the 18th century, James Ayscough developed tinted lenses that could correct specific vision impairments. However, sunglasses as we know them today did not exist until the early 20th century when mass production of sunglasses began.

The Popularity of Aviator Sunglasses

In the 1930s, the US Army Air Corps commissioned Bausch & Lomb to create sunglasses for their pilots. The result was the iconic aviator sunglasses, which were characterized by their large, teardrop-shaped lenses and thin metal frames. Aviator sunglasses became popular with civilians in the 1940s, thanks to their association with military heroes and Hollywood stars.

The Rise of Retro Sunglasses

In the 1950s and 1960s, new styles of sunglasses emerged, including the cat-eye, the wayfarer, and the oversized round frames. These sunglasses were made popular by fashion icons like Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean. The 1970s saw the introduction of mirrored lenses, and the 1980s saw the rise of neon-colored frames and the iconic Ray-Ban Clubmaster sunglasses.

The Influence of Pop Culture on Retro Sunglasses

Pop culture has had a significant influence on the popularity of retro sunglasses. In the 1960s, the spy film "The Thomas Crown Affair" featured Steve McQueen wearing Persol 714 sunglasses, which sparked a trend in folding sunglasses. The 1980s saw the rise of Ray-Ban Wayfarers, which were popularized by Tom Cruise in the film "Risky Business." In the 1990s, Quentin Tarantino's "Reservoir Dogs" featured characters wearing black sunglasses, which became a symbol of coolness and sophistication.

The Revival of Retro Sunglasses in the 21st Century

In the early 2000s, sunglasses styles became smaller and more minimalistic, with the popularity of brands like Oakley and Nike. However, in the mid-2000s, retro sunglasses began to make a comeback, with celebrities like Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt wearing vintage styles. Today, retro sunglasses continue to be popular, with designers incorporating vintage elements into modern designs.

The Future of Retro Sunglasses

As fashion trends continue to cycle, retro sunglasses are likely to remain popular for years to come. Designers will continue to update vintage styles with modern materials and technology, while also introducing new styles inspired by the past. Consumers will continue to appreciate the classic designs and timeless appeal of retro sunglasses.


Retro sunglasses have a rich history that dates back to ancient times. From their origins in ancient China to their current resurgence in popularity, retro sunglasses have been a staple in fashion for decades. The aviator, wayfarer, and cat-eye are just a few examples of iconic retro styles that have stood the test of time. Pop culture has played a significant role in the popularity of retro sunglasses, with films and celebrities often setting the trends. Today, retro sunglasses are as popular as ever, with designers creating new styles inspired by the past.


What makes sunglasses "retro"?

"Retro" sunglasses typically refer to styles that were popular in the 1950s to the 1980s. These styles often feature bold frames, large lenses, and unique shapes.

What are some popular retro sunglasses brands?

Some popular retro sunglasses brands include Ray-Ban, Persol, and Maui Jim.

Do retro sunglasses offer UV protection?

Yes, retro sunglasses can offer UV protection. However, it's important to check the label or ask the manufacturer to ensure that the sunglasses you purchase provide adequate protection.

How can I choose the right retro sunglasses for my face shape?

There are many resources available online to help you choose sunglasses that complement your face shape. Some general guidelines include choosing frames that are opposite your face shape (e.g., round faces should choose square frames), avoiding frames that are too small or too large for your face, and selecting frames that match your personal style.

Can I wear retro sunglasses with modern clothing?

Yes, retro sunglasses can be worn with modern clothing. In fact, many designers incorporate vintage elements into modern designs, making retro sunglasses a versatile accessory that can be paired with a variety of outfits.

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