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Despite their name and use, sunglasses are rarely if ever purchased based on how well they block out the harmful rays of the sun. Instead, sunglasses are mostly chosen for how they look. This choice, as one could guess, is based primarily on which styles of sunglasses are most fashionable at the time. It’s safe to say the last several decades have not been in want of diversity in the sunglasses department. We, the eyewear buyers of 2017, have inherited countless styles produced over the years as a result. The wide variety of affordable designer glasses for men and women available today is a testament to that fact. Here is a breakdown of the most memorable and iconic sunglasses trends of the last 40 years:



Inspired no doubt by the eyewear worn by Elvis during his mid-70s comeback, a revolution in sunglasses frames begin to take shape in the years to follow. The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll would die but the extra-large gradient lenses houses in funky frames lived on into the early 80s. However, this style soon evolved into a more sinister variety of sunglasses, made iconic by ruthless movie characters like Tony Montana and the Terminator. These style of shades moved into minimalism, with ultra-tinted lenses housed in equally dark frames. The sunglasses of the late-80s are perhaps the most iconic of the decade, with Ray-Ban Aviators worn by Tom Cruise in Top Gun becoming one of the most recognized and best-selling sunglasses designs of all time. The company’s Wayfarers also continue to make waves decades after first hitting the market due to a seemingly timeless style.



As humanity moved towards the 90s, tortoiseshell frames were one of the popular styles of sunglasses to hit the scene. The late Diana, Princess of Wales was often seen wearing such eyewear. Once into the early-90s, sunglasses styles begin to shift into ironic and retro regions of the fashionsphere. The late Kurt Cobain famously wore a pair of women’s white Christian Roth Series 6558 sunglasses and a newfound appreciation for oval lenses in swollen frames was born.

The mid-90s saw the rise of colored lenses – often blue or purple – in a rimless frame with small temple arms. Attributed in part to moviegoers desiring to mimic the look of Dracula in the 1992 movie adaptation, the popularity of teashades rose through this period as well, despite the fact he was wearing Pince Nez sunglasses not teashades.



Approaching the 2000s, sunglasses saw a very brief explosion of diverse styles driven by the likes of the Spice Girls and techno-pop groups at the time. However, one movie would change everything about sunglasses for the next ten years or so: The Matrix. Even people who have never seen The Matrix can certainly affirm the fact the film’s main characters all sport dark sunglasses, a testament to how widespread this movie’s impact on sunglasses fashion was at the time. The world saw a dramatic shift towards ultra-minimalist styles focused on concealing the immediate eye region and not a centimeter farther. Dig up any vacation photos from the 2000s and chances are good everyone is sporting a very conservative pair of sunglasses. This despite many celebrities of the time choosing to experiment with colorful and distinctive sunglasses. However, this turn to ultimately unimaginative shades didn’t last very long.



At some point in the late-2000s, someone somewhere decided it was time to bring color back to sunglasses, especially the frames. This led to the resurgence of Wayfarers and other iconic eyewear of the 1980s. Interestingly, an emphasis was placed on exceptionally low-cost knock-offs with colorful temple arms but otherwise throwaways in the long-run. Aviators came back in style as well beginning in the early-2010s. Though some would argue these iconic shades never left. At that point, a newfound affection for gradient lenses was born as well. This brings us to the modern day, where the category of both high cost and affordable designer sunglasses cover a seemingly endless spectrum of styles, colors, and sizes. Want tortoiseshell frames and gradient lenses? Try on a pair of The Godfathers. Prefer an icy blue look housed in mid-century modern frames? Give The Explorers a try and see if they fit.

Who knows what the future of sunglasses trends will bring – perhaps the aforementioned styles will become embedded with Google Glass technology? Can’t wait to see.

Liz Becker

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