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5 Elements of ’50s-Style Glasses That Still Make a Statement

The 1950s was a big decade for American style. We stopped taking cues from European fashion brands and started setting our own standards. It was the decade of Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Audrey Hepburn. And at least two of those fashion icons also became eyewear icons.

The 1950s brought eyewear out of the fashion dark ages. People were no longer ashamed of their glasses. Instead of hiding their specs away, they turned them into spectacles of fashion, and ’50s-style glasses developed a personality all their own.

We’ll tell you how to recreate the look of ’50s-style glasses — one of eyeglasses’ most stylish decades. We’ll consider the signature elements of 1950s eyewear and share a few pairs that bring this style into the 21st century.

5 Signature Elements of ’50s-Style Glasses

1950s eyewear had style to spare. While many of the most iconic glasses of the decade had been around since before the 1950s, they stepped into the spotlight during this time — often with a little help from Hollywood. Here are the five elements of 1950s glasses that will take you back in time.

1. Cat-Eye Frames

50s style glasses: woman wearing a pair of eyeglasses and holding 2 pairs of glasses

You can’t talk about ’50s-style glasses without talking about cat-eye glasses. This iconic style, which comes to a point at the outer edges of the frame, mimics the shape of your cat-eye eyeliner.

Vintage cat-eye glasses are strongly associated with the 1950s. One of our all-time favorite pairs of 1950s glasses are the ones Marilyn Monroe wore in the 1953 movie “How to Marry a Millionaire” — a dramatic pair of two-tone cat-eye frames with sparkly metallic accents across the top, just below the browline.

But, while Marilyn Monroe may have helped catapult the cat-eye to icon status, these glasses actually pre-date the ’50s by three decades. The cat-eye shape emerged in the 1920s, and they were the first glasses designed for and marketed toward women.

The style slowly picked up steam, and by the 1950s, most women who wore glasses wore cat-eyes — and almost every woman had a pair of cat-eye sunglasses. The shape is nearly universally flattering, and it looks good on most face shapes. They’re some of the best glasses for oval faces, and they look great on people with square and heart-shaped faces as well.

2. Rhinestones

Get ready to rock your rockabilly style. America’s earliest form of rock ‘n’ roll-inspired fashion, rockabilly gave us looks like victory rolls, curled bangs, bandana headbands, tie-knot shirts, and leather jackets with pencil skirts.

This 1950s style also showed the world that glasses weren’t just for geeks and nerds — they were now for rockers and rebels. Instead of being embarrassed by their glasses, rockabilly girls embraced them as the fabulous fashion accessories they are.

It became trendy to add rhinestones to the top of your frames and to the corners of cat-eye style glasses. Even now, if you browse a vintage shop you’ll find bedazzled retro sunglasses and reading glasses.

3. Oversized Glasses

In ’50s eyeglasses, bigger was better! You wouldn’t see the tiny glasses of the 1890s or 1990s (for some reason, those things make a comeback every 100 years) — instead, everyone was wearing big-frame glasses.

Oversized glasses and large lenses have actually been the more popular choice across most decades, so you’ll see a lot of vintage eyeglasses that are large and in charge. We love them for both their practicality and looks.

Large frames allow for larger lenses, which gives you a bigger field of vision — you won’t see your frames peeking into your peripherals quite so much. They’re an especially good choice if you wear progressive lenses. Plus, larger frames make it easier for people to see your gorgeous eyes!

After all, eyes are the window to the soul. And if you have the soul of a greaser, a beatnik, or a rockabilly babe, you want people to see it.

4. Tortoiseshell

50s style glasses: man wearing the Tortoiseshell glasses

The tortoiseshell glasses of the 1950s likely would’ve been made with a literal tortoise’s shell. Luckily, eyeglass frames have come a long way since the 1950s, and the tortoises of the world are now safe.

Modern day tortoiseshell glasses are made with cellulose acetate — a material that’s not only better for turtles, but also more comfortable for the people who wear glasses.

Genuine tortoiseshell is heavy, so the tortoiseshell glasses of the 1950s would’ve left a serious dent on the top of your nose after a full day’s use. Cellulose acetate is a naturally derived plastic made from plant cellulose. It’s molded into extremely lightweight plastic frames that feel comfortable all day long.

But while the material may be new, the tortoiseshell look is just like the classic vintage style. This style has been around since the 1920s, but tortoiseshell had a big moment in the ’50s. You’ll see it in old photos of Marlon Brando and Cary Grant. Even Betty Grable wore a pair of oversized, round, tortoiseshell glasses in the movie “Pin Up Girl.”

5. Horn-Rimmed Glasses

In the 1950s, metal glasses were out (with the exception of a few aviator sunglasses here and there) and horn-rimmed glasses were in.

Sometimes tortoiseshell glasses are also referred to as horn-rimmed glasses — the two have a similar look, with both featuring a thick frame all the way around the lenses instead of a thin metal wire. But instead of being made from tortoiseshell, horn-rimmed glasses were made from horn.

And yes, much like how tortoiseshell glasses were made from a real tortoise’s shell, horn-rimmed glasses were also made from a real animal horn, usually a cow’s horn. This is what a lot of black vintage frames are made of.

The look was especially popular for men’s glasses — thanks to James Dean and his iconic black glasses — though you’ll also see it in women’s cat-eye glasses. And the material continued to be used in 1960s glasses and ’70s glasses.

In today’s specs, we recreate the horn-rimmed look with cellulose acetate, just like we do for tortoiseshell glasses. The result is comfortable, lightweight glasses frames that offer all of the style of horn-rimmed glasses without any harm to animals.

3 ’50s-Style Glasses to Add to Your Retro Wardrobe

Now that you know the look, it’s time to find your own pair of ’50s-style glasses. Here are three frames that fit right in with ’50s fashion.

All three are available with prescription lenses, sunglass lenses, and even prescription sunglass lenses. Plus, you can add extra features like blue-light blocking technology, which helps minimize eye strain from staring at screens, or light-responsive technology, which allows your clear lenses to transition to tinted lenses to protect your eyes in bright light.

1. The Wanda

Pair Eyewear's Wanda glasses

These oversized cat-eye frames are fun, funky, and feminine. The Wanda is the perfect pair to pair with a poodle skirt or a ’50s-style bandana headband. You can make them even more ’50s and fabulous by adding a removable sparkly Top Frame that mirrors the bedazzled look of rhinestone glasses. They also make fabulous ’50s-style sunglass frames.

2. The Soto

Pair Eyewear's Soto glasses

For all the “Rebels Without a Cause” out there, The Soto glasses look just like James Dean’s pair of round horn-rimmed glasses. To really ace 1950s fashion — and look like an ace in the process — opt for the black horn-rimmed style or the tortoiseshell pair.

3. The Ella

Pair Eyewear’s Ella glasses

A cat-eye frame made specifically for smaller faces, The Ella still offers large enough lenses for small and average-sized faces. Plus, they make stylish cat-eye sunglasses, or you can add snap-on Sun Tops to turn your regular glasses into ’50s-style sunglasses.

’50s and Fabulous

The ’50s is one of our favorite decades for fashion because it was the first decade to put eyewear at the center of style. And since your glasses are at the center of your face, we think they’re the most important style statement you can make.

That’s why, at Pair Eyewear, we design glasses that allow you to express yourself. We offer fun ’50s-style glasses in a variety of silhouettes.

Every Pair comes in a horn rim-inspired black, brown or blue tortoiseshell, as well as clear, blue, or pink. Once you choose your favorite Base Frames, you can show off your retro style even more with a variety of snap-on Top Frames. Find a pair of eyewear that’s a perfect match for your personal style today!