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Tortoiseshell Glasses for Every Style and Face Shape

Looking for a chic and sophisticated pair of glasses that can take you anywhere? Tortoiseshell glasses are just that — and so much more. They’re like a little black dress or that classic suit you can wear to work or to a party, depending on how you dress them up. Sometimes also known as horn-rimmed glasses, this timeless eyewear is both retro and right on trend, all at the same time.

Let’s explore the origins of tortoiseshell glasses and how they’re made now. We’ll find out who should wear them and share some tips on how to find the right pair for you. We’ll also suggest what to wear them with. You’ll see exactly why this intricate design has been so popular for centuries.

What Are Tortoiseshell Glasses Made From?

If you’re an animal lover, there’s no need to worry. Tortoiseshell isn’t made from real tortoise shells anymore. The material was once made from turtle shells (not tortoise) but that practice has fortunately since been outlawed.

Taking a step back into the distant past, tortoiseshell was first used by the Ancient Greeks to make musical instruments. The Romans also used it to add a tortoiseshell veneer to their furniture and other household items.

According to archeological evidence, the first tortoiseshell glasses were probably only made around the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, tortoiseshell glasses, often mixed with whalebone, were considered the height of elegance. Moving on a few centuries, they were further popularized in the 1950s and ‘60s by celebrities like Buddy Holly and Marilyn Monroe.

Until the 1970s, tortoiseshell was mostly made from the beautiful marbled shell of the Hawksbill sea turtle. Sadly, this turtle was mass hunted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to the point where it’s now one of the most critically endangered species. Thankfully, the tortoiseshell trade was finally banned in 1977 by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Hawksbill sea turtles are sometimes still illegally hunted to make real tortoiseshell products. But the tortoiseshell glasses sported by famous faces like Ryan Reynolds, Oprah, Johnny Depp, and Gwen Stefani are most likely made of animal-friendly cellulose acetate.

The cellulose used to make glasses usually comes from cotton plants or wood pulp and it’s far more durable and pliable than real tortoiseshell. The cellulose is made into sheets that are dyed the various colors you’ll find in tortoiseshell patterns. These are diced, mixed, and remelted to create a mosaic of colors that’s finally rolled into a sheet of tortoiseshell acetate.

The components of your tortoiseshell glasses are then cut from this, sometimes combined with metal accents. The unique color pattern and the way acetate is made mean that no two pairs of tortoiseshell eyeglasses will ever be identical.

What Colors Do Tortoiseshell Glasses Frames Come In?

The Tortoiseshell glasses

As you’ve probably realized by now, tortoiseshell isn’t so much a color as a combination of colors. The classic brown tortoise is a warm, mottled mixture of more neutral tones like brown, black, and amber, which looks much like the original shell of the Hawksbill turtle.

Nowadays though, the definition of tortoiseshell has expanded to include different patterns — including big cat prints, like leopard or tiger — and different colors. You can now get tortoiseshell glasses in variations of blue, green, gray, or even pink and white.

Tortoiseshell glasses can be matte or shiny, depending on the look you’re going for.

Who Should Wear Tortoiseshell Frames?

One of the great things about tortoise frames is that they look good on just about anyone. The naturally warm tones complement most skin tones, hair, and eye colors, and they’re an excellent alternative to solid colors if you want to branch out a little. Depending on the style, they suit both intellectual and more creative personality types.

Many tortoiseshell glasses are unisex, flattering both men and women. They’re neutral while still adding character and allowing you to express your individuality.

What to Wear With Tortoiseshell Glasses

Here, the versatility of tortoiseshell comes to the fore once again. Tortoiseshell glasses work with many different colors and can accessorize outfits from casual or professional attire to a party dress.

Wear them with jeans and a printed T-shirt for a walk in the park with friends or to go shopping. Dress them up with a monochrome business suit and gold earrings for a work presentation. Pair them with an animal print to make a stylish and fun statement. Or use them to add subtle sophistication to evening wear.

Finding the Right Tortoiseshell Glasses for You

Woman wearing a pair of sunglasses

As with anything, it’s important to find the right tortoise glasses for you. This comes down to several factors.

Frame Shape

The ideal frame shape for you will depend on your face shape:

  • Round glasses are a classic shape and suit more angular faces, balancing out strong jawlines and cheekbones.

  • Rectangular glasses or square frames work for rounder faces, adding structure and complementing the curves.

  • Cat-eye frames are a vintage style and tend to be more feminine. They flatter many different face shapes, and their upward-tilted edges can add length to your features. 

  • Browline styles add width to your face, helping to balance out narrower features or a slightly weaker chin.

Frame Size

If you’re not sure of the right measurements for your glasses, ask your eye doctor to give them to you. The most important ones to be aware of are:

  • Lens width

  • Bridge width

  • Temple arm length

  • Lens height

  • Frame width

You’ll often find the first three written inside the temple arm or nose bridge. The others are usually included in the online description of a pair of glasses.

If your tortoiseshell glasses have nose pads, you can use these to fine-tune the fit.

Frame Color

Choose your frame color based on your skin tone, personal preferences, and the look you want:

  • Brown tortoise is perfect if you want to add subtle interest to your eyeglasses without putting them in the spotlight. If your skin is darker toned, consider a lighter tortoiseshell to complement it, and if your skin is lighter, a darker tortoise can look good.

  • Blue tortoiseshell is tortoise with a twist. If you prefer to stick to a subtle look or have paler skin, consider a muted blue or blue-gray tortoise. If your skin and hair are darker or you’re not afraid to highlight your eyes, a brighter blue is a good option and stands out more.

  • If you’re looking for a fun, creative feel that makes more of a statement, try a brighter colorway like a red, green, or pink tortoise — or even another animal print.

Your Lifestyle

When you’re choosing your shell glasses, you also need to consider your regular activities and the environments you spend the most time in. For example:

  • If you spend a lot of time outdoors, tortoiseshell sunglasses will help to protect your eyes from the sun and reduce glare from your environment.

  • If you tend to move indoors and out throughout your day, transition lenses may work well as they automatically darken or lighten depending on the brightness of your surroundings. Otherwise, try snap-on Sun Tops.

  • And if you often use your computer late at night, consider getting blue light filters so the blue light emitted from your device doesn’t impact your sleep patterns.

Where to Get Tortoiseshell Eyeglasses

Matcha Split Sun Top

You could pay a fortune for Ray-Ban, Oakley, or Havana tortoiseshell glasses — or you could shop Pair Eyewear for quality, style, and great value. Pair sells tortoiseshell reading glasses, single-vision prescription specs, and progressive lenses (the new bifocals).

Our range of full-rim glasses includes round, square, and cat-eye styles. Use our Virtual Try-On feature to help you choose the best tortoiseshell look for you. You’ll also find the exact sizes of each of our frames listed in our Size Guide as well as in the Fit Guide for each style.

Choose a Base Frame in brown or blue tortoiseshell or add a tortoiseshell Top Frame to another frame color for an instant classic lift to your look.

Our tortoiseshell frames are made from plant-based cellulose acetate and our lenses are polycarbonate. They’re scratch-resistant and impact resistant, with strong spring hinges to withstand daily wear and tear.

Try one of these best sellers in tortoise or blue tortoise:

For any questions, consult our FAQ page or feel free to contact us directly at [email protected]

Get Your Tortoiseshell Style Today

Tortoiseshell glasses have been around for centuries and they aren’t going out of style anytime soon. While no longer made from turtle shells, their beautiful patterns shine through, complementing many different complexions and personal styles.

When you’re looking for tortoiseshell glasses, consider your face shape, frame size, and color preferences, as well as your lifestyle. Then shop Pair Eyewear’s tortoise selection to find the best styles at the best price.

This classic and versatile design takes you from day to night, casual to elegant, and everywhere in between. No matter what glasses style you choose, you can’t go wrong with tortoiseshell.