Audrey. Jackie. Anna. Karl. Kanye.
Along with single-name status, what do these legendary style setters have in common?
They’re all recognizable by—and celebrated for—their chic sunglasses.
Cat eye- or aviator-framed, color-lensed or reflectively mirrored, sunglasses make a serious fashion statement. Dark glasses “…are the ultimate signifier of 'cool' in mass culture,” notes Vanessa Brown in her book, Cool Shades: The History and Meaning of Sunglasses.
Sunglasses: from Rome to runway
While the epitome of modernity, sunglasses have a history dating back two thousand years. In ancient Rome Emperor Nero donned translucent emeralds to ease the glare of afternoon gladiator games. Twelfth-century Chinese nobles used smoky quartz to combat eye fatigue. An English optician experimented with tinted, corrective lenses as early as the 1700s.
But it wasn’t until the 20th century, with its advances in technology and mass production, that sunglasses came into their own. First worn by athletes, Air Force pilots and actors, dark glasses were soon widely adopted by millions of ordinary people.
Sunglass design arguably reached its zenith in the 1950s and 1960s. Styles made famous by mid-century celebrities—Buddy Holly’s browlines, Steve McQueen’s aviators, Jackie O’s bug-eyes—carry an enduring élan that still inspires eyewear designers today.
Then, as now, sunglasses aren’t just for rock stars and jetsetters.
Anyone can add a touch of allure and mystery to a look by slipping on a pair of shades. To make the most of sunglasses’ powerful panache, however, you need to find a pair that’s right for you.
How to uncover your sunglass style type
Your choice of uniquely-you sunglasses starts with a look in the mirror: choose frames that harmonize with your face shape.
Not sure how to identify your face’s shape? Use this handy cheat-sheet.
With your face shape assessed, consider frames that best flatter your face.
4 fashionable, face-flattering frames
Sunglasses come in all sizes, colors and silhouettes. Here are four of our favorites. Discover which one works for you.
Wayfarers and square frames
Wayfarers and other square-shaped frames are among the most timeless and versatile sunglasses. Made of durable, lightweight plastic, Wayfarers represented a revolutionary break from the period’s heavy metal frames. Originally introduced by Ray-Ban in 1956, the sunglasses’ sleek, clean-lined silhouette has remained a wear-with-everything staple fashion staple ever since.
Famous Wayfarer wearers: Grace Kelly, John F. Kennedy, Bob Dylan, Jim Belushi
Do Wayfarers work with your face?
Wayfarers and other square frames add angularity to a round face. Square frames also work on a rectangular, narrow face—the thicker frames lending width to cheekbones. Have an oval face? Lucky! You can wear square—or any shaped frames.
Aviators: teardrop-shaped frames
Aviator sunglasses were first popularized by—surprise!—aviators. In the 1930s, pilots’ open cockpits required flyboys to wear protective eye gear. A lighter, more flexible version of flight goggles, aviator sunglasses were designed with angled, rounded lenses that spared pilots’ eyes glare, moisture, wind and cold. The military-spec frames went largely unchanged until the 1970s when designers introduced aviators in an array of groovy colors, prints and materials. Today, aviators still convey the sporty, daredevil style that threads back to their high-flying origins.
Famous Aviator wearers: Elvis Presley, Gloria Steinem, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston
Do Aviators work for your face?
Classic Aviators, with their teardrop shape, work well on a rectangular face, by adding roundness. Aviators also enhance a heart-shaped face: the sloping teardrop frames give your narrow lower face the illusion of width. And aviators look terrific on an oval face.
American comedian and silent film star Harold Lloyd popularized round frames in the 1920s with his circular, tortoiseshell frames. Over time, designers extended the look, experimenting with blown-up sizes, tinted lenses and wire, celluloid and colorful plastic frames. By the 1960s, oversized round frames were the Beautiful People’s preferred shape. Since then, round frames have evolved—from Diana Ross’s 1970s bug-eyed sunnies to the 1990s’ counter-culture mini wire frames—but consistently remain a popular and trendy silhouette.
Famous round frames wearers: John Lennon, Sophia Loren, Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, Iris Apfel.
Do round frames work for your face?
Round-shaped frames balance a square face, adding softness to broad foreheads and strong jaws. Round frames also work with sharply angled faces of many different shapes. Of course, round frames look great on an oval face.
Cat eye frames
The winged corners of cat eye frames were an instant hit when first introduced in the 1950s. Projecting an irresistible mix of feline sexiness and celebrity inaccessibility, cat eyes quickly became the sine qua non accessory of Cinecittà starlets, Hollywood icons—and the ordinary women who wanted to look like them. The frames’ upswept edges reached dramatic heights in the 1960s when bold colors, crystal accents and two-tone trims became the norm. Since its midcentury heyday, the shape has softened but remains as sexy and appealing as ever.
Famous cat eye wearers: Princess Margaret, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Scarlett Johansson
Do cat eye frames work for your face?
With their distinctive, larger frames, today’s cat eye sunglasses lend width and symmetry to triangular-shaped faces. A cat eyes’ slightly tapered corners also add more defined angles to a round face. Cat eyes add glam to an oval face as well.
Sunglasses: your single most important accessory
Unlike a Parisian frock or heritage leather handbag, sunglasses are an affordable fashion indulgence. They are also an entry-level luxury item that can mark your passage from fast fashion into more mature, enduring style. So rather than buying five $20 street-vendor shades, invest in a pair of quality sunglasses. Streamlined and classically designed, sunglasses will dramatically enhance your entire wardrobe and—if well cared for—provide you years of stylish service.