Glasses are one of the most recognizable accessories we can wear. Since they are worn on the face, glasses are as prominent as your hair or features. And most people who wear glasses or sunglasses regularly opt for one or two favorite styles, giving themselves a defining look.
This has caused certain glasses styles to be associated with celebrities. Seeing a pair of iconic glasses can bring to mind famous people with glasses throughout history. From the countless photos and videos we have seen of famous musicians, politicians, scientists, and writers, many vintage frame styles are better known for the celebrities who wear them than for the style themselves.
Oftentimes, these historical figures were simply wearing a style of spectacles that were popular at the time. Wearing the same glasses can infuse a vintage look into your daily wardrobe if you plan to use retro celebrity frames for your prescription glasses.
These are some of the best known glasses styles, made popular by celebrities and historical figures over the past two centuries. Learn more about the types of vintage glasses you have come to recognize and the people who wore them.
The Beatles Iconic Eyewear
The Beatles and their music defined an entire generation. The band’s impact on rock and roll made them some of the most recognized faces in the 1960s, 70s and beyond. With their frequent concerts, television, and magazine appearances, the glasses the band members wore soon became associated with them.
John Lennon Glasses
When the Beatles were first getting started, John Lennon wore black, horn rimmed glasses popular with other rock stars like Buddy Holly, or he opted for contact lenses. But the glasses he became known for were vintage round glasses.
Lennon first wore these glasses in the 1966 movie How I Won the War, and continued to wear them throughout the rest of his life. These are Windsor glasses which have perfectly round lenses and temples that attach at the middle of the lens. Lennon wore a variety of frame thicknesses and colors over the years, although thin metal wires were the most common for John Lennon glasses.
Today, wearing a pair of John Lennon glasses can invoke the famous rock star in your look. But Lennon also made round glasses symbolic of the hippie movement of the 1960s and 70s, and these are also the right style if you are looking for hippie glasses. Perhaps the most famous person with circle glasses to ever live.
Paul McCartney Glasses
There are several photos of Paul McCartney in glasses, particularly during the height of Beatlemania. But unlike Lennon, McCartney had relatively good eyesight when the Beatles were recording and did not need glasses. He was also aware of how Lennon and his iconic glasses were part of the band’s image, and left eyewear to him.
But in the rare photos that exist of McCartney in glasses, he is most often wearing vintage horn rimmed spectacles with thick black frames. Recently released photos from the Revolver Sessions show McCartney in rectangular glasses, similar to what rockers like Brian Wilson were wearing. McCartney has also worn Marshwood style glasses with wire rims and aviator glasses.
George Harrison Glasses
George Harrison’s style included sunglasses in exciting geometric shapes, from tiny squares to over-large oval lenses. The vintage sunglasses Geoerge Harrison wore were typically cheaply made and not meant to last, so few originals survive. You can find retro George Harrison glasses that look the same as some of his more iconic pairs.
During the Revolver Sessions in 1966, Harrison was wearing small rectangular sunglasses that sat low on the nose. These were made in Japan and the temple ends may have had heart shaped tips as a fun touch. His heart shaped sunglasses were also memorable.
Vintage Glasses Worn by Musicians
Many other musicians before and after the Beatles made vintage eyeglasses and sunglasses part of their image. Buddy Holly made horn rimmed glasses synonymous with rock n’ roll in the 1950s while Elton John’s sunglasses from the 1970s are unforgettable. You can wear the same vintage glasses as your favorite musicians, including:
John Denver Glasses
John Denver may be one of the most legendary musicians of the 1970s and beyond. His folk and acoustic music resonated with listeners, as did his carefully chosen image. In addition to long hair and his shirt depicting western Americana, Denver famously wore “granny glasses.”
Granny glasses got their name because they were very out of style by the 1970s, and even decades before were only really worn by older adults. First debuted as Marshwood glasses in the 1920s, these glasses had thin wire frames, usually gold-filled. They had nose pads to keep them in place and temples that hinged at the top corner of the lenses to allow for unobstructed peripheral vision.
Denver’s glasses usually had ovoid or round lenses. Already vintage when John Denver wore them, you can find many of these antique wire frame glasses available today.
Michael Jackson Glasses
Beyond his exciting outfits and dance moves, Michael Jackson also had great taste in eyewear. Michael Jackson glasses are most often aviator glasses. First designed for the U.S. military, these glasses were mainstream wear in the 1970s, 1980s, and until Jackson’s death.
Michael Jackson generally wore Ray-Ban aviators, usually the Ray-Ban 3025 style. He also wore the Ray-Ban Wayfarers extensively for a period.
Glasses of Famous Politicians and Activists
Politicians are more often remembered for their policies and impact than their fashion choices. But since political figures and activists are featured extensively in the media, any unique accessories are memorable.
Mahatma Gandhi Glasses
In his work as an activist, freeing India from British rule and fighting for equality, Mahatma Gandhi had a simple, yet defining look that included a pair of gold wire framed glasses. The first design of these glasses occurred in the 1880s when Gandhi was a young man, and remained in style until the 1920s, although Gandhi wore them until his assassination in 1948.
Windsor glasses have round lenses connected by a saddle bridge, and temples that connect at the middle of the rim. Because they lack nose pads, Gandhi glasses have cable temples that curl around the ears to help hold them on the face. You can find both antique round lens glasses from the early 1900s and retro glasses in the same design.
Theodore Roosevelt Glasses
Teddy Roosevelt started wearing glasses about the same time as he became president in 1901. He was the first president to be photographed in a pair of glasses as spectacles at that time were still primarily a medical implement and were considered the opposite of fashion. Roosevelt is also one of only 3 presidents to date to wear glasses continuously.
Roosevelt wore pince-nez glasses, which literally translates to “pinch nose.” Instead of being kept on with ear temples, the bridge pinches the wearer’s nose to stay in place. There are multiple styles of pince-nez, including the C-bridge, or spring bridge, which Roosevelt wore. A curved bridge connected the two lenses. To put them on, the wearer slightly pulls the lenses outward and sets them on the nose. The spring then retracts, holding them – hopefully – in place.
Interestingly, Roosevelt’s glasses also saved his life. Or at least, his glasses case did. During an assassination attempt in 1912, Roosevelt was carrying his steel glasses case and copy of his speech in his breast pocket. These items slowed down the bullet enough that it only penetrated his chest muscle, but did not kill him.
Winston Churchill Glasses
Recognized around the world for his leadership during both world wars, Winston Churchill was a British prime minister and statesman. He began wearing Windsor glasses as he got older, often made for tortoiseshell. Churchill owned several pairs of round glasses, each marked with a certain number of dots on the frame to indicate whether it was for reading, speeches, card playing, or another purpose.
In 2017, one of the three pairs of glasses Churchill owned at the time of his death sold for approximately $10,000 at auction. But you can also find the same style of antique round glasses from Churchill’s time with wire rims. Tortoise shell Windsor glasses are harder to find, since they tend to be fragile, but retro glasses with modern materials are an attractive alternative.
Senator Arthur Vandenberg Glasses
Senator Vandenberg was a long-serving Republican senator from Michigan who was a dominant conservative voice against Depression-era policies and post-WWII international policy. Throughout his career spanning from 1928 to 1951, he wore three-piece rimless frames.
Vintage three piece rimless glasses were first designed in 1921. They get their name from the fact that they consist of three metal pieces – two temples and the bridge – in addition to the lenses. The hardware is mounted directly to the lenses, and wearers like Vandenberg chose them for their more subtle appearance.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Glasses
While leading the country through the Great Depression and then WWII, President Franklin Roosevelt often wore a pince-nez to correct his nearsightedness. This style of spectacles was going out of style in the 1930s when FDR was president, but they were reminiscent of the spectacles FDR’s cousin Teddy Roosevelt wore when he was president 30 years previously.
A pair of antique pince-nez spectacles like Roosevelt wore are a fun accessory whether you want to wear them or display them.
Ho Chi Minh Glasses
A revolutionary leader and president of Vietnam between 1945 and 1965, Ho Chi Minh wore plastic frames with a shape similar to Ray-Ban Wayfarers, Tart Arnels, and other horn rimmed glasses popular in the 1960s.
Because these frames were made of plastic, it can be difficult to find original vintage glasses today since the frames could often crack or warp. We often have “new old stock” vintage horn rimmed glasses or retro glasses in that same memorable look.
Malcolm X Glasses
Although browline glasses were one of the most popular styles for men’s glasses in the 1950s, many people today know them as Malcolm X glasses since he was always shown wearing them as he campaigned for civil rights for Black Americans.
Vintage browline glasses have a thick upper rim made of aluminum or cellulose acetate, highlighting the eyebrows. These glasses offered wearers the first chance to customize their glasses, which had previously been wire rimmed or had black horn rimmed frames. Malcolm X capitalized on this with dozens of pairs of browline glasses, all in different colors.
Senator Barry Goldwater Glasses
A leader of the conservative movement, Republican Senator Barry Goldwater often wore a pair of horn rimmed glasses with thick black, plastic frames. The glasses Senator Goldwater wore were so recognizable that one of the souvenirs for his 1964 presidential run were pins of an elephant (symbol of the Republican party) wearing horn rimmed glasses.
The early plastics used in these glasses in the 1950s and 60s were not durable, so few originals remain despite the style being popular at the time. But vintage horn rimmed glasses have never gone out of style and you can find retro horn rimmed glasses like Barry Goldwater wore.
Jackie Kennedy Glasses
We said earlier that politicians were rarely fashion icons. That was not true of First Lady Jackie Kennedy Onassis who inspired millions of American women with her feminine and professional style. Jackie Kennedy began wearing oversized sunglasses in the late 1960s and throughout the 70s, usually made by French designers like Francois Pinton and Nina Ricci.
For vintage Jackie Kennedy sunglasses, large oval, octagonal, or square frames from the 1970s will help you achieve that iconic look. Jackie O’s sunglasses often had plastic black or tortoiseshell frames.
Antique Glasses of Famous Writers
The studious look of glasses is fitting for a writer, and many authors have been known for their spectacles. Some writers whose image included eyeglasses include:
Katharine Lee Bates Glasses
Katharine Lee Bates was a respected professor at Wellesley College and a pioneer of American literature. She is best known today for writing the patriotic song “America the Beautiful.” Glasses were not yet a fashionable item during Bates’ time, but the pince-nez she wore in her portraits indicated her respectability and intellectual achievement.
Bates wore a vintage rimless pince-nez, a relatively common style between the 1900s and 1920s, when she died. Rimless were a popular style because the optician could cut the lenses in any shape. Since pince-nez had a reputation for falling off, Bates followed the custom at the time of using a chain to attach her pince-nez to her hair pin.
James Joyce Glasses
Irish author James Joyce suffered from eye problems throughout his lifetime and underwent dozens of eye operations. He was almost entirely blind in his left eye and his right eye had bad vision, so glasses were a necessity.
His style of choice was Windsor glasses. This vintage circular glasses style was popular in the late 1800s up to the 1920s, although Joyce continued to wear them until his death in 1941. His glasses had relatively small lenses even as lens grinding technology and changing trends brought more proportional lenses into style.
Others Famous Spectacle Wearers
There are probably far more celebrities with glasses that come to mind when you think of famous spectacles. Actors, military heroes, businessmen, scientists, and more are as recognizable for their glasses as they are for their achievements, including notable famous people like:
General Joseph Stilwell Glasses
Initially a hero in WWII for leading troops in the Chinese-Burma-India theater, General Joseph Stilwell became a contested figure later on for his military decisions. General Stilwell was a career soldier and wore military issue glasses in the P-3 style. Vintage P-3 glasses used a heavy duty metal frame that could withstand combat conditions and cable temples to keep glasses on. General Stilwell’s glasses had ovoid, or egg-shaped- lenses.
Vintage military glasses were made to be long lasting, and so many pairs survive today while civilian glasses have been lost over time. You can find these and other wire frame glasses on our website.
Sir Edmund Hillary Glasses
Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay were the first recorded mountain climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1953. To protect his eyes from snow, wind, and the bright sunlight at high altitudes, Hillary wore Swiss Army goggles during his Everest trek.
Googles like these had been developed in the 1890s to protect mountaineers with tinted lenses and durable straps to keep them in place while exercising. You can find similar antique goggles to Hillary’s from notable safety brands like Titmus Optical.
Dr. Benjamin Spock Glasses
Known as the author of Dr. Spock’s Baby and Childcare Book, Dr. Spock revolutionized the way parents raised their children in the 1940s. His book reassured new parents that they could trust their instincts, as did his calm demeanor and thick glasses.
Dr. Spoke wore horn rimmed glasses with black plastic frames. The glasses had a trapezoidal shape that flared at the tops where the temples attached. Later in life, he transitioned to square frame glasses or sometimes aviators.
Steve Jobs Glasses
Steve Jobs quickly became a household name after launching the first Apple computer in 1976. As the Apple brand grew to include innovative computers, phones, tablets, and software, Jobs crafted his image to include jeans, a simple black shirt, and his round, rimless glasses.
The glasses were custom-made for Jobs by Robert Marc in 1998, uniting the rimless style with round frames, but there are many possibilities for getting glasses in a similar style. There are a number of vintage Steve Jobs glasses readily available. With all metal hardware and no plastic frames to break or crack, rimless glasses tend to last for years. Eyeglasses Warehouse also has retro Steve Jobs glasses in the same style as the Job’s iconic glasses.
Where to Find Vintage Celebrity Glasses
The best place to shop for glasses worn by famous people is at Eyeglasses Warehouse. We stock both authentic, antique glasses that were originally made during the decades when these celebrities were active. They are high quality frames, many of which are the same brands that celebrities wore.
Eyeglasses Warehouse also produces a line of retro glasses. These are reproductions of glasses worn by celebrities like Steve Jobs, John Lennon, Malcolm X, and more. We have designed these frames as replicas of famous glasses, as well as with options and variations to match your unique style. But we also use modern materials and manufacturing methods to make our retro glasses, giving you a perfect fit and durable frames.
For both vintage and retro frames at Eyeglasses Warehouse, you can switch out the lenses. Imitate your favorite celebrity style by having your optician add in your prescription lenses, or design a unique pair of sunglasses with tinted lenses. Or add in plain glass lenses for an interesting accessory or to complete a costume.
Our inventory is constantly changing. Browse our styles from top celebrities today, and check back frequently as we add more vintage glasses frames worn by famous people throughout history.