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Types of Eyeglass Styles Popular in the 1950s

Although designer styles like the pince-nez glasses saw popularity in the Victorian era, the 1950s was one of the first decades in which eyeglasses transcended their purely functional use to become a fashion accessory. Innovative shapes, bright colors, glitter and jewels, and bold looks were the new standard for eyeglass frames. Women now had a range of options to match their outfits, but men were not limited either.

There were many reasons glasses became the fashion standard they did in the 1950s. New plastic materials meant designers could leave behind the plain silver or gold frames of the past. Film and television were on the rise, depicting both celebrities and fictional characters in stylish glasses that designers rushed to produce and viewers quickly embraced.

1950s Eyeglass Frame Styles

The 1950s had a range of popular glasses styles. Some, like cat eye and horn rimmed glasses built on popularity from earlier decades, but reached a peak in the 1950s. The main eyeglass frame types from this period are:

  • Cat Eye Glasses – These frames are rounded at the bottoms and sweep up at the corners. During the 1950s, the frames were narrow and at their most pointed. Colorful plastics, glitter, pearl inlays, and carved flowers became more popular as the decade progressed. Marilyn Monroe made cat eye glasses one of the most in demand women’s eyeglass styles after her characters wore them in movies.
  • Horn Rimmed Glasses – Originally made out of animal horn, horn rimmed glasses experienced a resurgence in the 1950s with plastic frames. Horn rimmed glasses have frames that encircle the lens and are thicker than wire frames. They were primarily men’s glasses in the 1950s so black, brown, and tortoiseshell were the most common colors.
  • Browline Glasses – Another men’s style, browline glasses have a top portion made of plastic. The remainder of the frames uses thin wire. The plastic tops imitate brows or draw attention to the browline. Men’s browline glasses usually had black or brown plastic and silver or gold wires, although Malcolm X was known for wearing browline glasses in many colors. Browline glasses could also be made for women in the cat eye style.
  • Wayfarers – Ray-Ban released their first pair of Wayfarers in 1952, which were soon popularized in 1955 when James Dean wore them in Rebel Without a Cause. The original Wayfarer glasses had thick plastic frames and smaller lenses for a masculine look.

Throughout the following decades, 1950s glasses have gone in and out of popularity. Horn rimmed glasses have endured as a favorite style for eyeglasses while others have come back into the mainstream for their retro appeal.

While many glasses manufacturers have introduced modern frames that mimic the 1950s look, few can capture the vintage appeal of the original 1950s glasses. If you are looking for authentic cat eye glasses, browline glasses, or horn rimmed glasses, check out our inventory here on our website.

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When were the first eyeglasses used in history?

History is full of impressive moments of discovery, creativity, and development. Such developments have come from specific regions, yet slowly but surely became a key part of wider civilisation. One common example of this would be eyewear and glasses. When, though, did we start using glasses as a thing? When did humans come up with the invention of glasses?


The factual time for discovery and invention is often disputed, though evidence shows vintage frames could be a very old discovery indeed. Ancient writings from Roman and Greek historical periods shows mention of tools that were used to help improve visibility and “easily seeing” – often used for things like reading manuscripts or even viewing the battle of two Gladiators when sitting further back in the arenas. However, the first real noted of anything akin to glasses comes from the Middle Ages.


These, though, were the first mentions of something known as pince nez ; small glasses that come without any arms, and instead sit on the bridge of the nose. Typically, they were linked with the higher-ups in the intellectual class who wanted to help correct their vision.

However, the first sign of “spectacles” in the traditional sense comes from the late 1700s.


Vintage Glasses in France


Heading back in time, we move to 1796 towards the Haut-Jura region of France. Here, there is a natural gluttony of wood, minerals, and water. According to one discovery, the craftsman Pierre-Hyacinthe Cazeaux was producing nails as was his industry when his current pair of vintage glasses, made in Britain, snapped. By using tools he had already present from his nail manufacturing, he played around with iron wiring and created a kind of focal point for the glass itself to reside within. Many believe that this is the first proven “invention” of actual ‘hair glasses’ – and perhaps the very beginning of worn eyewear in the manner we all understand today.
However, the unsightly nature of their design meant that were not a major uptake on the use of antique eye glasses until the 19th Century. At this point, mechanisation was in full swing and we were able to create vintage eyewear without having to see each pair created by hand, thus cutting down on the cost and time of delivery massively. As we moved into the 20th Century, though, it was now that eyeglasses started to take on a far more fashionable style. The days of using glasses as a pure functional aide were gone.
As we moved into the middle of the century, then, glasses started to become not only more visible, but also far more fashionable. For years, retro glasses were nothing more than a useful accessory; now, they were becoming something that had function and fashion.


Indeed, the first sunglasses came to be modelled in the late 1920s, when Sam Foster created the first pairing. The fashion world was never the same again, and today we are used to seeing glasses come as part of an outfit as much as a prescription.

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What are Pince-Nez glasses?

The world of vintage eyewear comes with a whole range of styles which were liked and inspired by a great many people over history. However, some styles have come and go with little fanfare while others have stuck around for decades. However, one of the most popular styles of glasses in the 19th and 20th Centuries was known as Pince Nez glasses. Hugely popular, they were a totally different style from what you might have expected to see today.


Pince-Nez glasses, then, varied from the typical kind of eyewear that we all wear today through one important distinction – they were held up without earpieces. Instead of having the ‘legs’ that we expect in glasses today, it instead held itself on via the bridge of the nose. In fact, this is where the name stems from; the name Pince-Nez is a mixture of the French word pincer and nez, meaning “to pinch” and “nose” respectively.

Despite being immensely popular in the 19th and 20th Centuries, though, the actual history and usage of the Pince-Nez glasses goes much further back in history. Indeed, they were used commonly across Europe as early as the 14th Century. Peak popularity arrived sometimes in the late 1800s and early 1900s, before they were slowly but surely replaced by the modern style of glasses that we are all more aware of today.


What made the Pince-Nez glasses so popular?


As one of the most popular forms of vintage eyewear when you look across history, Pince-Nez glasses were hugely popular for various reasons. They were very popular as they offered the next step-up in terms of style and design for retro glasses. Previously, glasses were even more minimal and lacked any kind of means of keeping them held to our faces. For that reason, many people would either suffer with poor eyesight or go through pairs of glasses due to dropping, smashing, and general loss.

pince nez glasses
The Pince-Nez glasses, then, were so popular because they improved vision and were easy to wear then remove as needed. It’s a reason why they remained so popular for a long time to come, despite eventually being replaced by windsor glasses, steve jobs glasses and other forms of vintage glasses. However, it might be fair to say that the habit of even keeping legged glasses on a chain was inspired by the fact that, for years beforehand, people had kept their Pince-Nez glasses close by on a chain.


Pince-Nez glasses versus Oxford spectacles


One common misconception is that both Pince-Nez glasses and Oxford glasses are one and the same thing. However, while similarities are obvious, there is a difference in some specific designs and uses. The style was supposed to have been created after a professor at Oxford University snapped the handle from their lorgnette glasses and used small nose pads to help keep them in place as opposed to fixing the lorgnettes.


Oxfords actually managed to outlast the Pince-Nez glasses in some areas of the world, especially in Europe and America. Indeed, they were still in pretty common usage as late as the 1930s. Compared to Pince-Nez glasses, which slowly began to run out of visible usage in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Oxford glasses – though similar in many ways – were simply more long-lasting in some parts of the world.

pince-nez
By using the same thinking of using the nose as the bridge, though, the Oxford glasses and typical Pince-Nez glasses shared a similar idea. Though different in many ways, these spectacles share a similarity in that they focused on the same part of the face – the nose – as the focal point.


The chain of Pince-Nez glasses


If you look at old photos of someone wearing such a style of glasses, you might often notice they are held onto the body with a little chain. This was used as a suspension chain to connect the glasses to someone’s clothing. This meant they were much harder to lose and much easier to attach and wear as needed. However, the main reason was actually from a major social stigma that resided around the wearing and usage of glasses.


They were typically removed and worn with the use of a chain, cord, or ribbon, so that the user could quickly wear the glasses on-demand. At the time, even as late as the 1900s, there was a real stigma around people who wore glasses all-day long. The constant wearing of glasses was treated with contempt, so many chose to have their Pince-Nez glasses available to stick on as and when needed.


So, the chain that you see in photos? It wasn’t just for preservation of the glasses, but preservation of reputation.


Looking for Pince-Nez glasses?


Then take a look at our range of Pince-Nez glasses available today. These antique eyeglasses styles are hugely popular and could be just what you are looking for if you fancy something old-school and rather fetching. Take a look at our range of Pince-Nez glasses today, and see why these were such a popular form of eyewear for so long.

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When did cat eye glasses become a ‘thing’? The early history of cat eye glasses

When it comes to wearing vintage eyeglasses, we can find all manner of intriguing details about their history. Every shape and style of eyewear has, at one stage, been brought into fashion by someone. One of the most popular forms of glasses today are cat eye glasses – but when did these actually become a ‘thing’?
While designs tend to come and go in any industry, the fashion industry has a pretty peculiar history with eyewear. Glasses come in all shapes and sizes, and one of the most particular and stylish form of glasses comes from the cat eye styling. Cat eye glasses have gone through a resurgence as people focus on trying to find a vintage look that retains a very particular style. However, while other design styles might fade in and out of relevance, one thing you can say about cat eye glasses is they have stood the test of time. When, though, did such a particular style of glasses become a relevant ‘thing’? When did these particular shapes first come into being?


The beginning of cat eye glasses


The cat eye style was long one that was beloved by humans, with many classical cultures seeing cats as deity-like beings. The unique and particular shape of their eyes was often used as part of cultural designs and contexts, too. So, we’ve long known that humans have a fascination with the cat eye shape…so when did we decide to make it a shape for eyewear? Most believe that this first started up in the early 1930s.


The 1930s style of vintage cat eye glasses are hugely popular today as a commonly worn form of vintage eyewear. They were first born into being after Altina Schinasi found that there was visible lack of stylish options for females. She found that many of the styles of the day were bulky, lacking in style, and often were limited in how flattering they could be to the face. Having looked at other opticians, she made the decision to try and create a more flattering style of eyeglasses that could be worn in the future.


The aim, then, was simple: to come up with a design that was going to make sure that females could get some fetching glasses. Indeed, one of the biggest inspirations for cat eye glasses came from the masks worn by the women of Venice at the time. Looking for a frame that was more exaggerated and dramatic than the options currently on sale, Schinasi looked to create an image that was more stand-out than the very functional options which were on the market at the time.

cat eye glasses vintage
Her designs, though, were met with resistance; many local opticians rejected the designs, before eventually gaining a fan from a New York boutique who wished to take the idea further. Over the next decade, cat eye glasses became a common fashion accessory for females looking to stand out and look their stylish best.


The rise of cat eye glasses


Come the 1940s, then, cat eye eyewear was a common sight around the world. The famous frames were becoming the choice of eyewear for ladies, as the world slowly but surely began to move away from such a conservative view of how females should dress. Over time, though, the name changed; for a period in the 40s, these were known as a Harlequin. Rectangular lenses were used with strong, thick framing but completed with a small but noticeable uplift at the sides.
They would often be accompanied with smart fashionable features, too, such as tiny golden stars and other aesthetic details. This played a further role in changing how the glasses would be seen by the public, and over time they became a popular choice for most ladies who were in need of retro eyeglasses.


As we moved from the 1940s and into 1950s glasses, though, the design trend began to slim down a touch. No longer as clearly exaggerated as they were in the previous generation, they also became more narrow and typically pointed – like an actual feline pair of eyes. This became very popular across the decade, though, as cultural icon Marilyn Monroe took to wearing a set of cat eye sunglasses in her movies. Given she was the height of celebrity culture at the time, it should be of little surprise that many took to her style in a bid to try and copy it for themselves.

blue cat eye frames
The 1960s, though, was the beginning of a period of time when cat eye sunglasses were practically everywhere. A large part of that stemmed from the fact that Audrey Hepburn took to wearing them in her hit movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It changed the perception of the glasses style; now, it was being worn by two of the biggest female cultural icons of any era. It meant that cat eye eyewear soon received mass acceptance, with many who would have never worn such an item taking to wearing them thanks to the huge increase in their popularity and their general availability.


Moving forward


While today cat eye sunglasses have taken a huge boost in popularity, they were all the rage in the 1970s and 1980s, too. While stars like Hepburn and Monroe would fade from the limelight, others kept up the style for a whole lot longer. The 1970s seen the increase in the size, with the oversized glasses becoming a major style point that fitted in with the bombast and the grandeur of fashion across both decades.


The 1980s, too, seen a huge boost in the rise of celebrity culture and the iconic stature that musical masterminds and actors on the big screen could command. This led to a whole range of face-shielding frames becoming all the rage, as celebrities looked to hide themselves more as they headed out into public.
By this point in history, cat eye glasses were very much here to stay; an absolutely essential part of history that was not going to move anywhere. Today, cat eye eyewear is commonly found in just about any high street in the world; if you are looking for fashionable yet classic eyewear, cat eye glasses have been a go-to option for over five decades and counting.