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From Hair Combs to Sunglasses: How Manufacturers of Women’s Accessories Adapted to the Market 

The 1920s was a time of change, and one of the most notable areas was in women’s fashion. Young women especially threw off the last of the Victorian sensibilities that had dominated the 19th century and embraced short dresses and short hair. The other piece of their new look could often include the newly fashionable sunglasses in the same styles the rising movie stars out in sunny Hollywood were now sporting. 

But changing styles meant a change in the products women needed, and fortunately, the accessories that were now out of style offered an easy transition into new sunglasses. One unexpected accessory that became the ideal switch for vintage women’s glasses? Hair combs.

The Fall of the Hair Comb and Rise of Sunglasses

For centuries, hairstyles for women in many cultures required extremely long hair, often down to the waist at least, that they would style into elaborate updos. The hair comb was a key styling tool for many of these hair arrangements. It was both an ornamental piece and a functional one. Antique hair combs usually measured between three and five inches long and consisted of a set of comb teeth topped with a decorative piece.

The teeth helped to secure the style in place once the hair was styled, and the ornamental part of the comb would be on display as part of the style. The hair comb could range from simple to highly decorated, often with gold accents, gemstones, pearls, or ornate carvings. With all the different options, women would own multiple hair combs to match their different outfits.

Throughout this time, hair combs were made from a variety of different materials, including:

  • Wood 
  • Metal 
  • Ivory 
  • Tortoise Shell
  • Horn 

By the early 1900s, the most common material was a plastic called zyl, which was lightweight, easy to shape, and affordable.

But as women began cutting off their hair in the 1920s to achieve the Flapper bob style, there was suddenly no need for hair combs since there was no long hair to style. At the same time, sunglasses were coming in style. They had started out as a functional accessory for movie stars spending all day in the Southern California sunshine. But in the 1920s, as now, fashions that began in Hollywood often soon spread out to the masses.

This is where makers of combs were able to find their niche. The same plastic material that hair combs were made out of was also the best material for sunglasses. The easy manufacturing, lightweight and comfortable wearing, and low cost worked as well for glasses frames as it did for hair combs.

Many of the companies that manufactured hair combs for women quickly updated their production lines and began turning out vintage sunglasses for women instead. For the companies that did, it soon became apparent that they had made the right decision as the popularity of sunglasses boomed and the market became far more lucrative than hair combs ever were.

While a few of these original 1920s sunglasses still survive today, they are often fragile due to the materials used at the time. Instead, it is easy to get this look with a pair of retro horn rimmed sunglasses from Eyeglasses Warehouse. Our glasses can be customized with tinted lenses for high quality pair of sunglasses with a distinctly Jazz Age appeal. Check out all the styles we have available here on our website.

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