National Sunglasses Day: Iconic Duos of Hollywood Stars & Their Frames
Every summer, National Sunglasses Day spotlights the importance of wearing tinted eyewear to shield our eyes from the UV rays.
People have been protecting their eyes from the glare of the sun since prehistoric times when generations of people living in the snow-bound Arctic Circle used pieces of flattened walrus, ivory or caribou antler fitted to their eyes to protect them from burning snow and ice reflections.
Nero, a legendary emperor of Rome, supposedly used an emerald shade to watch the gladiator games. In 12th century China, the shades were made of smoked quartz to block out the light from the sun, while in 18th century Britain, James Ayscough, an optician who is often credited as being the pioneer of sunglasses, began experimenting with tinted lenses.
Sunglasses as we know them became popular in the 20th century after Sam Foster convinced the Woolworth’s store on the famous Atlantic City Boardwalk to sell 10-cent sunglasses and launched the mass production of sun goggles, as they were then called, in 1929. Soon a sporty set of shades for driving and other summer daytime activities were promoted as eyewear for winter activities too, including skiing. Since then, sunglasses have become an absolute essential.
It was in the 1930s that sunglasses were first used as fashion statements. New inventions in plastics made shades, especially popular in white or clear frames filled with smoked grey, amber-brown or green lenses.
In 1936, Bausch & Lomb designed eyewear that would protect pilots from high altitude glare by using the new polarized lens technology invented by Edwin H. Land, and a year later literally everyone could buy the model known as rimless Ray-Ban Aviators that were to be an iconic cultural phenomenon for Hollywood for decades. Up until today, the so-called Aviators are one of the most iconic fashion statements: worn by Tom Cruise in 1986’s Top Gun by Tony Scott, they’ve kept their tremendous popularity throughout the 36 years that followed until the release of the film’s sequel in 2022.
Through the years, sunglasses have become an essential part of day-to-day life, while each pair has its unique quality. And of course, Hollywood stars have been using sunglasses as an efficient tool to channel their diverse personalities on the silver screen ever since the early days. Directors are aware that people seem more enigmatic when we can’t see their eyes, and actors know that behind the right pair of sunglasses they can conceal mystery, mischief, defiance, lust or whatever else their characters wish to hide.
The 1940s was the decade of sunglass experiments. People were wearing bigger and bolder plastic frames, shades were colorful and round, and sometimes frames were made in the shape of a flower. White frames with dark lenses were still chic. In the late 1940s, the frame shape changed to a style that would become iconic in the 1950s.
Mirrored lenses adopted by women’s eyewear from men’s aviator glasses was another trend of the 1940s, and of course, the cat-eye – a popular new design – came into vogue at that time too.
Interestingly, before the 1950s many famous Tinseltown A-listers used sunglasses to shield their eyes from the bright studio lights as well as to hide away from the curious eyes of the public, but sunglasses were not used in films or publicity photos and posters.
The 1950s became the era of high glamour: everyone was wearing sunglasses even if not needed. The most popular style was the 50s cat-eye frame with colorful plastic rims and a sparkling detail in the upper corners. Cat-eye sunglasses became an iconic look for the decade.
In the 1950s Ray-Ban made its comeback to the fashion and film arena by launching its 1956s Wayfarer model with a trapezoidal shape which became the ultimate trend sported both on and off the screen by the biggest Hollywood stars and A-list celebrities, such as James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955, or John F. Kennedy and Muhammad Ali. The Wayfarer design has also proven to be a fashion long lifer, appearing in films and fashion stories throughout the decades.
Its second wave of popularity came in the 1980s with the memorable cinematic appearances of John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in The Blues Brothers and Tom Cruise in Risky Business.
Another midcentury Ray-Ban design enjoying a return to the spotlight is the Clubmaster, a hybrid of Aviator and Wayfarer. First boosted by the Golden Globe winner Bruce Willis in the 1980s TV series Moonlighting, and the Golden Globe-nominated Willem Dafoe in 1988’s Mississippi Burning, this design was sported by Golden Globe nominee Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs, and by Golden Globe winner Kevin Costner in JFK in 1991, as well as by Golden Globe winner Matt Damon in The Good Shepherd in 2006.
1960s cinema has the greatest number of cinematic appearances of leading women and men wearing sunglasses, which now have become trendy as never before.
In 1961, Breakfast at Tiffany’s showcased a multitude of style icons such as the little black dress, blue jeans, the beige trench coat, the casual pullover, and slacks worn with flats as well as cat-eye sunglasses. Holly Golightly played by Golden Globe nominee Audrey Hepburn wears oversized brown tortoiseshell shades with green lenses concealing her true feelings while she scales the social ladder of Manhattan.
1960’s La Dolce Vita by Federico Fellini embodies the essence of Italian sophistication, and so does Anouk Aimée whose character, the wealthy playgirl Maddalena, drifts elegantly through the streets of Rome wearing her black cat-eye shades day and night.
Persol sunglasses were made fashionable by Golden Globe nominee Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968. The tortoiseshell folding Persol shades with blue-tinted polarized lenses became as famous as his three-piece suit. Interestingly, McQueen was a fan of Persol sunglasses off the screen too and owned a personal collection.
The 1969 psychological thriller La Piscine features its crème de la crème cast in a wardrobe designed by Balenciaga protégé André Courrèges, who grasped the glamorous feel of Cote D’Azur. Co-starring Alain Delon and Romy Schneider, Jane Birkin, who plays Pénélope, wears tortoiseshell-framed bug-eye sunglasses with blue lenses that set the tone for the entire decade to come. Similar shapes of sunglasses are sported by the Golden Globe nominee Margot Robbie in her role of Sharon Tate in 2019s Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood by Quentin Tarantino.
In the 1970s, eyewear fashion shifted to larger sunglasses with more transparent lenses, softer shapes and pastel tints creating a more relaxed vibe. Clint Eastwood’s Harry Callahan, a tough cop in the 1971 film Dirty Harry, wears pitch black Ray-Ban Balorama sunglasses, while Danny, played by the future Golden Globe winner John Travolta in the Grease in 1978, wears massive black shades.
1980s cinema also has a few memorable appearances of sunglasses in addition to Wayfarer’s second wave of popularity boosted by Tom Cruise, Bob Dylan, and Madonna. For instance, Eddie Murphy’s shades in 1984’s Beverly Hills Cop were made by Porsche Design and featured an option of lens switch-out, whilst Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator wore a pair of bulky Gargoyles Classic in 1984’s James Cameron’s film.
In the 1986 drama The Color of Money, directed by the Golden Globe winner Martin Scorsese, Paul Newman’s character wears Cartier Vendome Santos frame made of 18-karat gold with a platinum-plated finish. This distinctive frame was introduced by Cartier in 1983, and they promptly became a symbol of status, especially for materialistic movie villains like Christopher Walken’s Bond villain in 1985’s A View to a Kill.
Another sunglasses look from the 1980s belongs to the couple from 1983’s Scarface, directed by Brian De Palma.
Elvira Hancock’s look in a white skirt suit and brimmed hat perfectly matched with a pair of oversized pink cat-eye sunglasses has become a legendary fashion statement. While Tony Montana, played by the Golden Globe winner Al Pacino, wears the pair of turtle-shell shape Porsche Design by Carrera, Elvira’s shades were bought by the Golden Globe winner Michelle Pfeiffer at a drugstore. At least, this is the story she shared on her Instagram earlier this year.
Following many decades of large sunglasses, the 1990s styles turned to the vintage inspiration of round frames. Towards the end of the decade neon lenses popped up as homage to the 1960s.
The list of the most iconic sunglasses in 1990s would be incomplete without the pair of classic tortoiseshell cat-eye shades worn by Susan Sarandon’s character in 1991’s Thelma and LouiseTommy Lee Jones and Golden Globe nominee Will Smith in 1997’s Men in BlackBrad Pitt in David Fincher’s Fight Club in 1999; the massive Vuarnet 03 sunglasses worn by Jeff Bridges in 1998’s The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers; or the Ray-Ban Clubmasters of the gang from Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs in 1992.
Despite being released almost thirty years ago, Jean Reno’s image in 1994’s Léon by Luc Besson is still considered to be one of the most iconic sunglasses looks. The pair of vintage Jean Paul Gaultier’s circular tinted lenses, widely recognized as John Lennon sunglasses, became Léon’s signature as his Beretta. And when this look is borrowed by 12-year-old Mathilda, played by future Golden Globe winner Natalie Portman in her debut role, this sunglass look acquires an even darker context.
The Matrix, released in 1999, has become a huge part of pop culture as one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time. It introduced a series of characters who have remained popular until today, as well as several legendary sunglasses looks, including the beady-eyed shades worn by Keanu Reeves’ Neo, or the modern take on pince-nez glasses spotted by Laurence Fishburne’s Morpheus. The original Matrix sunglasses were one-of-a-kind styles created for each character by eyewear designer Richard Walker of Blinde Optics: however, thanks to the legacy of the franchise, a Matrix-inspired style may be found in almost every major brand’s portfolio.
2000s – 2020s
In the 21st century, we keep turning to the movies for style inspirations even though social media has taken its share of our attention. The list of the most iconic onscreen eyewear in the new century includes the large golden-brown sunglasses worn by Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada in 2006, the mirrored sunglasses we can see on Tilda Swinton’s Marianne in 2016s A Bigger Splash by Luca Guadagnino, and many others.
However, one of the most memorable characters associated with sunglasses of the 2000s – 2020s is James Bond, played by Daniel Craig from 2006 through 2022. In his very first mission as 007 in 2006’s Casino Royale, James Bond wears two pairs of Persol sunglasses, as Sean Connery’s 007 had in 1964’s Goldfinger. Craig’s first pair is a metal frame, and the other one is a turtle frame with green lenses.
From Craig’s next appearance as 007 in 2008’s Quantum of Solace to 2012’s Skyfall and 2015’s Spectre, Tom Ford was Bond’s tailor, hence Craig sports Tom Ford sunglasses, namely, FT108 (semi-matter rhodium frame with black temple tips and smoke blue lenses) in 2008, Tom Ford Marco (platinum frame with blue lenses) in 2012, and Tom Ford Snowdon (tortoise-brown frame with gray lenses) in 2015 in addition to his collection of specialist sunglasses like Vuarnet PX Glacier Goggles as an example.
In 2020’s No Time to Die – Craig’s final Bond movie – James Bond wears a variety of sunglasses, including Barton Perreira “Joe” when he arrives at London’s MI6 office or Barton Perreira “Norton” in the Italian opening of the film (as Roger Moore’s Bond did in 1985’s A View to a Kill), while relying on Vuarnet “Edge 1613” frames for special occasions.