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Famous Frames: The Evolution Of Fashion Eyewear In The 20th Century

It is believed the first glasses were made in Italy around 1286. From simple magnifiers to modern prescriptions, glasses have significantly improved in design and style over the past centuries, but certainly by leaps and bounds in the 20th century.

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What used to be a necessity to correct vision, is now a fashion statement for those with or without 20/20 vision. Some famous faces have made for some famous frames in the history of eye wear. It is 100 years of an eyeglass evolution.

Early 20th Century

Teddy Roosevelt is the most recognizable figure from the turn of the century who donned a pair of glasses daily. He was often photographed or painted with his famous spectacles. The popular look for the time period was an understated Pince-Nez (pinch nose) eyeglasses often worn from around 1870 to 1920. The design was simple with two modestly framed lenses connected by a nose piece that held the glasses on the face. According to Dr. Bishop & Associates, after World War I, this style was viewed as old-fashioned, and lacking style.

Large, round lenses began to take off in the Hollywood set while comedian Harold Lloyd brought fame to horn-rimmed glasses. His look would later influence John Lennon and Buddy Holly. The 1930's thankfully ushered in sunglasses, further influencing corrective eye wear shapes and styles well into the 1950's.


Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was the quintessential expert on haute couture. Her sense of style highly influenced the eyewear fashion of the time period, particularly making over-sized lenses popular in both corrective glasses and sunglasses. She was often photographed in both round and square frames of exaggerated proportions.

1980's and Beyond

Tom Cruise rocked his Ray Bans in "Risky Business" in 1982, sending teens swooning for the famous frames. Television shows like Miami Vice heavily influenced eye wear with Wayfarers. Madonna and Cindi Lauper kicked off the popularity of colored frames which spilled into the 90's with white to gold to shocking neon.

The 20th century was the most influential era thus far in the fashion history of frames. It's no longer just about making a statement with the clothes on your back. It's about having the trendiest glasses on your face to complete the look. Whether you need a new pair after a Calgary eye exam, or are just looking for some new aviator sunglasses, these fashion pieces are here to stay. If "Back to the Future" is any indication, the eye wear evolution has only just begun.

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