The Evolution of Eyewear – How Glasses Have Changed Through the Decades

Fashion trends come, go, and come back again, and eyewear trends have proven to be just as variable. Here is a retrospective of the different eyewear fashions that dominated the eras throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. OptiExpress offers comprehensive eye exams, contact lens fittings, a gallery of designer frames, and a one-hour onsite lab.

Although eyewear serves a practical purpose – correcting imperfect vision and protecting eyes from damaging ultraviolet rays – it is also a fashion statement. Like all fashions, eyewear designs and trends are reflective of the eras in which they become popular. While earlier decades throughout the 20th century had easily identifiable eyewear styles, today we like to incorporate some of those elements into our modern eyewear choices to create a timeless appeal. Here are a few of the hallmarks of eyewear styles through the decades.

Turn of the 20th century to the 1920s

The beginning of the 20th century ushered in a more egalitarian age of eyewear. Whereas corrective eyewear was largely inaccessible to the underclasses of the 19th century, more efficient manufacturing processes and materials made eyeglasses more affordable and practical. The pince-nez glasses (eyeglasses that had no ear pieces, but were instead worn balanced on the bridge of the nose) and the lorgnettes (glasses with no ear pieces that were held up to the eyes using a long handle) were replaced by spectacles that were held in place with temples and temple tips that anchor to the sides of the face more securely. While there was a bit of variation in the frame styles, the vast majority of frames were round and made of thin metal wire.

1920s to 1930s

Eyewear became more comfortable and was offered in lifestyle-specific designs, such as driving goggles. By the 1930s, there was even more variation with frame styles. Frames became less round, and there was a greater diversity in materials with plastics having recently been invented.

1940s to 1950s

The post-war era saw a robust variety of eyewear fashions, from the iconic women’s cat-eye shape to the browline style that became the hallmark of 1950s erudite masculinity.

1960s to 1970s

While the eyewear fashions from the 1950s continued to be de rigueur in the early-to-mid 1960s, pop artists who embraced the “hippie” aesthetic started to harken back to the 1920s and thirties with small round or rectangular wire-framed “granny” glasses. As the 1960s drew to a close, eyewear had become as radical and psychedelic as the fashion, art, and design of the era. By the 1970s, eyewear had become bigger and bolder, with large geometrically shaped frames and tinted lenses.

1980s to 1990s

By the end of the 20th century, eyewear styles were largely leaning towards previous decades and celebrating the iconic looks of the 50s, 60s, and 70s with a few modern twists. Sports eyewear also began to take off, with highly durable frames favored by athletes becoming standard for the rest of the population.

The 21st Century

While the aesthetic of previous eras is continuing to inform current trends, today we are seeing a greater emphasis on technology that optimizes eyewear, like polarized lenses that reduce glare, blue light blocking features, transition lenses that automatically go from clear to tinted when the wearer heads outdoors, and much more.

At OptiExpress, we offer the latest eyewear fashions using state-of-the-art materials and design elements. Visit our designer eyewear gallery to view our selection.

OptiExpress founder Dr. J. Michael Witherington has been Ft. Myers’s leading eye care specialists for more than two decades. To schedule an eye exam at our Ft. Myers or Cape Coral location, please visit our contact page.