Vintage Sunglasses: History, Styles, and Purchasing Tips

Last updated on May 9, 2024

Discover the allure of vintage sunglasses, their history, and how to identify authentic pairs.

Key takeaways:

  • Vintage sunglasses reflect the essence of their birth era through design and detail.
  • To identify authentic vintage sunglasses, examine the quality of materials, hinges, and lenses, and look for brand markings.
  • Ray-Ban Aviators and Wayfarer, Persol 649, Oliver Goldsmith, and Cazal are iconic vintage sunglass brands and models.
  • Proper storage, delicate cleaning, and regular checks are essential for maintaining vintage sunglasses.
  • Authentic vintage sunglasses can be purchased from specialty boutiques, online auctions, vintage fairs, online retailers, estate sales, and thrift stores. Engage with social media and forums for leads and insights.

History of Vintage Sunglasses

history of vintage sunglasses

Sun specs as we know them began to solidify their place in fashion and function in the early 20th century. While tinted spectacles date back as far as the 12th century in China, those primarily served to reduce glare, rather than to protect from UV rays. Mass production kicked off in the 1920s, as the allure of Hollywood cinema and its stylish stars sparked public interest.

The 1930s and ’40s saw sunglasses become symbolic of glamor and mystique, with the advent of polarized lenses giving a nod to health-conscious protection. This era introduced the Aviator, initially for pilots, which swiftly transitioned to a must-have accessory. The mid-century celebrated variety, with cat-eye frames sweeping the scene, radiating femininity and sophistication.

Each decade thereafter, sunglasses mirrored societal shifts. The free-spirited ’60s and ’70s gave rise to oversized frames and vibrant colors, capturing the zeitgeist of the times. In contrast, the ’80s reveled in sporty, bold looks, popularized by movies and music stars.

Understanding this chronology aids enthusiasts in accurately dating frames and discerning genuine vintage styles from retro-inspired modern fabrications. Vintage sunglasses are not just relics; they’re time capsules, reflecting their birth era’s essence through design and detail.

Identifying Authentic Vintage Sunglasses

identifying authentic vintage sunglasses

First and foremost, examine the quality of the material; authentic vintage glasses feel sturdy and well-crafted. The weight of the frames can often give away a forgery, as modern reproductions tend to use lighter, cheaper materials. Look closely at the hinges – they should be smooth and seamlessly incorporated into the frame, without any plastic sleeves that are prominent in newer models.

Inspect the lenses. Most vintage sunglasses from the mid-20th century have glass lenses, not plastic. While heavy, glass has a distinct clarity that is quite noticeable. However, take care not to dismiss a pair simply because of plastic lenses, as some reputable brands did use high-quality plastics in their original designs.

Peruse for brand markings, which can be subtle or prominently placed inside the temples or on the bridge. Genuine pieces often have the brand name, and sometimes even the model number, etched or printed clearly. Be savvy, though – counterfeiters can replicate logos, but they may not withstand a detail-oriented inspection. Compare markings with authenticated images or consult a reliable reference.

Check for signs of wear and age, but don’t let them lead you astray. Patina and wear can indicate age, but they’re not foolproof evidence of authenticity. Likewise, pristine condition doesn’t inherently signal a replica; some treasures have simply been well-preserved or restored.

Trust but verify with a provenance check. If the sunglasses have a traceable history or they’re from a reputable dealer, chances are higher you’re dealing with the genuine article. Nevertheless, trust your instincts, but also seek external validation.

Lastly, remember, the devil is in the detail. Rarity often breeds imitation. If you’re eyeing a supposedly rare find, a thorough comparison with known originals is crucial. Rarity should be your cue for deeper investigation, not instant trust.

Iconic Vintage Sunglass Brands and Models

iconic vintage sunglass brands and models

Ray-Ban’s Aviators initially soared to prominence on the faces of military pilots before becoming a civilian favorite. Their teardrop shape and lightweight frames distinguish them. Ray-Ban also struck gold with the Wayfarer, a design that caught fire in the ’50s, the thick frames and angular design encapsulating the era’s bold fashion.

Persol, an Italian manufacturer, offered the 649, initially meant for tram drivers, but which gained fame when Marcello Mastroianni wore them in “Divorce, Italian Style.” Their keyhole bridge and silver arrow have become hallmarks of style.

Oliver Goldsmith made waves with their outsize shapes and unusual designs. Celebrities like Audrey Hepburn and Michael Caine donned Goldsmiths, blending performance with high fashion. The brand’s audacious shapes, like the ‘Manhattan,’ remain coveted by connoisseurs.

Meanwhile, Cazal carved out a niche in the ’80s hip-hop community; their bold lines and gold accents are instantly recognizable. Models like the 607 became symbols of status and style.

Tips for Maintaining and Caring for Vintage Sunglasses

tips for maintaining and caring for vintage sunglasses

Proper storage is crucial for preserving the condition of vintage sunglasses. Ideally, store them in a hard case away from direct sunlight to prevent the frames from warping and the lenses from fading.

Cleaning requires a delicate touch. Use a soft, lint-free cloth to wipe away smudges on the lenses. For tougher grime, gentle lens cleaner or water with a mild liquid soap can help. Avoid household cleaners as they may damage the lens coatings.

Handle with care, as vintage frames may not have the flexibility of modern ones. When adjusting the fit, it’s best done by a professional optician to avoid snapping or distorting the frame.

Regular checks of the screws and hinges will save many from loose arms or lens popping surprises. Tighten them gently with a small screwdriver but be cautious not to strip the threads.

Replacement parts should match the period of the sunglasses. Modern screws or nose pads can detract from the authenticity and value of vintage shades.

Embrace minor quirks and patina. These characteristics contribute to the story of the piece and reflect its journey through time.

Where to Purchase Authentic Vintage Sunglasses

where to purchase authentic vintage sunglasses

Venturing into the world of specialty boutiques, one can find a curated selection of vintage sunglasses. These establishments often provide a deep dive into the provenance and history of each piece, adding a layer of storytelling to your purchase.

Online auctions present a treasure trove of possibilities. From rare finds to beloved classics, these platforms offer a gambit of options to seasoned collectors and casual enthusiasts alike. Exercise caution, however; familiarize yourself with the seller’s ratings and review past buyer feedback.

Vintage fairs and antique markets beckon those who prefer the thrill of the chase. The tactile experience of handling these time-honored pieces adds a personal touch to the hunt. Knowledgeable vendors can also offer insights, enriching your understanding of the sunglasses’ heritage.

For accessibility and convenience, consider checking out trusted online retailers specializing in vintage fashion. They often have rigorous authentication processes and clear return policies, giving buyers peace of mind.

Don’t overlook estate sales and thrift stores; sporadically, you might stumble upon a forgotten gem. Patience is key, as these finds are sporadic but rewarding for those willing to sift through the racks.

Connect with like-minded enthusiasts on social media and forums. These communities can offer leads on pieces, share experiences, and provide validation of a sunglasses’ authenticity. They are wellsprings of collective knowledge and often encourage new collectors by sharing trade tips and insights.


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