The Evolution of Women’s Eyewear

There was a time when women only wore glasses in private because they were seen as unattractive necessity. There was also a time when the majority of glasses were purchased from travelling caravans!

Comparatively, there is a now a stark contrast in attitudes towards eye-wear; glasses and sunglasses are some of the most sought after accessories for women. Eye-wear has progressed in leaps and bounds over the centuries and is now considered both fashionable as well as functional. That’s not to say that glasses have always been historically unfashionable, so we’re taking a leap back in time to witness the evolution of eye-wear from the female perspective.


The ‘pince-nez’ (literally translated as ‘to pinch the nose’) was all the rage in the early part of the century, but despite this fact they were still known for being uncomfortable and impractical! They were primarily made of wire and used to balance on the bridge of the nose, without any arms for your temples.

This minimal style was aimed at the ladies of the century, but one of the obvious issues was how easily they could fall off somebody’s face, so the designers of this particular eyeglass had to come up with some creative solutions to prevent this, such as delicate neck chains.

The ‘lorgnette’ was also incredibly popular and one of the first pieces of eyewear that was hailed as a fashion accessory for ladies in high society. It consisted of two lenses held up by a handle that was usually adorned with jewels, carved horn or etched metals.

Interestingly, the lorgnette was also viewed as a suitable and appealing accessory for women as they only had to hold it up to their face rather than having their appearance completely overshadowed by impractical spectacles. Indeed, it was a common feature in masquerade balls and also led to the development of modern opera glasses!


These round style frames became particularly popular for women towards the end of the roaring twenties into the 1930s, following the USA’s passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920 which gave women the right to vote. This shape was universal- perfect for an increasingly liberated female presence. It became so popular amongst women that it remained right until the end of this decade!

1940s & 1950s

Recognise this famous face? Ms Monroe was a big fan of the ‘browline’ style. It is widely regarded as one of the biggest eyewear trends in history amongst women, combining a top heavy plastic brow bar with a thinner metal design at the bottom of the frame. This style was so popular that it accounted for 50% of all glasses sales in the USA until the 1960s!

As you can see in this photograph, this era was also the age of the ‘cat-eye’! This was a look that screamed confidence and glamour, and with famous actresses Marilyn Monroe wearing these big, bold, plastic frames on and off screen, they rapidly became an iconic fashion statement of high fashion and desirability for women.


The time of flower children, freedom and change. From bold, geometric shapes, the iconic ‘John Lennon’ look, to oversized bug-eye glasses, these wild and contrasting styles reflect both the political and social climate of the 1960s. One of the biggest issues for the women of this age was inequality in the workplace with salary and access to better jobs.

As you can see above, Jackie Kennedy Onassis was a big fan of the bug-eye look, as it created both a mysterious and chic aura around her. As a popular and infuential American women, her image, along with published works like Betty Friedman’s ‘The Feminine Mystique’, inspired widespread solidarity amongst females.


The 1970s were a continuation of equal rights for women, with advocates like Gloria Steinem from the National Organisation for Women showcasing the rectangular aviator style. This is a noticeably masculine style, created to cause a stir and wake the world up to gender equality. A brave move that still resonates today, with masculine aviator styles still consistently popular amongst the women of the world.


The 80s were the decade of the Wayfarer style and Madonna was one of the biggest style icons to bring Ray Ban wayfarers to the peak of their popularity. This distinct trapezoidal shape marked a rebellious, darkly cool look that was emulated worldwide after its regular appearances in movies, television and with celebrities sporting them as part of their everyday look in real life. It gave women the same confidence and independence that males of the age exuded, with more female actresses taking on roles that were traditionally male dominated, such as cops.


The 1990s was the age of punk rock and 3rd wave feminism, and marked the comeback of small round or oval frames. This minimalist, ‘grunge’ look was a symbol of breaking the taboos surrounding issues for women such as domestic abuse, rape and misogyny. The age of girl power, indeed!

There you have it – a look back in time at women and the evolution of eyewear. Nowadays, there is no real stigma behind wearing glasses for women, indeed you can even buy frames with plain glass just to wear as accessories!

So, whether round, square, thick rimmed, plastic or metal, glasses are considered stylish, appealing, and a universal option whether their purpose is to be functional, fashionable or both. A win for women and another step forward into the future!