For most of the 1940s, round circle sunglasses with thick plastic frames were the trendy fashionable look. Light frames heavily contrasted with dark lenses giving them a “bug eye” look. Yikes! They certainly are strange to look at today. White frames with dark lenses were especially chic. Other colors blended a bit more but were still very vibrant. It was popular to wear your brightly colored sunglasses when at the beach. They were sold cheaply at most beachside five and dime stores.

1947 Color Sunglasses

New plastic frames were a big hit with women. Suddenly 1940s sunglasses were fun to wear! Red, blue, white, black, green, and yellow were not uncommon.  Tinted lenses added more diversity to the options. Lenses in red, green, amethyst, blue-ish, green-yellow or grey-black were matched with frames to compliment skin and hair colors. In some cases, colored lenses were thought to correct a certain mood or medical illnesses. There was little scientific evidence for this however certain colors did help reduce, for example, too much blue in the sky. Aviator glasses were often a smokey green-grey that reduced glare. Ironically, rose-colored glasses made everything grey and more depressing.

1940s sunglasses: Willsonite, Ray-ban, Polaroid brands

In the 1940s the shape of lenses started to include a deep triangle shape, similar to an aviator style where the top was wider than the bottom of the lens. Aviator glasses are an icon of the 1940s for men’s sunglass fashion, and for women the shape was similar. They often came with wireframes, just like men’s, but could also have a plastic frame browband. These gave them a sporty look. So high fashion!

1946 Women’s Aviator Style Sunglasses
Sunglasses at Venice Beach, California, 1941. Pictured are Betty Walter, Marjorie Moore, Bonita Edwards, Mary Stader, Kay Davis, Louis Davis, and Maurine Maguire.

In 1947, Business Week picked up on the current sunglass fashion with this remark “Dark glasses were once the badge of the blind man. Hollywood turned them into a fad; today they are a definite style item in avid demand by young and old. Along with plastic frames came an avalanche of weird shapes and tins. To be really smart, a girl must have not only the type and shade to suit her face-shape and coloring; she requires a different pair for sports, every day, and even- in some extremes of the dark glasses fad- for evening wear. Sometimes there are individual frame designs for special costumes.”

Special order sunglasses could be painted to match a particular outfit. Some went as far as to encase the dress fabric in clear plastic- the ultimate matching frame! These, of course, were only for the wealthy to attain.

The change in frame shape continued into the late 1940s with a style that was to become an icon of the 1950s. The harlequin shape was a rectangle lens with a thick frame. They have a certain personality to the wearer—a mark of the NEW LOOK, a new woman. They evolved with a slight uplift at the outside corners. More stretching and combining with the sports aviator style and a new iconic sunglass were born: the cat eye. Small details were added to the corners such as little gold stars that were advertised to ladies with grey hair. The gold brightened up her face, they said.  The 1940s cat eye was not set so narrow and pointed as they became in the 1950s The 1940s cat eye (which wasn’t yet called this) were still full-size lenses to provide ample sun blocking.

1949 Sunglasses- A Variety of new shapes

One final fad in the 1940s was mirrored lenses. They started with men’s aviator glasses which the military issued to them. Women’s sunglasses adopted them as well and were especially popular with teens. On a practical note, they blocked out 30% more rays than tinted lenses. On a fashion level, they obscured onlookers from seeing into her eyes. These became very useful for Hollywood stars hiding from fans and the media.

Prior to the 1940s, glasses were practical but not fashionable. The standard choice for the past few decades were either thick round horn-rim glasses or rimless lenses with gold fittings. The shapes were all generally round with a tapered bottom edge. Some styles for women featured upper or lower octagon edges. Lenses were thick and heavy and not very comfortable to wear for a long duration. Most women preferred to only wear them for reading.

Hexagon rimless glasses, gold rim

These classic eyeglass styles continued into the early ’40s with the exception of gold frames. Plastic frames became more affordable, although not very dainty. It wasn’t until after WW2 that someone had the novel idea that glasses should follow fashion trends. Plastic could be made in many colors and new shapes. Should a woman choose a dark frame or light frame to match her hair? It was a choice she could make with the variety now available

Actress Eleanor Parker wearing rhinestone-studded *cat eye* eyeglasses

1940s glasses took on the shapes that sunglasses were offered in. Eyeglasses were usually lighter than sunglasses with less frame until the late 1940s when the popular cat eye put everyone in fashionable glasses all day long.

A larger effort by the eyeglass industry to market these new fashionable glasses increased the use. Read more about 1950s glasses and 50s sunglasses.