What are the Different Types of Retro Sunglasses?

Jeri Sullivan
Jeri Sullivan
Aviator sunglasses are considered retro.
Aviator sunglasses are considered retro.

Retro sunglasses are styles that were popular in previous decades. These glasses include aviator, oversized, wayfarer, and wraparounds. Retro glasses are most often worn in conjunction with retro clothing to create a vintage style. Many retro style glasses are still available as new purchases in sunglasses stores but for actual originals, buyers usually resort to thrift stores, garage sales, and online auction sites such as eBay.

Retro sunglasses include oversized wayfarers.
Retro sunglasses include oversized wayfarers.

Pilots in the 1940s wore aviator sunglasses in an effort to reflect the glare of the sun during flight. The sunglasses had a wire-rimmed frame and the lenses were made of mirrored reflective material. When worn, the eyes were not visible and when looking at the wearer, the person would only see a reflection of himself. The sunglasses later became a popular fashion accessory after being worn by Tom Cruise’s character in the hit movie "Top Gun."

Most quality sunglasses -- no matter the style -- block out nearly all UV rays.
Most quality sunglasses -- no matter the style -- block out nearly all UV rays.

Another style of retro sunglasses for men and women is the Wayfarer. Originally designed in 1952 by the Ray-Ban Company, the Wayfarer was advanced for the time due to its plastic injection molded manufacturing process. The sunglasses had frames composed of plastic instead of metal, which made them much lighter. The frames were shaped like a trapezoid and came to a point on the upper outside of each lens.

Retro sunglasses may be found at garage sales, which are often advertised in local newspapers.
Retro sunglasses may be found at garage sales, which are often advertised in local newspapers.

During the 1980s, Wayfarers were one of the top selling sunglasses when the glasses started showing up in movies and television shows. The Ray-Ban Company had collaborated with film companies and signed a product placement deal. Two of the most notable movies featuring main characters wearing wayfarers were 1980’s "Blues Brothers" and 1983’s "Risky Business."

Wraparounds are a style of retro sunglasses worn by either men or women. As the name suggests, wraparounds include darkened lenses on the side of the face in addition to the front. The glasses are typically constructed from molded plastic and are designed to protect the eyes from harsh sunlight. Wraparounds may also be worn as eye protectors for people engaged in sports, yard work, or activities that may cause airborne debris.

Oversized retro sunglasses were manufactured by a variety of companies but were relatively similar in design. The most common aspect of oversized glasses is the rounded frame that completely covered the eye and surrounding part of the face. Oversized sunglasses are usually worn by women and became wildly popular during the 1960s after Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore them. Later known as “Jackie-Os,” these sunglasses are still popular today.

Discussion Comments


@geekish - Buying retro sunglasses for cheap is one of my favorite things to do for exactly that reason - well not as a joke per se , but because they immediately make a statement. That is one of the definitions I have of retro, is that to be retro they must be eye-catching.

I wonder if the Lennon style perfect circle sunglasses are going to ever make a big comeback. I remember a time in middle school that people were buying them in different lens colors but other than that I cannot remember a time when those sunglasses were very commonplace.


My mom loves to give me a hard time about my big vintage retro sunglasses, because back in the day when she wore them I thought they were just awful.

Now I love them. They add a bit of uniqueness to any outfit. Now I would not pair them with my athletic clothes but pretty much anything else I can find a way to accessorize and wear those cheap sunglasses that I bought when my go-to sunglasses were left at home during a trip to the beach.

The funny part was that I was buying them as a joke; because they were so big it made me laugh when I put them on and my friends could not take me seriously as soon as I slipped on those sunglasses.

But now - think simple maxi dress, fashionable but a bit boring, add large retro sunglasses, and now you are making a statement.

Has anyone else done this, where they buy retro glasses that were so outrageous they were bought as a joke and then ended up being their go-to pair of glasses?


I think that oversized sunglasses look really cool on most people. I just have one issue with them, and that is the weird tan lines they must leave for people who wear them while sunbathing.

I have never seen anyone with large circular tan lines around their eyes, but I imagine it must happen frequently. It seems that many people in California wear these sunglasses, and they stay out in the sun a lot.

I own a pair of Wayfarers, and I only wear them part of the time while I’m out in the sun, because I want the area that they cover to get a tan to match the rest of my body. I just wonder if this is what people who wear oversized sunglasses do, too.


I was looking to buy a pair of retro aviator sunglasses the other day, and I actually found a pair of Ray Ban sunglasses that were a little different. I thought I wanted some aviator sunglasses, but I found a pair of regular polarized sunglasses that I liked better.

I think that the rectangular frames work best with the shape of my face. I definitely suggest trying on sunglasses before you buy them because you may think that a pair will look good on you and maybe they don’t.

I know that larger oblong frames also look terrible on me which is the reason why I stick to more conservative styles. I also like when the rims are colored. I have olive complexion and a nice reddish frame around the lenses also flatters my skin tone.

I do like aviator sunglasses on my husband though. It really makes him look great. I think a lot of guys can pull off this look and it really makes them look more masculine.


I think that I am in desperate need of some wraparound sunglasses. I wear regular ones, but every time I am weeding my garden, dirt flies up in my face and goes around the edges of my glasses into my eyes. I need protection on the side of my face to prevent this from happening.

Also, I frequently ride on the back of my dad’s motorcycle. With the sunglasses I now own, the wind whips around the edges and blows my eyelashes all around. It is so annoying and uncomfortable. Wraparound sunglasses would fix this problem.


I have an interesting pair of retro sunglasses that belonged to my sister when she was a teenager in the 1980s. Both the lenses and the frames come to a sharp point at the top, and they are the shape of a cat’s eyes.

To make them even more awesome, the frames are a glittery red. When I was a kid, I thought that these were the coolest sunglasses ever. I remember that she used to lay out in the yard in her red swimsuit with white polka dots while wearing these sunglasses, and they matched perfectly.

I keep them just because they are so different. I wouldn’t wear them out in public, but I still think they are very cool.


I think my first pair of sunglasses were cheap Wayfarers. They had bright blue rims, and my mother bought them for me in the eighties.

I remember that I didn’t wear them much, because I loved seeing everything in the bright sunlight. However, she made me wear them when we went to the beach, because she was afraid the sun might damage my eyes.

As a little girl, I looked cute in these sunglasses. I don’t think they would look good on me now, though. To me, the look best on young children, because they are rounded, plastic, and playful.


My husband loves to wear retro sunglasses and has several pairs of them. He likes to go online and will usually order more than one pair of wayfarer sunglasses at a time.

I really shouldn't complain too much. The sunglasses I like to wear cost quite a bit more than his do. He can order three pairs for the price I pay for one pair of sunglasses.

Even though they aren't that expensive, I don't think you will find me wearing any retro sunglasses. Some people can pull it off and look just fine, but I am not one of them.


When my son was dressing up for a costume party, he found a pair of cheap retro sunglasses at a thrift store to complete his outfit.

This was all a lot of fun for the party. I told him they looked pretty good and he should keep them and wear them all the time. That way he wouldn't have to worry about losing or misplacing them.

This didn't go over very well, as he didn't think they were cool enough for him. He said he would stick with his expensive oakley sunglasses and I could have the retro ones.


I never been able to get away with wearing the Jackie-O sunglasses because I feel like I look like a bug when I put them on. I love retro sunglasses, but the Jackie-O look is a hard one to pull off if you don't have the right face shape.

The one look I can pull off is the John Lennon small circular glasses he made famous. They somewhat look like granny glasses, but I think they look much better on me than the huge glasses that were popular in the '60s.

Does anyone have a favorite type of retro sunglasses that you like to wear?

There are just so many styles to choose from. Some much funkier than the rest.


There is nothing more popular than the aviator sunglasses if you are looking for a retro look. I always see people wearing these shades, and frankly, they look cool.

Aviator sunglasses seem to be one of those trends that has moved from being retro to classic. If you go into any high-end sunglasses store, the aviator sunglasses will be among the most expensive kind of eye wear in the store.

For myself, I like aviator sunglasses because they do a great job of protecting my eyes when I am driving in my convertible. They are functional and stylish, so it's really a win-win situation.

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    • Aviator sunglasses are considered retro.
      By: paultarasenko
      Aviator sunglasses are considered retro.
    • Retro sunglasses include oversized wayfarers.
      By: ysbrandcosijn
      Retro sunglasses include oversized wayfarers.
    • Most quality sunglasses -- no matter the style -- block out nearly all UV rays.
      By: Casther
      Most quality sunglasses -- no matter the style -- block out nearly all UV rays.
    • Retro sunglasses may be found at garage sales, which are often advertised in local newspapers.
      By: Kurhan
      Retro sunglasses may be found at garage sales, which are often advertised in local newspapers.