The Evolution of Eyeglass Styles Throughout the Years

While prescription eyeglasses might feel like something of the recent past, the idea of correcting poor vision has been around for centuries. First ideated by the ancient Egyptians and ancient Romans, the idea of correcting vision has since evolved from simple correction via glass manipulation to full correction with specialty lenses crafted using advanced technology.

Interested in discovering more about the evolution of prescription eyeglasses styles throughout the years? To help you along on this quest, we’ve put together a short yet comprehensive timeline of how styles have changed for your reference. Keep reading to learn more!

The Early Years of Eyeglasses

The Invention of Eyeglasses (1200 - 1300) 

The invention of eyeglasses has been traced back to between 1265 and 1300AD in Venice when scholars first theorized and then produced a set of ‘roidi da ogli,’ or ‘round glass for the eyes.’

The person most popularly credited with the eyeglass invention is Salvino D'Armati, though this claim has been widely disputed by many scholars. Nonetheless, this invention opened the door to the production of what would soon be known as eyeglasses and paved the way for better vision.

The Proliferation of Spectacles (1300 - 1400)

Before the advent of eyeglasses as we know them today, individuals with vision impairments relied on rudimentary methods to aid their sight. Scholars and scribes used reading stones, convex glass lenses held by hand, to magnify text and enhance legibility. However, these early devices were not practical for long-term use and lacked the comfort and sophistication of modern eyeglasses.

In the 1300’s, the production of eyeglasses became more prevalent with the implementation of biconvex lenses to help correct farsighted vision. This early version of eyeglasses used two pairs of lenses held up to the eye rather than worn.

The 14th century laid the foundation for the future development of eyeglasses. The invention of spectacles not only addressed age-related vision issues but also marked a significant milestone in the journey towards clearer and more accessible vision correction for all.

The Renaissance Eyeglasses (1400 - 1500)

The 15th century, a period known as the Renaissance, was a time of significant cultural and artistic advancement. During this time, the eyeglasses industry underwent further evolution introducing the first metal frames for spectacles and Venetian enameled glasses.

In the early-mid 1400s the most available style of eyeglasses were rivet-spectacles, a primitive form of Prince-Nez style eyeglasses that used bovine metacarpal bones carved to a paddle shape for the two frames, attached in the middle by a metal rivet.

In 1440 AD came the invention of the printing press in Germany by Johannes Gutenberg. As books became more affordable and accessible, the demand for reading spectacles grew, forcing inventors to find new, more innovative ways to mount biconvex lenses while keeping the hands free.

Creative Advancements in Eyeglasses (1500 - 1600)

In the 1500s eyeglasses took a more creative turn with the introduction of new materials for frames, such as leather, tortoiseshell, and whalebone. The style of these frames were typically heavily arched and pinched in at the nose.

Eyeglasses started becoming a status symbol of sorts during the 16th century. Wealthy individuals sought eyewear that showcased their affluence and taste. Frames were embellished with intricate carvings, engravings, and decorative accents, often crafted from precious metals like gold and silver. Luxury eyewear became a reflection of the wearer's social standing and an expression of artistic elegance.

The Middle Years of Eyeglasses

The Birth of Modern Optometry (1600 - 1700)

The 17th century witnessed the refinement of the "nose spectacles" design. These eyeglasses, also known as "pad spectacles," featured arms that extended from the lenses and rested comfortably on the wearer's nose.

German astronomer, Johannes Kepler, helps revolutionize how different lens shapes can help correct different types of vision problems. Through Kepler's experiences with telescopes and experimenting with different lenses 

Following advancements in ophthalmology in the 1600s, there was an increased demand for eyeglasses. This increase also led to explorations of new methods to design and secure eyeglasses to the nose and face, with contraptions such as wires around the head and springs at the nose bridge being introduced.

The idea of separating lenses according to corrective power was also introduced at this point by Benito Daza de Valdes in 1623.  Valdes' was a Spanish pioneer in optics and his published studies regarding the nature of refractive conditions of the eye are still highly regarded today in optometry studies.


The Golden Age of Eyeglasses (1700 - 1800)

The 18th century was a time of cultural refinement, scientific advancements, and the flourishing of the arts. Amidst this period of enlightenment, eyeglasses continued to evolve, reflecting the changing tastes and practical needs of society.

Eyeglasses, as we know and love them today with sturdy side arms, were first introduced in the early 1700s by optician Edward Scarlett. At the time no one could have know The monocle and lorgnette, otherwise known as a 'quizzing-glass', were also introduced during this period. 

These glasses were designed with handles and could be elegantly held up to the eye when needed. Quizzing glasses became especially popular in the following century among fashionable women who embraced them as both a practical tool and a fashion statement.

For the evolution of eyeglasses, perhaps the most important event during this time was the invention of bifocals. Bifocals were invented in 1784 by Benjamin Franklin. Combining the strengths of both convex and concave lenses, bifocals allowed wearers to address both near and far vision issues in a single pair of glasses. Franklin's groundbreaking innovation laid the foundation for multifocal lenses, further enhancing the functionality and convenience of eyeglasses.

Innovation in Eyeglasses  (1800 - 1900)

As we progressed into the 1800s, the favored style of eyeglasses again changed, reverting back to an armless style known as the ‘pince-nez’ that utilized a spring at the bridge to keep them on the face. New materials were also introduced to produce frames, expanding inventors’ abilities to create new and unique frame shapes and silhouettes.

New materials for frames continued to advance and in 1868 a material called celluloid was invented by a man named John W. Hyatt that would be a game changer for eyeglass frames.

Celluloid, a lightweight and versatile material, allowed for the mass production of eyeglasses in various colors and shapes. Celluloid is considered to be the first form of plastic and is the origin-point of all modern day plastic materials. The affordability and durability of celluloid frames made eyeglasses more accessible to a broader spectrum of the population.

The 19th century also saw the ingenious invention of folding frames revolutionized the eyewear industry. The folding design allowed the glasses to be easily compacted, making them more portable and convenient. This practical feature was well-received, especially among travelers and scholars who needed to carry their glasses with ease.

The Big Shift (1900 - 2000)

With the movement into the 1900s, eyeglasses again went through a notable evolution. There were no longer considered solely for corrective use but were also favored as fashion accessories.

This era introduced a wide range of styles, from the rounded frame designs of the 1970s to the bold rectangular frame designs of the 1980s and the minimalist designs of the 1990s.

Each decade developed its own iconic style of eyeglasses, bringing with it new innovations and technologies to better serve those who wore them.

The 1920s & 1930s

Round eyeglass frames were popular during the 1920s, especially among intellectuals and artists. These frames were often thin and lightweight, creating a sophisticated and intellectual look. Round glasses became synonymous with the bohemian and artistic subcultures of the era.

During the 1930's we saw the first appearance of Cat-eye glasses, with their upswept outer corners and graceful design. These frames exuded femininity and sophistication and were particularly popular among women seeking to add a touch of glamour to their eyewear. 

This decade was also when tinted glasses, better known as "sunglasses" began to take a widespread foothold in fashion and popularity. A man named Sam Foster became very successful mass producing and marketing the trendy celluloid framed sunglasses. 

The 1940s & 1950s

 Cat-eye glasses, remained popular moving into the 40's and 50's and then came the introduction of brow-line glasses, characterized by bold, thick upper frames that mimicked eyebrows, and thinner lower rims, gained popularity in the 1930s. These eyeglasses provided a bold and fashionable statement, and their unique design made them stand out from other styles.

The 1950's also saw a world-wide explosion in sunglasses popularity with the (military-style) aviator sunglasses being the most commonly sought after frame style. 

The 1960s & 1970s

In the 1960s, oversized eyeglass frames became a fashion statement, popularized by iconic figures like Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy. These large, bold frames exuded a sense of glamour and sophistication, adding drama to the wearer's look. 

Bold geometric shapes such as squares, rectangles, and hexagons captured the modernist spirit of the era, appealing to those seeking a futuristic look. 

Tinted lenses in shades of pink, blue, and green, along with gradient shades, added a touch of psychedelic flair to eyewear.

Wire-frame glasses gained popularity as a symbol of counterculture and rebellion, complementing the relaxed and bohemian fashion trends of the time and the influence of the hippie movement and boho styles led to the popularity of round frame glasses, associated with the peace and love movement and popularized by figures like John Lennon.

The 1980s & 1990s

As we moved forward into the more recent decades, the public perspectives shifted again, favoring classic wayfarer square framed glasses in the 1980s, and minimalist, barely-there styles in the 1990s. Frames became more colorful in this era with red frames, yellow frames and even purple frame glasses trending. 

The Recent Years of Eyeglasses

Modern Eyeglasses (2000 and On)

As we moved into the new millennium, the perspective that eyeglasses are a fashion accessory has not changed. The trend focus has again shifted, this time drawing inspiration from a variety of recent sources, including the retro styles of the 1940s and the striking styles of the 1980s.

The 2000s

The first decade of the new millennium brought about increased popularity in bold, oversized styles and transparent glasses frames. These styles directly rebelled against the minimalist designs of the 90s, ushering in an amazing change in eyeglasses style.

The 2010s

Following the popularity of these styles, the trends shifted again in the 2010s, moving back towards more rectangular glasses. There was also an increase in popularity of prescription sunglasses during this decade.

The 2020s

While we are still steadily moving into the 2020s, we have already witnessed a noticeable shift in eyeglasses styles and trends. There is more acceptance of wearing eyeglasses in general, with them being seen as a fashion accessory rather than something that is solely functional.

We are also seeing increased popularity in so-called retro styles, such as cat-eye eyeglasses and round eyeglasses. It will be fascinating to see how these trends continue to evolve and change throughout the rest of the decade.


When it comes to prescription eyeglasses and eyeglass styles, they are always changing. Whether it’s a new trend or an industry-changing innovation, eyeglasses are constantly evolving. We can’t wait to see where this evolution takes us next.
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