Nothing beats glasses for creating that enigmatic alter ego. Who can forget Steve McQueen’s shades in The Thomas Crown Affair, or Audrey’s Hepburn jet-black frames in Charade? The sphinx-like allure of these retro style icons can be found in vintage glasses – and the right pair allows us to steal a little bit of that Hollywood glamour.
One reason these accessories remain so popular is their ability to add a retro flourish without dating a look. Several boutiques sell vintage sunglasses and spectacles in pristine condition: Opera Opera, based in London’s Covent Garden, has a staggering selection of vintage frames in both sought-after styles and more whimsical designs. Pick a persona – Gregory Peck, Hunter S Thompson or Michael Caine – and the appropriate eyewear can be found here. Eccentrics won’t be disappointed either: the shop boasts a fine selection of lorgnettes, pince-nez, buffalo-horn frames and Elton John-style, avant-garde moulded shades.
Roope Vintage is another UK-based boutique specialising in vintage eyewear – Lolita heart-shaped frames (£157) to Clark Kent specs (£147 for square-cut frames) and everything in between. The website has a fantastic blog with snaps of celebrities in retro shades and corresponding product links from their own collection. Brands include Christian Dior, Dunhill and Yves Saint Laurent. Their range of 1970s cat-eye sunglasses (£137) – think Michelle Pfeiffer in Scarface – is second to none. Owner Robert Roope went on to establish Black Eyewear, which sells a range of frames inspired by the blues and jazz musicians of the 1950s, including Miles Davis (£167 and £177) and Etta James (11 styles, all £147). To date, the merchandise consists of well over 50 designer sunglasses and spectacles. I was intrigued to discover that Roope used to supply Stanley Kubrick with his glasses – surely two of the most exacting eyes in movie history.
For those who want to dial down the glamour in favour of a more distinguished and classically English look, independent eyewear company CW Dixey’s pedigree is bound to impress: patrons have included Sir Winston Churchill, as well as seven kings and queens of England. Their recently launched Chartwell collection, named after Churchill’s country home, pays homage to his legendary frames. The range features circular (£380, pictured) and half-eye spectacles in a choice of black and two shades of tortoiseshell.
More than shoes, bags and perhaps even jewellery, glasses are the accessory that makes the most immediate impression on others. Serious, playful or smart, vintage frames confer the inscrutable charm of bygone heroes.