Although we now recognize sunglasses as an everyday accessory, this wasn’t always the case. Fashion magazine Glam’s look at the long history of sunglasses attests to how much of this eyewear’s influence on mainstream fashion can be attributed to the cinema. As Hollywood stars in the 1950s paired shades with other accessories like jewelry and hats, audiences sought to emulate the styles they saw on the silver screen.
It’s a clear testament to the power of a pair of sunglasses to make and define a character, whether in old Hollywood or the 21st century’s blockbusters. Below, we’ve rounded up a few film characters whose influence on pop culture and fashion remains associated with their stylish choice of eyewear.
1. Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s
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A list of iconic characters and their equally iconic sunglasses would not be complete without Audrey Hepburn’s depiction of Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Hepburn’s fashion contribution wasn’t just a form-fitting little black dress but also the stunning cat-eye frames that added a carefree touch to her chic and feminine style. Although the original frames worn by Hepburn were the Manhattan model made by Oliver Goldsmith, a style guide from the Regard Magazine points you to alternatives like the feline-inspired pairs from Forever 21. The classic shape and tortoiseshell material are reinvented, allowing you to pull off the character’s balance of charm and sophistication even on a budget.
2. Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada
If there was a ‘What Movie Should I Watch?’ quiz for fashion enthusiasts, one of the recommendations would be The Devil Wears Prada. This movie is a mix of drama and comedy, making it quite entertaining for people interested in the fashion world. As such, it’s only appropriate that a film centered on the fashion industry would cement its spot on this list with a stunning pair of shades. In the 2004 cult classic, The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep plays Miranda Priestly, the influential editor-in-chief of the fictional fashion magazine Runway. While Miranda has many memorable looks from the film, what particularly stood out were the gold-rimmed, cat-eye sunglasses that she wore in multiple scenes. These vintage Versace shades were often paired with a sleek fur coat to create a sense of intimidating glamor in Streep’s character.
3. Joel Goodsen in Risky Business
Female characters in chick flicks and romantic comedies aren’t the only style influences when it comes to sunglasses. Tom Cruise’s role as Joel Goodsen in Risky Business is one notable example, as he helped bring the Wayfarers back into style. While these classic rectangular frames were one of the most famous styles among all Ray-Ban sunglasses in the 50s and 60s, they saw a quiet spell in the 1970s due to a shift in consumer tastes. That was until Cruise’s character in the 1983 teen satire wore Wayfarers, and the style became synonymous with youthful energy and boyish charm. Since then, the plain oversized shades have evolved into numerous versions for both sunglasses and prescription glasses, allowing people to choose from options like the Wayfarer Ease style or the New Wayfarer version.
4. Pete “Maverick” Mitchell in Top Gun
From yet another hit film by Tom Cruise comes a boost in the sales of timeless shades. While Risky Business was all about the Wayfarers, Cruise’s action-packed Top Gun franchise is partially responsible for the public’s reignited interest in the Ray-Ban RB3025 Classic Aviators. While the Aviators were initially made as protective gear for test pilots, the famous teardrop shape of the shades was wonderfully suited for Lieutenant Pete “Maverick” Mitchell’s strong features and cool demeanor. Both the Top Gun movie in 1986 and its sequel in 2022 have shown that the military-style Aviators can be worn on the ground to show off your style, too.
5. Neo in The Matrix trilogy
Lastly, the groundbreaking sci-fi trilogy The Matrix can also be viewed as a hallmark of the cyberpunk aesthetic of the late 90s and early 00s. By having the main character Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), wear small frames with angular lenses, the sleek and futuristic aura of his all-black leather outfit is all the more elevated. Neo’s sunglasses were custom-made for the film, but the look can be easily recreated as minimalist, sports-style shades have once again become trendy in recent years.
Clearly, the rich cinematic history of sunglasses can be owed to the intentional choices made by the respective films’ production teams and costume designers. The examples listed above only add truth to how powerful sunglasses can be in telling a story and capturing a person’s unique style and personality.