I Only Have Eyes for You

By Rebecca Blakeston

A staple in the wardrobe of the sun worshipper, the partygoer, the paparazzi-dodger, the hungover, and the rockstar. Sunglasses are an accessory so beloved, it’s hard to imagine a world in which they didn’t exist. From the initial invention of the wearable eyeglass, in the 13th century, there are now endless ways to make a statement with this classic accessory. Invented in the 1200s, glasses evolved into the commodity we are now familiar with over centuries. The history of tinted shades in particular and their prevalence in popular culture is a rich one with surprising origins. Find out more here in I Only Have Eyes for You.

China’s Song Dynasty (960–1279) saw the earliest use of tinted glasses using smoky quartz lenses. However not worn to filter out sunlight but to hide the facial expressions of judges carrying out interrogations. The original poker face.

It wouldn’t be for another almost 500 years until 1752 that sunglasses began serving a medical purpose with London-based scientific instruments creator and optician James Ayscough creating prescription lenses to aid issues with colourblindness and depth perception.

Initially, these were clear lenses, but he recommended them with tints of blue or green to treat some vision problems. These spectacles with tinted lenses are believed to be the precursors to sunglasses.

Sunglasses, as we know them, first became a mass-produced fashionable accessory in 1929. Starting out being sold to New Jersey beachgoers, Sam Foster’s shades would go commercial as the iconic brand Foster Grant. In their Who’s behind those Foster Grants? advertising campaigns, designs would go on to be seen on the likes of Raquel Welch, Mia Farrow and Anita Ekberg. Foster Grants were the go-to sunglasses brand. At least until a more high-end competitor in the form of Ray-Ban came on the scene in 1937. 

Foster Grant sunglasses commercial, 1978

Infamous were both the Aviators and Wayfarers, creations of Ray-Ban. This iconic American brand initially manufactured Aviators for the USA Army Air Corps but they quickly became a mainstream staple in civilian closets and were then followed by the equally famous black Wayfarers in the 1950s. Ray-Ban’s legendary styles conjure up images of many a star. Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson, and Roy Orbison to name only a few. It was in the second half of the 20th century that sunglasses would become synonymous with celebrity style.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, 1961

From film protagonists to first ladies, designer shades are associated with aspirational levels of cool. Central pieces of costume design in pieces of cinema such as Top Gun, Breakfast at Tiffany’s and The Matrix. Core to the stylish facades of women such as Jackie Kennedy and Anna Wintour. Celebrity and shades go hand in hand.

Glasses however were often considered the more intellectual visual. Obviously needed by those who wore them but certainly also styled in cinema as a sign of a character with a high IQ.

The world of pop music is littered with both glasses and sunglasses. Think Roy Orbison and John Lennon as just two known for their visual aids.

But perhaps more than anyone else, an eccentric and enduring relationship with glasses and sunglasses is fundamental to the image of beloved musician Elton John. 

Elton John’s accessorising with glasses began long before his stage persona was born. A 13-year-old Reginald Dwight began wearing horn-rimmed glasses, despite having perfect vision, as a nod to rock ’n’ roll legend Buddy Holly. This would be the beginning of a famed love affair with eyewear. 

Although John’s most flamboyant costumes were primarily designed by American fashion designer Bob Mackie, known as a revolutionary of pop style as the costumer also behind Cher and Diana Ross, the shades were their own entity. Mackie said that they were a ‘wholly separate’ aspect of the styling process that John was entirely responsible for.

Glasses have been instrumental in my life, and I know the power they hold.

Elton John

Far removed from the minimal, sleek silhouettes made famous by the likes of Foster Grant or Ray-Ban, John’s glasses collection is overflowing with eccentric, innovative and sometimes outrageous designs. Feathers, diamonds, stars, hearts. It seems there were endless possibilities as to what John would adorn himself with.

And now you too can experience a piece of this iconic pop memorabilia and even buy it. Elton John Eyewear, now available at The Bicester Collection as a pop-up store, gives fans the opportunity to purchase pieces from a newly launched collection of opticals and sunglasses, consisting of 75 different styles, along with other pieces of exclusive memorabilia. 10% of proceeds from Elton John Pops Up! will go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Immerse yourself in this vibrant shopping experience that provides a feast for the eyes. Upon stepping inside, you are surrounded by tour costumes, LPs and unique artworks. The collection of eyewear, designed by Elton John himself, is presented as a trilogy.

With pieces inspired by each stage of his career, there is a style for everyone. Explore the broad range of options spanning his career with the three collections named Academy, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Fame and Fortune.

This collection is for every single person staying authentic to themselves in a world that is constantly pushing you to be someone else.

Elton John

If you don’t get a chance to visit Elton John Pops Up in person, Elton John Eyewear is now also available for purchase via their website Elton John Eyewear.com

The market for glasses and sunglasses is currently packed with unique and exciting options, but there are some particularly notable collections.

If you are a big ‘face wear’ fan then look at the latest pieces by Anna-Karin Karlsson. Find high-octane glamour, luxury, avant-garde-inspired sunglasses and opticals.

Another statement collection of eyewear with sleek yet stand-out pieces is the Alexander McQueen Spike Studs Mask and Spike Studs Cat-eye Mask shades, straight from the Spring/Summer 2023 runway.

The eyes are, after all, the windows to the soul. Are you hiding behind them, putting on your best poker face, or perhaps channelling the glitterati with celebrity style? What do you have eyes for?

If you enjoyed reading I Only Have Eyes for You, why not try Youth Shoes.

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