The tortoiseshell glasses trend

woman wearing cat-eye glasses with white background looking happy

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Tortoiseshell glasses are a timeless trend, especially in eyewear. You might spell it as one word or two (as in tortoise shell – it’s a potato/po-tah-to kind of thing), and yes, it’s only one pattern, but it’s oh-so-versatile and comes at a wide variety of price points.   

Read on for some light history on the spotted frame, then explore the serious style potential of women’s and men’s tortoiseshell glasses (and tortoiseshell sunglasses!), whether it’s vintage-inspired, preppy, sleek, or your own new signature look. 

Tortoiseshell glasses through the ages

Where did tortoiseshell glasses come from? It’s right in the name: the pattern of tortoise’s shells (though thankfully, they haven’t been made from real ones for quite some time now).  

Archaeological finds show that tortoiseshell glasses may have made their style debut as early as the Middle Ages. They were also favoured throughout the Renaissance and 19th century. As glasses reached peak fashion in the 1920s, tortoiseshell glasses became a must-have for both men and women.  

Through the rest of the 20th century, tortoiseshell glasses were a staple for movie stars and style icons alike, particularly in the 1950s and 1980s. They’ve been a classic ever since.  

Where will we take this trend next? For one, try tortoiseshell frames made of plant-based bio-acetate or upcycled plastic bottles. (The sea turtles will thank you.) 

Types of tortoiseshell glasses

Fun fact: due to the irregularity of the pattern, no two tortoiseshell frames are quite the same. Most pairs don’t even look the same on the front as they do on the back.  

The “classic” tortoiseshell colour (sometimes referred to as “Havana”) is a mottled blend of orange and black or dark brown. Higher contrast versions with yellow highlights are available, too.  

You can also find women’s and men’s tortoiseshell in a range of colours, with hues like grey, blue, pink or green subbing in for the traditional yellow/orange.  

With variations in finish (matte vs. shiny), pattern size, frame style, frame shape and frame size, tortoiseshell is an endlessly versatile look.  

And of course, there are also tortoiseshell sunglasses: dark grey or brown lenses are classic, but green or yellow lenses can serve up serious vintage vibes. 

Tortoiseshell has been popular for ages, but the trend still has plenty to offer. Here are some pairs you can rock right now (don’t forget – you can make yourself some tortoiseshell sunglasses with any of these frames.) If you need help narrowing down your wish list, start by finding what suits your face shape. 

Be there and be square

Hello, the 1950s called, and they’ve nominated YOU to rock some hip-to-be-square frames.  

Answer the call with a Wayfarer-esque look, or call-forward to the 1970s and 1980s with oversized frames (bonus points for a colour gradient). Or hang up and hang out with a pair of rectangular frames to transport yourself to the 1990s.  

square oversized tortoiseshell glasses frames

Clearly Basics Battle Harbour

rectangular tortoiseshell glasses frames

Main and Central Long Island  

square oversized tortoiseshell glasses frames

Main and Central Thursday  

square tortoiseshell glasses frames with a colour gradient

Ray-Ban RB5387-54  

A-round we go

Round tortoiseshell glasses can conjure up a bookish look, but they don’t stop at geek-chic.  

For a modernist twist on the classics, look for a pair with geometric accents, quirky colourways or a matte finish. 

dark-coloured round cat eye tortoiseshell glasses frames

Clearly Basics Red Lake  

round tortoiseshell glasses frames with a flat top

Derek Cardigan Atlas  

round/oval tortoiseshell glasses frames

Reincarnate Finfoot  

round tortoiseshell glasses frames in a dark colour

Ray-Ban RB7046-51  

Tortoiseshell reinvented

R-r-r-remix! Here’s where tortoiseshell shakes things up. For extra flair, choose a pair with a sturdy browline, metallic accents or bold colours. Or opt for a style that resists labels – just like you.  

semi-rimless gold metal glasses frames with tortoiseshell arms

Main and Central Galway  

pink and yellow tortoiseshell glasses frames

Derek Cardigan Madrone  

oversized tortoiseshell glasses frames with gold metal accents

Kam Dhillon Britt 

Ray-Ban Clubmaster glasses frames in tortoiseshell with silver accents

Ray-Ban Clubmaster  

Check out more tortoiseshell glasses

Looking for more tort-ally awesome frames? The best thing about tortoiseshell is that it’s versatile – meaning that you can find just about any style of frame showcasing the pattern to suit every personality type. Here are four pairs that prove that slow and steady wins the style race. 

pair of aviator tortoiseshell glasses frames

Main and Central Angier  

pair of wire frame tortoiseshell aviator glasses with gold metal accents

Main and Central Leavenworth  

pair of hexagonal tortoiseshell glasses frames

Kam Dhillon Heather  

a pair of cat eye tortoiseshell glasses

Ray-Ban RX5499-49 

Celebrities rocking tortoiseshell glasses

Need more inspo on how to wear tortoiseshell? Hollywood has been wearing tortoiseshell for decades, and it’s not going anywhere. Check out how A-listers from all walks of fame have styled the look – and then make it your own. 

Ryan Reynolds

a pair of oval tortoiseshell glasses frames

Kam Dhillon Pine 

Take a leaf out of @vancityreynolds’ book and rock a collegiate look with oval horn-rimmed frames. 

Gwen Stefani

a pair of oversized hexagonal tortoiseshell sunglasses

Reincarnate Kea 

When it comes to this pattern (and let’s be real, most of what @gwenstefani wears), it’s all about coming out of your shell. Oversized tortoise frames = maximum impact.  

Mark Ruffalo

a pair of oversized tortoiseshell aviator glasses

Main and Central Hammersmith 

@markruffalo looks distinguished in a pair of tortoise aviators. This retro shape + this throwback pattern = a timeless touch of class. 

Anne Hathaway

a pair of oversized tortoiseshell sunglasses

Main and Central Cronulla 

Keep it down-to-earth but interesting like @annehathaway with a pair of shades in a classic shape with a hint of cat-eye


a pair of round metal tortoiseshell glasses frames with silver accents

Joseph Marc 4135 

Cultivate a cultured look à la @oprah with retro round tortoiseshell glasses. A surefire way to impress your book club (even if you haven’t finished the book).  

Can’t get enough? Shop more tortoiseshell frames or get inspired by the latest in eyewear trends.

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