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.
- A brief history of tortoiseshell glasses
- Types of tortoiseshell glasses
- Tortoiseshell glasses that are trending now
- Celebrities rocking tortoiseshell glasses
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.
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 glasses that are trending now
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).