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What kind of horn-rimmed glasses are for you?

pair of horn-rimmed glasses on top of an open book

Horn-rimmed glasses are a mainstay of refined eyewear. Their cultural popularity is a given, as they are widely known as the frames that Malcolm X wore while giving public speeches in the 1960s. Buddy Holly wore horn-rimmed glasses while performing as an early rock musician in the 1950s. This kind of eyewear has become the trademark of “cool” intellectuals. 

And for those looking to imitate the look, you’re in luck: The style suits many different face shapes, sizes and skin tones.

This kind of frame is popular among celebrities like Jay-Z, Colin Firth and Kit Harington, perfect for anyone with an oval face and high cheekbones. It’s smart eyewear for the stylish set.

Industry publication 20/20 Vision Magazine lists horn-rimmed frames as “a beloved style making a much-needed comeback.” 

Horn-rimmed eyewear is not just stylish but practical, too. If you find that glasses often don’t fit quite right and slide down your nose, one benefit of this style is that it’s great for those with lower nose bridges and sometimes features adjustable nose bridges.

Undoubtedly, horn-rimmed frames can make a bold statement. Designer brands like Tom Ford, Ray-Ban and Gucci each have their own take on this eyewear staple. But, if high fashion is not in your budget, it’s certainly possible to find affordable versions of this style, including horn-rimmed sunglasses and horn-rimmed prescription glasses. 

What are horn-rimmed glasses?

Admittedly, “horn-rimmed” seems a strange name for a pair of eyeglasses. Is it because the glasses are actually made from horns? Once upon a time, yes… sort of. Horn-rimmed frames were originally made out of real horn, tortoiseshell or ivory. The name is, in part, based on these origins; however, it is also a reference to the “horned” look, characteristic of the style.

Constructing glasses out of these controversial materials, thankfully, was short lived. For most of their existence, horn-rimmed eyeglasses have been made from plastic designed to mimic horn and shell, making them more eco-friendly (read: affordable) and cruelty-free.

These types of frames are not defined by their materials alone but also their style. Each pair has accented hinges near the temple of the wearer. Perhaps the most popular adaptation is the Ray-Ban Clubmaster — a pair of browline frames with broad temples designed in 1947 and available in a horn-rimmed frame.

A brief history of horn-rimmed frames

It all started in the early 1910s when horn-rimmed eyewear hit retailers. Harold Lloyd, a silent film star, popularized horn-rimmed frames when he wore them in a 1917 short comedy film called “Over the Fence.” Throughout the 1910s and 1920s, this style of eyewear saw its rise and grew in popular demand. 

In the 1950s, horn-rimmed eyewear became the standard for professional office attire and everyday wear. Many women who worked as secretaries wore this eyewear style as a symbol of professionalism, stylishness and white-collar life.  

Today, horn-rimmed frames are popular in various counter- and subcultures, including among the punk and indie rock scenes. In the 1990s, Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer and guitarist of the rock band Weezer, wore horn-rimmed glasses. In fact, Cuomo is part of a long lineage of musicians who prefer this style, including jazz musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and rock stars like Elvis Costello. 

Today, it feels like everyone owns a pair of horn-rimmed glasses or shades. Several retailers and eyewear designers have caught on, designing frames with both retro and contemporary flair. 

Why wear horn-rimmed glasses?

Horn-rimmed glasses enable you to show off your sophisticated, intellectual side in style. Among the most popular variations, hipster horn-rimmed glasses are thicker, usually with black-rimmed frames. This retro eyewear style has proven timeless. 

Horn-rimmed frames may feel too serious to wear at parties. Still, they’re the pair of professional glasses that can be worn at networking events, to business meetings or during any event where you want to show off your chic, brainy side.

Where to wear horn-rimmed glasses

Wear horn-rimmed frames to work — they never fail to say “serious” when you’re at the office. They’re also a great choice to wear if you have a Zoom meeting with the boss or even to a job interview. 

Here are a few ideas for where you can wear these versatile specs, from the office to the cinema. 

At work: If you work in the realm of culture, horn-rimmed glasses will give you the perfect, edgy look to help you stand out in a sea of cool. If you work on Wall Street in a buttoned-up corporate culture, they may feel too “funky” for the boardroom.

At school: Whether you’re studying at the library or in the classroom, this is the must-have pair of eyewear to look focused and stylish simultaneously.

In an interview: If you have a job interview, or even an on-camera interview with the media, horn-rimmed frames are a great way to set the tone of an intellectual conversation. Wearing horn-rimmed glasses shows that you’re ready for any tough questions.

To the cinema: If you’re attending a film gala or just going to see a movie with a friend, donning a pair of horn-rimmed glasses is a great way to show off a subtle yet sophisticated look.

In photographs: Naturally, this kind of frame stands out. Try wearing them in a memorable photo while using vintage photo filters for a look that harkens to another era. Horn-rimmed glasses match well with vintage clothing, v-neck sweaters, collared shirts and patterned dresses. 

Horn-rimmed eyeglasses in pop culture

Horn-rimmed eyewear has been a mainstay in pop culture for decades, from silent films to  Hollywood to popular music and beyond. From the style’s birth in the 1910s, this sharp style has become a staple for eyewear aficionados. 

Whether worn by characters like Harry Crane in the retro TV show “Mad Men” or popularized by the rise of geek chic, the most common style is the half-frame horn-rimmed glasses. Thanks to historical icons like Malcolm X, this eyewear is considered to showcase brilliance, strength and creativity. Henry Rollins is known for wearing horn-rimmed glasses, along with hats. Even animated characters sport horn-rimmed specs, like Hank Hill from “King of the Hill” or Spongebob Squarepants.

Since the 1960s, New York filmmaker, writer and actor Woody Allen has worn black horn-rimmed frames, becoming a staple of his style. Horn-rimmed glasses were cool before nerd-chic became mainstream, and they continue to be a staple of the look. 

The famed New York rapper Jay-Z is known for mixing up his stylish stage looks with horn-rimmed sunglasses. Actors like Ansel Elgort, Steve Carell, Johnny Depp and Ryan Gosling have also been spotted wearing horn-rimmed eyewear offscreen, proving they’re a personal favorite of the stars.

Horn-rimmed glasses aren’t just for men, either. Actresses like Diane Keaton, Jennifer Aniston, Scarlett Johansson and Aimee Teegarden have all been seen sporting the look over the years on red carpets, at public talks and during media interviews.

Horn-rimmed glasses are a favorite among the fashion elite, too. Supermodel Gigi Hadid is known for sporting off-runway looks with horn-rimmed eyewear in funky colors like pink and purple.

Perhaps the most famous woman known for wearing horn-rimmed glasses is Oprah Winfrey. The media mogul and former TV host is known for making bold statements with her eyewear and often chooses to wear thick, black-rimmed glasses, including horn-rimmed frames in tortoiseshell color.

SEE RELATED: The best glasses for your face shape and skin tone 

Horn-rimmed glasses for women

For women, horn-rimmed cat-eye glasses are ceaselessly stylish. Today, these fashionable frames come in transparent pink, black, grey and even studded with rhinestones. 

Horn-rimmed glasses for women look great on many face shapes, including those with a more defined jawline and a square face. Among the most stylish versions of this eyewear are rhinestone-encrusted horn-rimmed glasses and well-rounded, horn-rimmed aviators.

Some of the colors of frames you can wear with horn-rimmed eyewear include classic black frames, as well as brown, gray, yellow, green, and navy blue. This variety of frames are a great way to accessorize with matching accessories, like necklaces, bangles, and handbags.

SEE RELATED: Women’s eyeglasses: Pick from these trendy frame styles

Horn-rimmed glasses for men

There is no doubt that horn-rimmed glasses are a must-have in any eyewear collection for stylish men. Among the most sophisticated versions of this eyewear are wire horn-rimmed eyeglasses, tortoiseshell horn-rimmed frames and anything with a vintage flair.

While horn-rimmed eyewear is available in a variety of looks, the standard for this eyewear is the classic black frames. While it may feel traditional, black frames remain a popular fashion choice. Black, horn-rimmed glasses are classy, chic and timeless. 

SEE RELATED: Men’s eyeglasses trends: Hot, popular frame styles 

Are horn-rimmed eyeglasses for you?

It all depends on your style, preference, profession and responsibilities. As described exhaustively above, there are many ways to wear horn-rimmed glasses, but they must be worn the right way. Horn-rimmed frames provide an easy way to bring a cool sense of style to an otherwise dull outfit. But, they must be worn in a way that accents your style rather than overshadowing it.

The great news is that horn-rimmed glasses never go out of style. There are so many contemporary versions — it isn’t just part of a vintage look anymore.

While many styles of horn-rimmed glasses can be seen as quirky and hipster, they’re the kind of frames that can be worn by all, whether in the classroom, at work, or even in the cozy confines of your home, reading a book.

READ MORE: Profiles in black sunglasses

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