P3 Tortoiseshell.
P3 Tortoiseshell.
Image: davidkind.com

Accessorising can be risky for most men. Over-accessorise, and you risk drawing undue attention to yourself, which can make you appear ostentatious. Wear no accessories, and you come across as dull and unimaginative.

For this segment in our ongoing series, “A Primer on Menswear,” we look at classic eyewear silhouettes in eyeglasses and sunglasses.

It was considered rude to wear eyeglasses in public at one time, but eyewear has come a long way since it first saw the light of day around the 13th Century in Italy. Various innovative advancements, notably, over-ear arms that allowed a person to wear glasses as opposed to holding the lenses up to their eyes and the bifocal lens invented by Benjamin Franklin.

These days eyewear can be as daring or stoic as your personality allows; an excellent opportunity to add interest to an outfit or convey a particular message without saying a word. It is available in a host of different materials, from robust but lightweight titanium and aluminium to jewel-encrusted gold and silver. The options, styles and materials are endless, from acetate in myriad colours and patterns to bespoke handcrafted buffalo horn frames.

 

The Browline

The more rectangular Browline shape was invented by Jack Rohrbach in 1947 of the Shuron eyeglass company. The hybrid metal and acetate model is distinguishable by its thick brow line that extended slightly beyond the rounded edges of the lenses — the upper part of the frame, highlighting the wearers’ eyebrows.

It is best known as the preferred style worn by Civil Right Movement figure Malcolm X. The style started losing popularity during the sixties owing to the cultural shift of the hippie subculture and a rejection of its apparent association with conservatism. As with most fashion trends, we saw the classic shape reimagined in the 80s with Ray-Ban introducing the Clubmaster model.

Malcolm X wearing the browline shape.
Malcolm X wearing the browline shape.
Image: Library of Congress. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection

The P3

The Pantoscopic or P3 is a classic shape, imbued with military history. The scientific moniker refers to the 3mm tilt to the position of the lenses. Developed around 1930, the slight drooping round shape was designed to accommodate a wide variety of prescription lenses for myopic soldiers but importantly allowed the wearer to don a gas mask quickly should the combatant be placed in a precarious position. Initially introduced in a wire frame, the classic shape shed its military roots as GIs returned home after the war with iterations in tortoiseshell acetate and black and buffalo horn for high-end handmade versions.

A significant feature of this style is the key-hole nose bridge. During the 1960s, the P3 frames took on a more sophisticated Mad-Men-Esque look. The thickness of the frames also evolved depending on the wearers' penchant for making a statement with thick heavy-set frames in black for a solid artistic look to frameless options that communicated an academic nod. Based on the shape of the P3, the Persol 714 are perhaps the best-known sunglasses that Steve McQueen wore for the 1968 Hollywood blockbuster The Thomas Crown Affair.

P3 Tortoiseshell.
P3 Tortoiseshell.
Image: davidkind.com

The Wayfarer

Another classic shape attributed to the Ray-Ban brand was started by New York-based medical equipment company Bausch & Lomb, and is probably the most widely worn sunglasses. The Wayfarer was designed in 1952 by optical designer Raymond Stegeman, who was inspired by the iconic Eames chair and the tail fin of the Cadillac car.

Perhaps the sunglasses’ slight angular and mischievous look makes them so desirable. Exuding Effortlessly east-coast charm, the shape (though not precisely the Wayfarer) worn by John F Kennedy and Tom Cruise in 1983's Risky Business further cemented the unabashed sex appeal of the sunglasses.

Ray-Ban Wayfarer
Ray-Ban Wayfarer
Image: Supplied

The Aviator

No conversation about eyewear would be complete without paying homage to the Aviator. Again, entrenched in practical design directives set out by the military. Often in a reflective mirror tint or polarised lenses, the teardrop convex shape and large size guaranteed that pilots had maximum protection against glare and covered their field of view when looking down at their instrumentation.

Variations to the colour of the tint of the lenses and the addition of a brow bar which helped to keep sweat away from the wearers' eyes, diversified the use of the Aviator and helped position the model as a sporting and outdoors activity staple.

While it is true that certain eyewear shapes complement certain face shapes, I’ve found that the best option is to try on as many shapes as you can. Don’t be afraid of pushing the boundaries with colour and style, and just as with accessories, have a couple of pairs to keep things interesting.

RayBan Aviator.
RayBan Aviator.
Image: Supplied
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