Eyewear made with tortoise shell frames has been popular for decades. Originally, real tortoise shell was used, despite it being an expensive material to obtain. I was very popular because of its distinctive, mottled appearance, its strength, and the warm, natural feel of it against the skin. In 1973, however, the trade of tortoise shell word-wide was banned. Since then, ‘tortoise shell’ frames for glasses and sunglasses are made from synthetic materials, such as acetate. The term ‘tortoise shell’ today refers essentially to the colours - usually warm browns and amber tones.

tortoise shell frames

Sunglasses and glasses with tortoise shell frames have at some point been released by most designers. Of course, each brand has had their own unique take on the shapes of the frames and the tones of the tortoise shell colours (even green tones are not unheard of).

tortoise shell frames

They have also often been combined with gold brand labels, as the colours go well together, or in some designs only small elements of tortoise shell have been used. For example, these Alexander Wang sunglasses by Linda Farrow use tortoise shell colours on angular cat-eye frames, with gold corners - a vintage style with classic colours and a modern twist. 

tortoise shell cat eye frames

Recently, with the trend this summer for round sunglasses, many people are opting for round tortoise shell frames. The round retro look combines perfectly with tortoise shell, because it is essentially a vintage material – making a perfect fusion between timeless colours and a come-back look.

tortoise shell frames

So what is it that makes tortoise shell frames so popular? Many people say it is because the natural colours easily suit most people, regardless of their skin tone or hair colour.  But is it just aesthetic? Or is there something inherently stylish about wearing a look that has been popular for so many years? For example, my Grandma has a pair of tortoise shell reading glasses, my Mum has a pair of tortoise shell sunglasses, and I have been looking for a pair this Summer, but haven’t quite decided on the style yet. But I think that is pretty impressive – three generations all wearing the same look, with nobody feeling out of place! I can’t think of any other eyewear frames that have quite the same longevity of being in fashion…  can you?

Here are a few photos of celebrities who have worn tortoise shell frames:

tortoise shell frames

Ryan Gosling

tortoise shell frames

Jennifer Aniston

tortoise shell frames

Bruno Mars

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