Shady times

Cheap Monday Light Sunglasses, available from Specsavers. Photo: PA Photo/Handout
Cheap Monday Light Sunglasses, available from Specsavers. Photo: PA Photo/Handout

Did you know sunglasses were used as far back as 12th century China?

But shades as we know them - metal frames with glass lenses - were invented in the 1920s in the US, quickly gaining popularity after they were initially adopted by Hollywood movie stars.

Since then, all manner of sunnies have come in and out of fashion, prompted by celebs, subcultures and catwalk collections.

But now, there are a handful of designs that so epitomise a particular era, they’re pretty much permanently in vogue - and in the shops.

From aviators to wrap-arounds, with these vintage classics you’ll be throwing shade in style...

A descendant of the ‘browline’ style, cat eye sunglasses are characterised by their tear-drop shaped frames, sometimes with ditzy embellishments on the corners. They were beloved of beehive-sporting ladies in the Fifties, and frequently seen on iconic actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe. In its most angular form, this distinctive shape suits those with a round or square face, but a more subtle feline curve can suit anyone.

Reportedly the bestselling sunglasses of all time, Ray-Ban Wayfarers initially had their heyday in the Sixties, spurred on by James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause, but they’ve enjoyed a major renaissance in the last decade. The originals were black opaque plastic, but now Wayfarers (and similar square frames) come in a multitude of prints and patterns.

Jackie Onassis was the pioneer of gigantic paparazzi-shielding shades, a trend which endured throughout the Seventies and has since been adopted by similarly camera-averse celebs like Victoria Beckham and Kate Moss. Whether round, oval, square or anything in between, oversized sunnies instantly lend their wearer an air of aloofness, but make sure they’re in proportion so your face isn’t swamped.

Originally designed by Ray-Ban for US military pilots in the 1930s, aviator sunglasses have had spikes of popularity in almost every decade - the most notable being a major sales uplift after the release of the box office smash Top Gun in 1986 - and they’re still going strong.The classics have a fine metal frame and mirrored lenses, but much like the Wayfarer aviators, they’ve been reinvented in all kinds of colours and materials.

When the backlash against the excess of the Eighties hit, sunglasses were downsized as sporty wrap-around styles reigned - and with the current Nineties resurgence in full swing, it’s about time the era’s eyewear got a look-in. Luckily, this season’s Nineties and Noughties-homage sunnies are more minimal (and therefore more wearable) than their predecessors.

Today, sunglasses are cooler than ever, as designers blend the styles of the past and dream up chic new shapes each season. Chances are these extravagant and embellished beauties won’t have the same staying power as an aviator or a cat eye, but for a seasonal style shake-up, there’s nothing better.