Last Updated on May 16, 2023 by amy
If you noticed a recent trend with “nerdy” or “geeky” glasses, there’s a good chance it has to do with horn-rimmed glasses. Horn-rimmed glasses are understandably a fantastic style of glasses that, in recent decades, have been re-emerging as a popular variety of spectacles. The particular style goes back further than you might imagine—try about maybe a century. Yup, those horn-rimmed glasses go way back to nearly the 1920s, making their way back as one of the most sought-after looks in the 21st century.
But what are horn-rimmed glasses anyway? After all, it’s quite an odd name for a pair of glasses. Horn-rimmed glasses generally consist of a pair of semi-round frames (but sometimes, they can be more rectangular). Regardless of the shape, the frames for horn-rimmed glasses tend to be thick and prominent compared to most other glasses, which is why they became popular. In the early eras of these spectacles, they were glasses made of exactly what it sounds like they were made of—horn. In many cases, horn-rimmed glasses were also made of genuine tortoiseshell.
No, they’re no longer made of either of these genuine materials as most, if not all, horn-rimmed glasses are now produced with plastic materials; they only resemble the styles of the original horn-rimmed glasses. They’ve been produced with plastics for most of their existence. However, it doesn’t mean they can’t be fashionable or styled like they used to be.
There are a lot of frames out there that can be hard to style. Colorful glasses, for instance, can be hard to style because it might be challenging to match the color of your outfit without having your glasses clash. Fortunately, horn-rimmed glasses have a conservative shape and color, which ensures that they don’t quite stick out like a pair of super bright red frames. And if you’re wondering if that’s a good or bad thing, it’s a good thing in the sense that horn-rimmed glasses are relatively simple to style, and we’ll be going through a couple of different ways to style them.
Match Your Outfit. Suit? Check. Tie? Check. Horn-rimmed glasses? Check. One of the most essential and classic ways to style a pair of horn-rimmed glasses is with a suit and tie for any dress-up event, like a formal party or a wedding. Horn-rimmed glasses exhibit a rather intelligent look, complementing the rest of your clean-cut suit perfectly. You might think of Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley: he has a suave haircut, a clean Italian suit, and a pair of horn-rimmed glasses. So that’s one way you might consider styling your horn-rimmed glasses. Another excellent example from films might be Ronnie Kray from Legend, although Ronnie does wear a variant of horn-rimmed glasses—the browline glasses. In any case, they both demonstrate how you might pull off the glasses by suiting up.
Most horn-rimmed glasses will match a gentleman’s outfit pretty well. A pair of black or tortoiseshell frames will perfectly match the rest of a black suit or be offset by a blue or gray suit. For tan suits, black frames aren’t a bad choice, but you might want to consider tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses to complement the lighter-colored suit.
Another variant of the refined sort of look is with ivy league clothes or just going for a preppy look. Here you can think of Buddy Holly and the Crickets. Buddy Holly extensively popularized horn-rimmed glasses during the 1950s, and he could do so partly because they suitably accompanied his outfit. To be sure, this isn’t a full-on suit but more of a formal-casual look. Think sport coat, shirt, optional tie, and light-colored pants (or shorts), and put it together with some horn-rimmed glasses, and you’ll look like you’re right out of GQ.
Horn-rimmed glasses were designed primarily to stick out; the frames are much thicker than an average pair of plastic or thin metal frames, which lends them greater distinction. With this in mind, we want to consider how we can get attention to our horn-rimmed glasses, and an essential way to do this is by accessorizing.
By recognizing glasses as an accessory as part of your outfit, a whole variety of approaches to leading attention to the frames opens up. For instance, you might match a pair of black frames with a watch with a black strap or bracelet. If you want to style tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses, you might consider wearing a brown belt and brown shoes to further complement your glasses.
We’ve been talking mostly about gentlemen’s dress and how to accessorize with a suit, but ladies, you can do the same thing—match your glasses to a watch strap or a bracelet. Another great item to accessorize with is your bag or purse, and it’ll have the same effect of accentuating those glasses. There may have been a couple of items not mentioned here, but feel free to try and accessorize them to match your frames.
Keepin’ It Casual
Even though horn-rimmed glasses might look the best when suiting up or going for a preppy look, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to style them. If you’re looking to wear a pair of horn-rimmed glasses daily and keep it casual, it’s relatively simple as they’re a very versatile style of frames.
With Black Frames
If you’ve got a pair of black horn-rimmed glasses, it’s a no-brainer because black goes with just about anything. Jeans, khakis, and colored pants—you name it—usually match almost everything you put together. There are two options when it comes to black horn-rimmed glasses: either opt to blend the black frames or contrast them. Blending the horn-rimmed glasses would mean going for darker shades in your outfit, like brown, gray, or even blue. Doing so doesn’t make your glasses super pronounced, but they’ll still be noticeable.
The other side of the spectrum means choosing bright and noticeable colors in your outfit. You could wear a bright red or yellow v-neck or sweater and wear those horn-rimmed glasses, which would flow perfectly. And the nice thing about wearing bright colors as part of your outfit is that they will help your horn-rimmed glasses to stick out.
With Tortoiseshell Frames
Unlike many other types of frames, tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses manifest their detail in just the color of the frames alone. With an average pair of glasses, you usually have just one solid color you’re working with, making it so versatile—you can wear a plain-colored shirt or a shirt with stripes.
Tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses blend a detailed mix of two colors, favoring plain solid colors. So in case you’re thinking of going for a casual outfit with tortoiseshell frames, the most optimal way to style your glasses would be to go with solid colors for both your top and bottom. Throw on some jeans and a plain t-shirt, and your outfit is ready for those tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses.
In most cases, tortoiseshell glasses work best with black or dark colors. Most tortoiseshell glasses are variants of brown, like caramel, which means that by pairing them with black or dark colors, you’ll be able to make them more visible as part of your outfit. Of course, this isn’t to say that you can’t pair them with light-colored clothing, but that pairing tortoiseshell frames with dark clothes are the most optimal way to help them stick out.
Take it with a grain of salt, but some detail in your outfit doesn’t hurt if you’re itching to wear that new shirt. And if you decide to incorporate some detail in your outfit, you can always overlay it with more solid colors. For instance, if you’ve got a pair of brownish tortoiseshell horn-rimmed glasses, you might wear a white shirt with black polka dots and a brown corduroy sport coat or a dark-colored sweater.
As with formal wear, you can accessorize your casual outfit to match and complement your glasses. And as discussed earlier, you might try and match a bracelet, watch, or bag to your glasses.
As we’ve seen, many ways to style your horn-rimmed glasses exist. The great thing about horn-rimmed glasses is that they’re extremely versatile and come in colors that aren’t too difficult to match. Formal or casual, it doesn’t matter—determine if you want to make them stick out or blend into the rest of your outfit. Regardless, because horn-rimmed glasses are thicker than average glasses or metal frames, they will look pronounced on the face, and people will most likely take notice of them.