Are vintage sunglasses safe?

Vintage sunglasses

I’ve been wearing vintage sunglasses for a while now but it was only recently, lying by the pool in Cyprus, that I started to wonder about the health implications of wearing them.

We’re all nagged constantly about the importance of wearing high-factor suncream and avoiding excessive sun exposure and an important part of that is wearing sunglasses to protect our eyes. But it’s only been since the late 1980s that sunglasses (in the UK at least) have had to comply to safety standards with regards to UV protection. So how do you know whether your vintage sunglasses are safe to wear?

If your sunglasses are a well known brand and from the late 80s onwards you will probably be fine. It’s worth finding out about those vintage lenses though, as dark lenses without protection can be more harmful to your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all (the darkness makes the pupil open wider allowing more unfiltered radiation to enter).

The only way to be sure is to have your lenses tested by the manufacturer (this could prove tricky with vintage sunglasses) or a good optician. Also I’m also not sure whether UV protection can were off, so again it’s definitely better to get them tested.

Of course, lots of people choose to wear vintage sunglasses as a fashion accessory to have them as an item of historical interest, in which case you can enjoy them without worrying.

[10 photos]

If you are planning to wear your vintage sunnies by the pool you can always have your sunglasses reglazed. This option is relatively cheap, but would be at your own risk as far as the frames go. I haven’t had this done this myself, so if you’ve had this done let me know how you got on with this. Can you recommend any re-glazing companies?

Personally, it’s the look and quality of vintage sunglasses which I love. Beware though, the internet seems to be full of sellers describing their goods as ‘vintage’ when they’re actually just vintage ‘style’ (and often really cheap and nasty knock-offs which wouldn’t offere any UV protection either). This may not matter to you, in which case fair enough, but make sure you’re paying the appropriate amount. Don’t pay rare 1950s prices for a cheap copy…

I looked around on etsy and about half the sunglasses were listed as ‘vintage’ when they were brand new but retro-inspired (for example a brand new pair of cat-eye style sunglasses).

Here are some of my favourites vintage sunglasses which are currently available on Etsy - which would you choose?

80's Vintage Ladies Sunglasses

80′s Vintage Ladies Sunglasses from whatthefunk

80's Vintage Ladies Sunglasses

80′s Vintage Ladies Sunglasses from whatthefunk

1950's cat eye sunglasses with rhinestones

1950′s cat eye sunglasses with rhinestones from LookyLooOptics

Vintage A.O.American Optical Safety Sunglasses 1940s

Vintage A.O.American Optical Safety Sunglasses 1940s from Tamta’s

80s Vintage White Cats Eye Sunglasses

80s Vintage White Cats Eye Sunglasses from PieAndBrush

Fifties Cateye Sunglasses

Fifties Cateye Sunglasses from SwirlingOrange

1980s Balmain Cateye Sunglasses

1980s Balmain Cateye Sunglasses from aboyscloset

1940s Vintage Sunglasses

1940s Vintage Sunglasses from ifoundgallery

1960s Clear Blue Lens Sunglasses

1960s Clear Blue Lens Sunglasses from Time Warp Boutique

1960s Deadstock Designer Tortoise Round Sunglasses

1960s Deadstock Designer Tortoise Round Sunglasses from Time Warp Boutique

From the top:

Thanks to Leonardo da Vintage who spent a good deal of time advising me on this issue on the Vintage Fashion Guild forum!

Original photo source and copyright: No known copyright restrictions

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  • http://www.revivalvintage.co.uk Helene Fallows

    Good point, I sell vintage sunglasses at revivalvintage but they are all 1980s unworn dead stock. They do have a UV protection sticker but it is very basic. I notice my reproduction ones have a more detailed sticker with a sun protection filter category etc. Maybe anything older than that as a retailer I should be pointing out to people that they are a fashion accessory and may mot provide sufficient protection when worn in direct sunlight.
    Last thing I need is a customer coming back from their summer hols squinting like a bat! Thanks for giving me another thing to fret over…only kidding, made me think though.

    • vilvintage

      I must admit, I’ve worn vintage sunglasses for years and I’d never thought about this before either! It’s great that those have UV protection stickers – I particuarly love your Tortoiseshell Catseye Specs, very cute!

  • kimble

    Interesting point about safety especially in Australia where we have a hole in the ozone layer. There are actually many styles of vintage glasses still made today. Many will have upgraded optics.

    We wrote an article about what’s available :

    http://retrowhirl.com/2013/12/12/7-vintage-sunglasses-you-can-still-buy-today-and-the-celebrities-that-wore-them/