From Jackie Kennedy to Harry Styles to Princess Diana, the most stylish people on the planet have embraced the classic look of tortoise shell sunglasses. Accessories in tortoise shell patterns go way back and helped pave the way for other animal print sunglasses to have their moment on runways, in magazines, and on the streets. Let’s look at the origin of tortoise shell accessories, how the print became so popular for affordable sunglasses, and why tortoise shell became the “it” animal print in the first place.
Ancient Greeks and Tortoise Shells
To fully understand the impact of tortoise shell accessories, we must go all the way back to the ancient Greece. The ancient Greeks were said to be the first to notice the beauty of tortoise shells and use them (yes, the actual tortoise shells) in decorative items and jewelry. At the time, tortoise shell items were a symbol of wealth and status.
Tortoise Shells in Ancient Rome
As the Greeks began to incorporate this pattern and material into their lives, the ancient Romans began to take notice. Wealthy Romans eventually began to incorporate tortoise shell veneers into their sofas, couches, and day beds. Doing so, they believed, would give visitors a better understanding of their true wealth.
The Renaissance of Tortoise Shell Design
While it would still be centuries before tortoise shell sunglasses made their debut, the material’s use continued to evolve during the Renaissance. Designs became more elegant and elaborate, and they often incorporated whale bone to highlight the rounded and curved shapes of the tortoise’s shell. What made these materials so popular during the Renaissance is that they were durable, pliable, and plentiful.
20th Century and Tortoise Shell Accessories
In the 1920s, tortoise shell sunglasses were an everyday luxury item seen on young and stylish people in cities. As they grew in popularity, other animal print sunglasses took off as well. By 1970, the production and trade of real tortoise shells was banned. The pattern’s popularity led to enterprising companies producing tortoiseshell dupes and substitutes. Made from plastic, tortoiseshell knock-offs were inexpensive and, as a result, became accessible to the general public.
After hundreds of years of popularity, the tortoise shell pattern is still an undeniable favorite with the well-heeled and still evolving. With advancements in technology, however, making faux tortoiseshell sunglasses became easier and allowed experimentation with colors. The natural and classic tortoiseshell pattern features three to six natural ambers and brown hues. Today, you can find animal print sunglasses like tortoiseshell in different colorways that match your style and the latest trends.