Home LOOK GOOD Tortoiseshell Frames: A Forever Fashionable Eyewear Style

Tortoiseshell Frames: A Forever Fashionable Eyewear Style

by Kara Keigan
Timeless tortioseshell eyeglass frames

Although they have been around for centuries, tortoiseshell frames are a timeless classic, modernized by recent shapes and colorways, and flattering to all face shapes, ages, and genders.

Though once a luxury material made from real tortoise shells, the modern acetate counterpart still offers the same dose of effortlessness and style with added durability. Its long history was utilized in everything from furniture to the first styles of fashionable glasses, starting with the Ancient Greeks.

The history of the tortoiseshell style

Ancient Greeks had noticed how beautiful the pattern on their shells was and began to integrate the material into decorative items, first mainly as the bodies of string instruments such as the lyre, indicating status and providing superior sound. The Romans followed suit centuries later when wealthy Romans decided that a tortoiseshell veneer would add intrigue to their sofas, couches, and day beds and provide a snapshot into their wealth as soon as they invited guests into their homes.

The material continued to develop during the Renaissance when the en-vogue styles became more elaborate and elegant, using rounded and curved shapes made out of whalebone in addition to tortoiseshell. These two materials were at the center of popularity due to their durability and pliability.

By the time the first of the century rolled around, tortoiseshell was undeniably a favorite of the well-off, even picking which species of the tortoises would offer the best decoration. Although tortoiseshell was at its peak in popularity at the turn of the century, an imitation tortoiseshell made from plastic substitutes, originating in the late 19th century, had become even more popular because of the lower cost.

By the 1920s, tortoiseshell glasses were widespread—for fashionable reasons and an everyday luxury item. Tortoiseshell was still at its peak, seen on young and stylish people around town.

By the 1970s, the real tortoiseshell trade was banned, but with plastic imitations already in the plan, the popularity didn’t falter. To produce the plastic version, they would take three to six colors making plastic sheets of each, dice them up, and melt them together, rolling them into a sheet to create this pattern. The classic tortoiseshell colorway involves natural colors like ambers and browns. With the use of cellulose acetate, designers began experimenting with different color palettes in the same popular speckled shape.

Shop for stylish tortoiseshell frames

With the use of any color possible, in the modern shapes popularized today, there’s no wonder tortoiseshell is still an all-encompassing trend in the eyeglass world, there is something for everybody! Shop EZ Contacts’ picks below:

These slight cat-eye frames offer a subtle feminine flair with just a touch of tortoiseshell. The light taupe/pink tortoise will offer a lightning effect on your face and especially work well for those with blonde, gray, or white hair.

For those looking for glasses that will take you the distance, these frames are about as timeless as you can get. A Wayfarer-shaped frame and tortoiseshell pattern merge two enduring classics.     


Infuse a bit of playfulness into this classic material with Lilly Pulitzer frames. They feature three colorways, each with a subtle hint of color – a black tortoise with pink arms, aqua tortoise, and a classic tortoise with a hint of blue.

With oversized chunky frames, tortoiseshell is meant to shine in these glamorous glasses. With bold side arms and a classic tortoise color palette, these chic frames can make the most of any outfit.

Tortoiseshell amps up this classic 70s acetate aviator style, a timeless style that transcends trends and genders. The Prada frames feel like a modern take with brown-hued lenses and metal arms.

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