Browline glasses are a style of eyeglass frames which were very popular during the 1950s and 1960s, especially in the United States of America. The name derives from the fact that the bold upper part of the frames frame the lenses in the same way that eyebrows frame the eyes. The glasses were first manufactured by Shuron Ltd. in 1947 under the "Ronsir" brand and quickly emulated by various other manufacturers. The design became the most common style of eyeglasses throughout the 1950s and the early 1960s before it was surpassed in popularity by solid plastic styles. Browlines enjoyed a renaissance as sunglasses in the 1980s before returning to popularity in the 2010s, thanks to the influence of hipsters and retro style.
Browline glasses are constructed in such a way that the upper portion of the frame is thicker than the lower portion, simulating additional eyebrows or otherwise drawing attention to the wearer's natural brow line.
The most common means of construction is for the upper portion of the frame (the "brows" or "caps") and temples to be made of plastic, with the remainder of the frame (the bridge and eyewires, or "chassis") to be made of metal. The chassis inserts into the brows and is held in place by way of a series of screws. For a period in the 1960s, numerous models emerged in which the brows were constructed from aluminium. Modern browlines tend to be wholly made of the same material, usually some form of metal, with much less pronounced brows. Modern browlines also tend to have a bridge that is contiguous with the caps, as opposed to being connected to the chassis.
Browline glasses were invented in 1947 by Jack Rohrbach, then vice-president of Shuron Ltd., an eyeglass company. The first browlines- sold under the "Ronsir" model name- were made out of interchangeable bridges, eyewires, and "brows," allowing wearers to completely customize the size, fit, and color of their glasses. At the time, most frame manufacturers offered a limited number of colors and sizes, making browlines a unique means of customizing one's personal appearance. The style quickly caught on in popularity amongst eyeglass wearers, resulting in numerous other companies releasing their own browline frames. Most notably, Art-Craft Optical produced the "Art-Rim" brand, which offered designs for both men (under the "Clubman" models) and women (under the "Leading Lady" models), making the style unisex. Though numerous companies manufactured their own versions of browlines, through the 1960s, six manufacturers in particular dominated the browline market: Shuron, Art-Craft Optical, Victory Optical, American Optical, and Bausch and Lomb; each company differentiated their frames through unique plaques on the upper corners of the frames, which sometimes also served to cover the rivets attaching the temples to the frame.
The style continued to rise in popularity throughout the 1950s, with different manufacturers modifying the original browline design in order to compete. Art-Craft and Victory Optical introduced aluminum browlines, which replaced the plastic brows with aluminum caps, drastically decreasing the frame's weight. Shuron began modifying the original browline shape, beginning with the rectangular "Rondon" model, to appeal to individuals of all face shapes. For a period in the 1950s, plastic brows designed to emulate wood grains became popular, with Victory Optical offering models that allowed wearers to switch off the caps to coordinate to different outfits. Ultimately, browline glasses accounted for half of all eyeglasses sold and worn in the 1950s. As a result, many famous figures from the mid-20th century are pictured wearing browlines, including black liberationist Malcolm X, Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Sanders, Lyndon B. Johnson (most notably in his national statement regarding the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act), Vince Lombardi, and others.
Browlines continued to remain popular through the 1960s, but their market influence slowly waned throughout the decade as advances in plastics manufacturing offered wearers even further frame customization via solid plastic eyeglasses, which could now be made in more shapes, sizes, and colors than in the past. Wearers who wished to wear plastic frames but still liked the browline style flocked to "plastic browlines," plastic glasses with transparent lower portions and solid upper portions, which became a major frame style of the 60s.
In 1971, Shuron sold their sixteen-millionth pair of Ronsirs. However, the general backlash against the culture and fashion of the 1950s which had begun with the hippie subculture led to a rapid decline in the popularity of browlines, which had come to carry undesirable conformist connotations. The style remained unpopular through the end of the 70s, except among conservatives and the elderly.
In the 1980s, Bruce Willis wore a pair of Shuron Ronsirs with tinted lenses on the series Moonlighting, leading to a surge in demand for browline sunglasses. In response, Ray-Ban, which already dominated the sunglasses market with their Wayfarers and Aviator sunglasses, introduced the Clubmaster, a traditional browline frame with sunglass lenses, and the Clubmaster Max, a Wayfarer shaped-and-sized browline. The Clubmaster went on to become the third best selling sunglasses style of the 80s, behind the Wayfarer and aviator. Bob Geldof can also be seen wearing a pair of browline sunglasses that look to be Clubmasters in the 1982 Pink Floyd movie The Wall.
Although browline sunglasses remained popular throughout the 90s, browline eyeglasses continued to carry a variety of stigmas, variously identifying the wearer as a nerd, geek, elderly, or a devotee of far-right politics; the 1993 film Falling Down in particular helped to cemented an association between browlines and the "angry white male".
The influence of the television series Mad Men on the fashion world led to several eyeglass manufacturers offering browlines in order to meet demand for 1960s inspired frames. The hipster subculture, which embraced large, outdated eyeglass frames, also helped to lead to a resurgence in the style's popularity, as hipsters embraced browlines as an alternative to the Wayfarer frames which were popular among members of the subculture. Major characters on several television series in the late 2000s and early 2010s were seen wearing browlines, including Mad Men, Heroes (on which the style was erroneously identified as "horn rimmed glasses"), American Horror Story, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
By 2013, of the major companies that produced browlines during the height of their popularity, only Shuron and Victory Optical still manufacture them. Shuron is the only company to have constantly produced browlines since their inception; Victory Optical shut down for a period in the 1980s-1990s before resuming manufacture in the 2000s. Bausch and Lomb is now owned by Luxottica, who produces Ray-Ban clubmasters, a design created in the 1980s. Art-Craft optical still features the Clubman model on their webpage, although the company no longer manufactures the frame, and now only sells remaining parts from the factory.
- Malcolm X in Glasses
- "Looking Back": an illustrated history of the American Ophthalmic Industry, by the Optical Laboratories Association
- Fassel, Preston. "Hindsight is 20/20: The Browline". The Optician's Handbook. Retrieved 2013-06-10.
- Art Craft Optical: History
- Fassel, Preston. "Foster’s Frames: The History and Mystery of D-FENS’s Glasses". Retrieved 2013-06-11.
- Shuron Ltd.: About Us
- Shuron Ltd. / Shuron.com
- Marfuggi, William. "Victory Heritage". Retrieved 2013-06-11.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Browline glasses.|
- Shuron's "Ronsir" line, one of the last browline glasses lines in production
- Ray-Ban's "Clubmaster" line
- Art Craft's "Clubman" line