History and Origins
Tortoiseshell was originally sourced from the shell of the hawksbill turtle because it had a high-contrast, marbled pattern. In the 17th century, it was used to embellish trays, jewelry cases and other decorative items. And then in the 1920s, the material established eyewear as a status symbol: optometrists started using tortoiseshell to create distinctive, custom eyewear for their wealthier clients. By 1973, the material was outlawed because the hawksbill turtle had become endangered.
Supply, Demand and Acetate
Despite the unavailability of the material, demand for the pattern didn’t go away. In the 80s, manufacturers turned to cellulose acetate to recreate the look of tortoiseshell. The process requires sprinkling different beads of pigmented acetate together. Once they are fuzed into one block, the acetate is rolled out and sliced into sheets. The benefit of creating acetate this way is that each frame that is cut from these sheets is one of a kind.
Styling Tortoise Glasses
The benefit of producing tortoise using acetate is that the colour combinations can be customized. This means that you can experiment with different varieties and colours: some tortoise finishes feature blue and teal accents, while others have higher contrast or more unique patterns. So how have these finishes sustained their popularity and demand?
They’re timeless. Like a great pair of broken-in denim, tortoiseshell frames are staples that just get better with time. We even have customers who have even inherited vintage tortoiseshell frames from their parents!
They go with everything. Though there’s a cluster of different colours, tortoise is uniquely versatile. It pairs well with any style, colour palette or mood. There’s beauty in contrast: many people with darker wardrobes use tortoise frames to add a pop of colour, while others pick up a tortoise pattern for every season. For instance, they wear Havana tortoise in the summer and more speckled, high-contrast variations in the fall.
Is that vintage? Whether your frames are new or have been passed down to you, tortoiseshell glasses add a very one-of-a-kind twist to your look. This is in part because of the unique patterns cut from the acetate, but this style has also stood the test of time.
Eye-catching tortoises are a way to make a statement or fly under the radar. They’re also a great way to evolve your personal style and get you out of your shell.
If you want to try on tortoise glasses, stop by one of our locations or test out our virtual try-on tool.