Clubmasters are back. The popular retro browline frame has made a resurgence in recent years thanks to being featured in the TV series Mad Men and in the hipster subculture as a nod to the accoutrements of yesteryear. Clubmasters are defined by angular wayfarer-like styling on the upper rim of a sunglasses frame tapering down to a rimless (or thin metal rim) portion on the bottom half of the frame. The style has risen and fallen in popularity over the years, but the original browline frame traces its roots to over half a century ago in post-WWII United States.
Before becoming 21st-century hipster eye candy, the browline frame lived an illustrious career as the frame of choice for celebrities and pop culture figures in the 50’s and 60’s. The original browline frame was invented in 1947 by Jack Rohrbach who was then vice-president of Shuron Ltd., an eyeglass company. Several other manufacturers caught on in the 1950’s, and by the end of the decade browlines accounted for half of all eyeglasses sold and worn in the 1950’s. Many famous figures from the mid-20th century sported the style including Malcolm X, Vince Lombardi, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Browlines remained popular through the 60’s, but their market dominance slipped as advances in plastics manufacturing made it possible to make shapes, sizes, and colors of frames that weren’t possible in the past. The hippie subculture of the 70’s deemed browlines conformist, and the once-popular style died out except among conservatives and the elderly. Then there was a resurgence in popularity in the 80’s when Bruce Willis wore a pair of tinted browlines in the Moonlighting series.
This surge in demand prompted Ray-Ban (then owned by Bausch & Lomb) to create the clubmaster - a traditional browline frame with tinted sunglass lenses. The clubmaster went on to become their third best-selling sunglasses style of the 80’s behind the wayfarer and aviator, as it is today. Although clubmasters remained popular in the 90’s there were stigmas associated with the frame that circled around nerdiness and “angry white male”-ness, which led to stagnant sales numbers and lackluster fashion hype.
Then in the late 2000’s the influence of the TV series Mad Men prodded eyewear manufacturers to bring back retro fashion from the 50’s-60’s era, and clubmasters came back onto the scene with verve. Clubmasters were also featured in Heroes, American Horror Story, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, which further boosted the frame’s popularity. The same clubmaster frame that was once associated with conformity and a clean-cut, tuck-in-your-shirt type of culture became mainstream once again, and even worked its way into fashion-forward hipster culture where it persists today.
While there are no public statistics on global eyewear sales by style, clubmasters have once again regained ubiquity due to their almost universal wearability, confident & sharp stylization, and thoughtful nod to vintage sensibilities.