Back in the ’90s, Oakley sunglasses were one of the biggest trends around, along with spiked-up hair, chain wallets, and other questionable fads (no judgment here, we’ve all been through that phase). But like many of the trends we thought had gone for good from that decade, cycling-primed shades are making a comeback — and we have Oakley to thank for it.
Surprisingly, Oakley only began offering sunglasses and motorcycle goggles a few decades ago. Founded by Jim Jannard in 1975, the brand initially designed and produced handle grips for motocross bikes called Oakley Grips, along with other motorcycle parts. A motocross enthusiast himself, Jannard named the company after his dog — an English Setter called Oakley Anne — and started the business from the back of his car with an investment of just 300 bucks.
By the end of the decade, Oakley had begun selling motocross goggles at events and competitions. The goggles were an instant hit and, by the early ’80s, Jannard expanded Oakley’s eyewear line to other sports requiring ample eye coverage, such as skiing and cycling. The first pair were called the Factory Pilot Eye, which were clearly sports-, rather than style-oriented, but pretty soon, a much more casual design came in the form of the wayfarer-esque Frogskins.
The brand’s most crucial year came in 1986 — when American cyclist Greg LeMond was crowned champion of the Tour de France wearing a pair of Oakley sunglasses. The worldwide exposure propelled the eyewear, and soon after Oakley was handing its sunglasses to top athletes of all sports, including the legendary Michael Jordan. Just like that, the rest is history.
Today, with the fashion world championing what many would consider uglier styles of apparel and footwear, it seemed natural for Oakley’s iconic frames to make a comeback, too. And while it was only recently that sunglasses trends veered into tiny and super-thin territory, larger, mirrored styles of cycling frames have well and truly taken over. Not only has the trend been seen on the runways of both Heron Preston and Alexander Wang’s SS19 fashion shows, but it also featured in the latest collections from Louis Vuitton and Margiela.
In particular, Oakley’s sporty shades have recently been spotted on the catwalks of SS19 shows including Opening Ceremony, MSGM, and Phillip Lim. Unsurprisingly, Oakley has also received celebrity endorsement from the likes of Pharrell Williams, who has also been pictured wearing the Oakley Razor Blade shades.
“Oakleys have been your cyclist dad’s favorite pair of shades for years, but now they’ve made their way onto high fashion runways,” says Highsnobiety curator Nigel Minani. “Whether it’s streetwear brands like Palace, Fenty x Puma or high fashion labels — everyone has Oakleys in their SS19 collections. The Matrix is definitely over!”
Oakley’s offerings don’t stop with goggle-like shades, though. In fact, the brand’s Thermonuclear Protection capsule this summer paid homage to the decade Oakley sunglasses were first truly popularized with motocross-inspired tees, pants, jacket, and accessories. What’s more, Oakley’s stakes in high fashion were more recently cemented in its collaboration with Samuel Ross (NBD, just the creative genius behind A-COLD-WALL*).
In appreciation of the brand, below you’ll see some of our favorite Oakley pieces currently available. Whether you’re looking for a fresh pair of shades in keep up with the times, or some apparel to rep the Oakley’s roots, shop all our picks from the unlikely trendsetters below.