Before Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, and the stylish elite at Shanghai Fashion Week were sporting tiny shades, teeny sunglasses were mostly the domain of ‘90s action movies. From Neo to Léon, small shades were as de rigueur as guns and killer finishing moves. In honor of these heroes — and to give you a little extra style inspiration - we’ve rounded up our 20 favorite tiny frames that have graced the silver screen which we believe to be good representation of the contemporary trend.
The list however comes with two caveats (spoken like a true '90s movie villain}: firstly, it’s important to note the difference between tiny and small sunglasses. While small frames don’t clutter the face, tiny frames almost accentuate, allowing the wearer’s eyebrows — and in some cases even their eyes - to show through. Therefore if you can’t see eyebrows and/or the eye socket area, they’re not tiny frames. Secondly, if it’s a style so popular it goes by a name ie. A number of Ray-Ban models including Aviator, Wayfarer, Clubmaster etc., then it’s not on this list. By default popular models see trend surges all the time, and in any case many of these styles don’t comply with caveat one.
In no particular order here are our 20 favorite ways to wear tiny sunglasses, immortalized in cinema.
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski (as The Wachowski Brothers) Year: 1999
Not the original, but certainly the most memorable. The Matrix rightfully owns the reference for this trend because a) all main characters are seen sporting tiny sunglasses (fun fact: each character had a specific shape created for them by niche manufacturer Blinde); and b) the overall style of the film was so slick and provocative when it was released that it blew audiences away and has withstood the test of time.
How to get the look: You’ll want a pair of rimless, black-lensed frames to pair with all-black garb. Extra points for donning shiny fabrics including leather and vinyl.
Director: Stephen Norrington Year: 1998
Blade also offers us not only stellar shades, but a similar leather-heavy SWAT aesthetic we saw in The Matrix. Wesley Snipes’ titular vampire hunter prefers a classic Oakley wraparound model, however his extra small lenses steer the typically “speed dealer” style into tiny sunglasses territory. Special mention to the epic fight scene where Blade kills a vampire before single-handedly catching his sunglasses, putting them on and proceeding to kick more undead ass.
How to get the look: Blade wears Oakley Four glasses, but any service station style will work providing they’re small enough.
Léon: The Professional
Director: Luc Besson Year: 1994
You’d be forgiven for thinking Luc Besson’s understated masterpiece was released last year when you consider Léon’s loosely tailored coat over a white crewneck topped with a beanie, alongside Mathilda’s choker, denim cutoffs, green bomber jacket and boots. Alas, the film is nearly 25 years old and has only gotten better with age. Lest we forget those shades. The Gaultier Junior line frames add a certain je ne sais quoi to Reno’s emotionless yet charming Léon, while young Natalie Portman borrows his ocular vibe later in the film in a "pass the torch" moment.
How to get the look: You probably wore this exact outfit last week, but if you’re in the market for some new specs make sure you go with an acetate frame to steer clear of verging into John Lennon territory.
Director: Roger Kumble Year: 1999
Ryan Phillippe’s sexy and sinister Sebastian Valmont supplemented his Prada-heavy wardrobe with all-black wireframe sunglasses. Released in the same year as The Matrix (an undoubtedly strong year for sunglasses in cinema), the silhouette is similar to Neo’s oval frames, which goes to show how differently the look can be styled with high levels of success.
How to get the look: Aim for an all-black metal-rimmed pair of glasses to complement your wardrobe of dark, neutral tones of grey, navy and burgundy.
Wild Wild West
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld Year: 1999
Yet another 1999 release that featured some strong, extra small eyewear; something was definitely in the water in Hollywood that year. And while Wild Wild West’s steampunk aesthetic isn’t for everybody, it’s irrefutable that Big Willie could do no wrong back then.
How to get the look: The key takeaway here is to pair your tiny, oval, metal-rimmed frames with a suit for a dressed up approach.
Sister Act 2: Back In the Habit
Director: Bill Duke Year: 1993
Sister Act is proof that no matter what you’re wearing, putting on a slick pair of sunglasses can work wonders. On second thought, maybe all it proves is that Whoopi Goldberg is a boss who can wear whatever she wants and still look good. In any case, this film serves to demonstrate just how quickly a pair of glasses can elevate your look.
How to get the look: Sister Mary Clarence prefers round, frameless lenses with a double bridge – this part is key to extra attitude.
Public Enemies (2009)
Director: Michael Mann Year: 2009
It would be sacrilege to not include Johnny Depp on this list. Famed for his kooky frames both onscreen and off, it’s interesting to find that while IRL Depp is Hollywood’s king of tiny frames, onscreen his characters are usually sporting larger than life versions – yellow Ray-Ban Shooters in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, steampunk specs in Sleepy Hollow, and goggles in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory. However his turn as John Dillinger in Public Enemies turned out a multitude of stylish tiny frames.
How to get the look: Dapper styling is key here, so match your round frames with some Depression-era suiting and hats.
Director: Andrew Fleming Year: 1996
A bastion of teen girl cool, The Craft did surprisingly well at the box office upon release thanks to its sexy taboo subject matter and a gritty portrayal of the high school experience. With a killer mid-'90s aesthetic complete with plaid miniskirts, over-the-knee socks, A-line dresses and cardigans galore, one of the film’s takeaway scenes (“We are the weirdos, mister”) features all four characters elevating their outfits with tiny glasses. From red and blue lenses to square and round silhouettes, this film is a crash course in style options.
How to get the look: ‘90s high school, but make it fashion + literally any tiny glasses you can find.
Mr. & Mrs. Smith
Director: Doug Liman Year: 2005
Brad Pitt is an avid eyeglass wearer who’s sported everything from Aviators to Wayfarers, both onscreen and off. Mr. & Mrs. Smith is no exception, with the actor donning some spectacular acid yellow lenses that fittingly match Angelina’s larger teardrop silhouette. His are from Oliver Peoples and are aptly named Nitro.
How to get the look: Any bright yellow lenses will get you the Mr. & Mrs. Smith look, but for Brad’s tiny version stick to a small rectangular silhouette.
Director: Tony Scott Year: 1983
A sultry vampire film starring David Bowie and Catherine Deneuve as bloodsuckers out for not only eternal life but eternal youth, who enlist the help of a doctor played by Susan Sarandon, The Hunger is stunning and sexy and the true early adopter of tiny glasses. Deneuve opts for silver cat-eye frames while Bowie keeps it kooky in a round pair.
Hot to get the look: Razor sharp bone structure is de rigueur for this look, but otherwise the more outlandish the better.
Director: Iain Softley Year: 1995
Sartorially we owe a lot to Hackers. Its mid-'90s cyberpunk aesthetic is still considered a key style from the decade and the film’s vast array of tiny sunglasses provide us with no less inspiration. From reflective silver mirror lenses to tiny round steampunk frames, Hackers looked to the future by referencing the past.
How to get the look: If you’re not already rocking a pixie cut, bleached hair or braids (male, female or otherwise) then accentuate your glasses look by matching your mop to the decade. Blue eyeshadow and wine-colored lipstick also do the trick.
Natural Born Killers
Director: Oliver Stone Year: 1994
On the one hand, small, round glasses can suggest the peaceful, hippy philosophy of the ‘60s thanks to their strong reference to Beatle John Lennon. On the other hand, turn the lenses red and you’ve got cold-blooded murderer Mickey Knox, played by Woody Harrelson in the landmark Oliver Stone film. The glasses (alongside a shaved head) were such an integral part of muddying Harrelson’s previously clean cut image, that the film’s black-and-white poster featured a close-up of Knox with only his glasses and the film’s title in shocking red.
How to get the look: Ray-Ban’s 3447 model is as close as you can get to Knox’s style.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Director: Francis Ford Coppola Year: 1992
Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula is undoubtedly the most stylish vampire movie ever made. Sticking close to the source material, the wickedly dark and sensual film features a star lineup and Oscar-winning costume design and makeup. It’s hard to pick a favorite Gary Oldman role, but his Count Dracula is up there. When he arrives in London donning his Victorian best, he sports a pair of blue-lensed spectacles that are as camp as they are 2018.
How to get the look: Nix the dusty grey suit and top hat and pair any eccentric frames with a crisp white button-up to bring your look into the modern era.
Romeo Must Die
Director: Andrzej Bartkowiak Year: 2000
Whether you wanna play good cop or bad cop is key to which style you’ll takeaway from this seminal martial arts blockbuster. Fancy being good? Aim for Jet Li’s all-black frameless model. Prefer the role of bad guy? Navy blue lenses with a matte silver rim is what you’re after. Aaliyah, the queen of tiny sunglasses off-screen unfortunately didn’t show up in this film.
How to get the look: Borrow your dad’s Maui Jim’s and call it a day.
Beverly Hills Cop 2
Director: Tony Scott Year: 1987
While Eddie Murphy’s Axel Foley prefers oversized vintage Porsche Carrera sunglasses, the villain in the Beverly Hills Cop sequel - played by the stunning Brigitte Nielson - dons multiple small frames. While some are arguably bigger than tiny territory, it’s her entrance look in all white with matching white-rimmed glasses that steals the limelight.
How to get the look: Rihanna already stole this look when she rocked Andy Wolf sunglasses with a white Dior gown at the Cannes Film Festival last year.
Speed 2: Cruise Control
Director: Jan de Bont Year: 1997
Speed 2 probably should'nt have been made. Keanu Reeves wasn’t down for the sequel, resulting in a sub-in from Jason Patric. While Sandra Bullock was the star in this same-story-but-on-a-boat replica, it was her Oliver Peoples shades that had us talking. They were in fact her own, with the actress explaining, “Those were my personal sunglasses. They had that cool light-blue tint, and Speed 2 is set on the ocean. I thought it blended together quite nicely.” Groundbreaking.
How to get the look: These could literally be your mom’s photo-chromatic reading specs, so if she’s not too blind maybe borrow them for an afternoon photoshoot.
Director: John Woo Year: 1997
Same summer, another blockbuster movie with savvy shades. This time it’s Nic Cage in the hot seat sporting tiny frames. There is even a scene dedicated not only to him putting them on, but swapping a pair far less cooler for these bad boys. In fact Cage and Travolta’s face swap extravaganza is heightened by dual sunglass personas each – one pair for when they’re good and one for when they’re bad. This is the kind of scriptwriting we can get behind.
How to get the look: All we know is Cage’s blood-red octagonal frames are vintage, so start trawling markets and thrift shops for a truly original look.
Director: John Singleton Year: 1993
To reduce John Singleton’s pioneering film - which gave a voice to young African American women when black female leads were a rarity - to a fashion reference undermines its overall impact but for the sake of this list we’ll stay on topic. Janet Jackson’s Justice dons black, round shades to finish off a quintessential ‘90s look, catching the attention of Tupac Shakur in the process.
How to get the look: Complement your stone-washed denim and midriff top with a black, round style.
Director: Alan Metter Year: 1998
Now revered for their luxury fashion label The Row, the Olsen twins have always been style heavy hitters. A classic ‘90s family flick, Billboard Dad sees the teenage twins getting up to hijinks while sporting only the trendiest fashions of the decade. Color-blocked shoestring singlet? Check. Puka shell necklace? Check. Tiny sunglasses with colored lenses? You bet.
How to get the look: Repurpose those “cool light-blue tinted” frames from your outing as Sandra Bullock in Speed 2, or alternatively get yourself a pink pair. Wear with something you would have worn in junior high.
Director: Roger Michell Year: 1999
In the pivotal meet-cute between Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in rom-com Notting Hill, her movie star character wears a very of-the-moment look comprised of tiny cat-eye glasses, Chanel beret, white tee, leather coat and Vans Old Skool sneakers. It’s a look so painfully cool we’re sure Bella Hadid has worn it before.
How to get the look: This slightly feminine silhouette calls for slightly upturned ends, be it a traditional cat-eye or Balenciaga’s modern take.
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