Hip-hop exploded onto the mainstream in the 1990s, bringing with it its own distinctive fashion that, too, was soon taken up by mainstream audiences. A key element of the rapper aesthetic during this decade was a designer pair of shades, and several of the sunglasses worn by hip-hop’s biggest stars have gone on to achieve icon status. Below is a selection of some of the most notorious of them all.
Oversized Versace Shades: The Notorious B.I.G.
The Notorious B.I.G. was a big fan of Versace sunglasses and was regularly seen wearing the 424 model throughout the 1990s, both when out and about and in his live performances and music videos, such as that for the track “One More Chance.” The super-oversized black frames and added bling on the armbars embodied the hip-hop fashion of the decade.
In 1997, the release of the “Hypnotize” music video saw Biggy once more don a high-end pair of Versace sunglasses, this time in the form of the 413A model. With lavish gold Medusa icon detailing, these iconic shades have gone down in legend and remain much sought-after eyewear today.
Timelessly Cool Ray-Bans: Puff Daddy
Ray-Ban glasses have been loved by celebs for decades and continue to grace the red carpet, worn by artists of all descriptions. Diddy (the artist previously known as Puff Daddy) helped keep the brand in the public eye (literally) through the 1990s – he was often seen wearing Ray-Ban’s iconic Aviator model when attending awards ceremonies or generally just hanging out.
The rapper is still an Aviator fan today and continues to be spotted wearing pairs featuring colorful gradient lenses, adding a personalized pop to this timeless model.
Luxe Jean-Paul Gaultier Gold Shades: Tupac Shakur
Hip-hop star Tupac Shakur was rarely seen without his pair of distinctive round gold-framed sunglasses during the glory days of his career. The steampunk-esque shades, designed by edgy fashion house Jean-Paul Gaultier (officially known as model 56-6106), were typically worn with one of the rapper’s many gold Rolex watches and Paisley print bandannas.
Made in France and available in gold or silver, relaunched versions of these shades offer category 3 UVA and UVB protection, an anti-glare treatment, and varnished metal alloy temples with gold-flash treatment.
Slick Armani Sunglasses: Eazy-E
Frontman of NWA Eazy-E was also a fan of designer sunglasses, favoring a sleek, minimalist pair from luxe Italian eyewear brand Giorgio Armani. Worn with the rapper’s signature military-like, typically all-black clothing, the shades made a strong political – as well as style – statement. Eazy-E was frequently photographed wearing this style of Italian-made shades (model 932 020 130) both in and outdoors.
Last year, twenty-eight years after his death, Eazy-E was honored when a block in Auto Drive in the city of Compton was named after him.
“Alien” Shades: Missy Elliott
One of the most iconic hip-hop music videos of the 1990s, Missy Elliott’s “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” sees the star wearing what appears to be an inflated black bag and a custom-made combined sunglasses-helmet arrangement. Incorporating red-tinted lenses and a chunky cream-colored frame, the eyewear was said to embody an extraterrestrial look.
The video was nominated for a slew of awards following its release in 1997, and Missy Elliott went on to release several music videos after this one that had a similarly outrageous aesthetic tone.
Where Can I Buy These Iconic 1990s Sunglasses?
Getting hold of many of these iconic sunglasses may be tricky, but it can be done! Due to their designer credentials and general desirability, good-quality pairs that do pop up for sale tend to go quickly, so you’ll need to move fast.
Keep a close eye on online auction sites, but take care that you know exactly what you’re buying, and be wary of fakes. Check sellers’ ratings carefully, and be sure to ask for more photos to get the best idea possible of the condition of the sunglasses.
Due to the likely high value of these vintage pieces of eyewear, it’s a good idea to get in touch with a specialist vintage spectacle seller, who may be happy to get in touch with you should the pair you’re seeking come through their doors.
If you’re in the market for a vintage, hip-hop-inspired pair of sunglasses, then any of the above iconic shades could offer some inspiration. While sourcing originals may be tricky – and a little taxing on the wallet – there are plenty of contemporary models that take their own inspiration from these classic eyewear looks.
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