Steve McQueen Sunglasses: A Look Back

The Style Legacy & Sunglasses of 60s Film Star Steve McQueen

When Steve McQueen first stepped onto the scenes in his 1968 film debut “The Thomas Crown Affair” I’m sure his sunglasses were the last thing on his mind. Early life has been a struggle for McQueen with family issues, Dyslexia, and being partially deaf influenced his life up until this point. It was the point where McQueen would not only become a legendary actor but a fashion icon. The Hollywood star’s undeniable charm and the aura of the film industry further propelled McQueen to stardom, and this rugged masculine style remains prominent in culture today almost 70 years later. 

One of the defining aspects of McQueen’s unique look was his sunglasses, especially the pair he wore in the film “The Thomas Crown Affair”. Playing a wealthy businessman who orchestrates a bank robbery in Boston for the thrill of it. McQueen’s character further popularized the “anti-hero” look, which included leather jackets, slim-fit denim, and chunky boots. But it was his pair of sunglasses that really captivated audiences and this unique pair of specs remain some of the most popular sunglasses around today. 

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Steve McQueen Sunglasses

Steve McQueen wore a pair of Persol 714s Sunglasses which are what most people think of when we think of the film “The Thomas Crown Affair” directed by Norman Jewison. The Italian eyewear brand was already popular, but McQueen’s association with the iconic sunglasses elevated their status to legendary. reinforced the brand’s reputation. 

Other celebrities like Greta Garbo, Tom Cruise, Daniel Craig (who wore them in “Casino Royale”), and George Clooney (who sported Persol 2157s in “Ocean’s Thirteen”) have also been captivated by Persol’s sophisticated style, but the 714s, especially, will forever be linked to Steve McQueen.

Persol 714s: A Legency Design

Persol 714s themselves have a classic style most similar to a pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarers. These chunky frames were the first-ever model of folding sunglasses and coupled with their distinctive purple lenses, something which again was uncommon at the time, making them a statement piece, unavoidable, and quintessentially stylish.

The look, style, and functionality of the glasses were originally designed for the needs of pilots and sports drivers, who needed a convenient way to store their eyewear when not in use (the folding mechanism) and also included the so-called Meflecto” system, which uses flexible stems to provide a comfortable and secure fit, again, necessary for sports drivers at the time. 

Persol also didn’t scrimp on quality. The Persol 714s were made from high-quality acetate, (which is a material made from from natural cellulose) which is durable and lightweight. The lenses are made from crystal glass, which provides excellent clarity and scratch resistance.

Persol: A Brand Overview

Giuseppe Ratti founded Persol in 1917, Italy, after owning and expanding his optical store (Berry Optical). It wasn’t until the early 1960s that Persol hit the US Market and they began making eyewear for pilots and sports drivers. With much success, they later expanded to include sunglasses and prescription glasses for the general public with their eyewear eventually hitting Hollywood and the big screen. Persol Known for its high quality, craftsmanship, and innovative designs including and not limited to the 714s. However, since its acquisition by Luxottica in 1995, it’s difficult to say whether the brand is as well-known as it once was.

Luxottica: An Ongoing Issue

Today, Persol is owned by large multi-national Luxottica. I’ve talked extensively in the past about the negative impact Luxottica has on the eyewear industry, and my opinions haven’t changed. Luxottica has anywhere between 25% – 50% market dominance within the eyewear industry controlling large aspects of the industry and controlling large brands including Ray-Ban and Oakley (not to mention Persol).

This gives Luxottica increasing power, especially over smaller brands, and it’s hard to say how their influence has positively, or negatively, induced the market over time. That being said, we believe Luxottica is ultimately bad for the eyewear industry and their anti-competitive practices, and lower-quality frames showcase their commitment to profit overall. In my opinion, you should avoid Luxottica brands.

Where to Buy Persol Sunglasses?

Persol sunglasses are still available to purchase to this day including the famed Steve McQueen Glasses – The Persol 714s. You can currently find them on their official website, and through authorized retailers, in a range of different colored frames and lenses. The price of Persol 714s is not cheap starting at a price tag of $335.00 and ranging as high as $735.00 for their current limited edition 714SM Model. It’s also worth looking into vintage pairs of Persol 714s, from before they were acquired by Luxottica, as these are generally considered higher quality.

If the price of the Persol 714s is outside your budget, like they were for me and probably most people, then you don’t need to worry. These famous frames have been copied and replicated by many different brands over the years at various price points. Below are some of our more budget options for you to consider.