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Malcolm X’s Glasses: The Power of Eyewear

Angie Garcia

Written By:

Angie Garcia

Updated: 20 June 2024 •  
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Some icons become who they are through a distinctive sense of style, which in turn becomes part of their legacy to the world. One famous example of this is human rights activist Malcolm X.
While he is most known for being one of the civil rights movement’s most prominent faces, what gets talked about less is his contribution to the landscape of eyewear — more specifically, browline glasses.
Let’s take a closer look at his style and how it has influenced modern eyewear.

Who was Malcolm X?

malcolm x key figure to civil rights movement

Malcolm X was a key figure in shaping the civil rights movement. Source: Clarion Ledger

To the uninitiated, Malcolm X was a civil rights activist, minister, and leader in the African American community during the 1950s and 60s. A vocal critic of the mainstream civil rights movement, he also pushed for black nationalism.
Above all, he was a passionate advocate for equality, justice, and self-reliance, which empowered — and continues to empower — the African American community. His assassination in 1965 also sparked widespread mourning and outrage, with many viewing it as a monumental loss for the civil rights movement.
At the same time, his death fueled the growing sense of urgency and determination among African Americans to fight for their rights and end discrimination.

Malcolm X’s signature look

malcolm x in his browline glasses suit and bowtie

Aside from browline glasses, Malcolm X often wore a suit and tie/bowtie in public appearances. Source: The New Yorker

Malcolm X’s signature look was defined by well-tailored suits in shades of black or gray paired with a tie or bowtie. He also sported a distinctive hairstyle known as the “conk”, which is chemically straightened kinky hair.
He was a huge fan of American Optical’s Sirmont, a pair of browline glasses that typically have rectangular or square-shaped frames made of metal or acetate.
Malcolm X’s iconic browline glasses punctuated his strong personality and determination. Today, browline glasses have become so synonymous with him that they are often called ‘Malcolm X’ glasses.
denzel washington portrayed malcolm x in biographical film

Denzel Washington portrayed Malcolm X in the biographical film of the same name. Source: The Daily Beast

In 1992, Spike Lee directed a biographical film titled “Malcolm X” starring Denzel Washington in the titular role and Angela Bassett as his wife, Betty Shabazz. A critical and commercial success, it played a vital role in spreading awareness of Malcolm X’s life and legacy to a newer generation of African Americans.
Fun fact: Not many people may know this, but Malcolm X was loyal to American Optical and owned several pairs of Sirmont in different colors and patterns. In fact, he often coordinated his optical choices to the color of his outfits. The movie “Malcolm X” reflects this, as he is depicted wearing at least four different pairs throughout the film.

Celebs who wear browline glasses

Browline glasses have continued to be popular with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Get inspired by checking out how the stars wear them:

1. Bruce Willis

bruce willis wearing a pair browline sunglasses in hawaiian shirt

Bruce Willis exuding effortless cool in browline sunnies as Walter Davis in Blind Date (1987). Source: Pinterest

While Blind Date is far from the only movie where Bruce Willis sports sunglasses, the browline glasses he wears there have left a lasting impression thanks in large part to the styling. Despite the movie being over 30 years old, the casual yet polished ensemble of Hawaiian shirt, singlet, belt, and linen pants would still be as chic if it’s worn today.
Try this one out for the look!
dawn square black browline front view

Mouqy’s Dawn browline in black.


2. Chloë Sevigny

chloe sevigny in browline glasses with bright red lips

Chloë Sevigny steps out for a Women’s Health event in 2008 with red lips and — you guessed it — browline glasses. Source: Pinterest

Chloë Sevigny’s combination of browline glasses and red lips is the perfect embodiment of vintage meets modern.
Steal her look with this frame:
steven square black browline front view

Mouqy’s Steven browline in gunmetal.


3. Matt Bomer

browline glasses attract attention to mat bomers pale eyes

Matt Bomer’s browline glasses draw attention to his pale blue eyes as he attends the premiere of The Assassination of Gianni Versace in 2018. Source: TV Line

Matt Bomer’s look is often described as sleek and polished, and the red carpet appearance he makes here is no exception. His glasses — with their thick, dark frames — give his look a touch of sophistication and perfectly complement his sharp, tailored suits.
Wanna look as sharp as Matt? Try this:
mouqy timber browline black frame

Mouqy’s Timber browline in black.


4. Jon Hamm

jon hamm wearing browline glasses at movie premiere

Jon Hamm at the premiere of Between Two Ferns: A Movie in 2019. Source: Tom and Lorenzo

Jon Hamm has clearly taken some cues from his character Don Draper in Mad Men, as he is frequently seen in classically masculine looks. He frequently wears thick, dark frames to give his outfits a touch of vintage sophistication.
Copy Jon’s look with this one:
famed square black silver front view

Mouqy’s Famed browline in black-silver.


What face shapes do browline glasses look best on?

best face shape for browline glasses

The bold, angular frames accentuate Malcolm X’s sharp features, like his strong jawline. Source: The Washington Post

Browline glasses look best on people with oval or diamond-shaped faces. The sharp upper rim on these frames draws attention to the horizontal part of your face, helping narrow foreheads achieve a wider and therefore more balanced look.
If your face shape doesn’t fall into any of the aforementioned categories, fret not — this is just a guide and doesn’t necessarily mean browline glasses won’t look good on you. Confidence is the best accessory, after all!
Furthermore, since glasses come in various frame shapes and sizes now, you won’t have difficulty finding a pair that suits your face shape and personal style.

How to style browline glasses

When styling browline glasses, think about the color and material of the frames. Neutral colors such as black and silver can go with any outfit, while rose gold or tortoiseshell can be used to dress up plain or monochromatic outfits.
Browline glasses are versatile enough to pair with any outfit. For example, if you have a pair of black browline glasses, you can wear them with a sleek black outfit for a classic look.
Alternatively, you can also dress down browline glasses by pairing them with a denim jacket and jeans.
For a more fun pop of color, consider pairing your glasses with a brightly colored top or a patterned scarf.

How did browline glasses become famous?

colonel sanders in a browline glasses

The legendary Colonel Sanders was known for sporting a pair of browline glasses. Source: Lifestyle Asia

Shuron Ltd first manufactured browline glasses in 1947, calling them Ronsir Zyl. Fast forward to the 1950s, the style had risen in popularity thanks to brands like American Optical and Ray-Ban. Aside from Malcolm X, the style was worn by other notable figures such as John F. Kennedy and Colonel Sanders (yes, the founder of KFC!).
The look was often associated with the intellectual, academic, and professional crowd. The design also became popular in the fashion and film industry, appearing in plenty of movies and TV shows in the 1950s and 60s.These include Peter Fonda in “Easy Rider”, Peter O’Keefe in “The Patty Duke Show”, and Shelley Berman in “The Twilight Zone”.
paul o keefe as ross lane in the patty duke show

Paul O’Keefe played Ross Lane, the twin brother of main character Patricia Lane in the 1960s hit “The Patty Duke Show”. Source: IMDB

In the 1980s, the browline style fell out of popularity, only to experience a resurgence in the 2000s as a vintage-inspired trend. Today, this eyewear design still has a dedicated following and can be found in more materials, colors, and styles than ever.

Angie Garcia

Written by:

Angie Garcia

Angie is a Manila-based writer who specializes in wellness and lifestyle topics. She likes trying out new workouts and drinking coffee when not writing.

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