Made in the Shades

Sandra Lawton shows a specs-tacular set of vintage sunglasses.

From the time she was a child, Sandra Lawton has had a vintage view of the world. She would go to flea markets with her mom, looking for antiques and old odds and ends. In high school she started accessorizing her wardrobe with touches of vintage, including handbags, and in the punk era—beginning in the late 1970s and going through the mid-’80s—she decked herself out in more vintage as the style took hold.

Lawton turned that passion for retro-wear into the opening of Hey Betty!, her Shadyside vintage clothing boutique on Ellsworth Avenue, which she has co-owned with Michel Ferrucci for 23 years.

Lawton rarely wears vintage clothing anymore, but there’s still one favorite accessory she sports to maintain her classic view of the world—a chic set of almost 50 pairs of vintage sunglasses. The glasses, almost all plastic, were made between the 1940s and the ’70s, Lawton says, from cool cat-eyes to mod models.

“I’ve always just loved glasses—in fact, when I was a kid, I always wished I wore them,” she admits.

Some of the glasses are “outrageous” (as Lawton describes them) with rhinestones, vivid colors and even some wild shapes. Her favorites are the black-and-white ones, she says, because “they’re more wearable,” adding that the thicker ones are most comfortable.

She has three round pairs, identical except for the color, that rest on the bridge of the nose with silver chains for temples that drape over the ears. Dangling at the end of the chains are matching discs that give the glasses stability and act as earrings. Swingin’!

Lawton finds her mostly European shades at house and garage sales, estate sales and flea markets, though her biggest find, almost one-third of her collection, was in Tupelo, Miss. There she saw a sign for a going-out-of-business sale at an optometrist’s office, stopped in and found several swanky sunglasses from new, unsold stock. At home, she displays some of her favorites on a 1950s Atomic-style shadow box.

As much as she enjoys the collecting, Lawton’s real thrill is in the wearing. “I look invisible when I wear them. I can put on a little lipstick, a pair of the sunglasses, and I’m out the door.”

She also gets a kick from the variety of looks the glasses give her. “The sunglasses can make you look elegant, mysterious, sexy, nerdy, insane—each pair has a personality all its own.”