The Truth About James Dean's Glasses/Frames

There is a great deal of misinformation online regarding the frames that James Dean wore during his documented acting career. I've done a deep dive into this topic and wanted to compile my findings along with some incredible images which feature Dean wearing the frames in one place.

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

The Truth 

In short, with near 100% certainty, James Dean wore Universal Optical Mansfield Square F-770 frames.

Universal Optical originated in 1911 in Providence, Rhode Island, and the production of the Mansfield Square F-770 began towards the beginning of the 1940s. It appears as if the licensing of the brand and product name were purchased by an Italian group in 2017. 

Dean is commonly miscredited as wearing Tart Optical Enterprises Arnel frames. This is an admittedly understandable point of confusion as the frames are at first glance nearly identical to those of Dean’s. In addition, there is a wealth of content online that notes that the Arnels are the iconic Dean frames - with the proliferation of this association, history has been seemingly, albeit incorrectly, re-written. As a result of this misassociation, vintage Tart Arnels go for an astronomical price on the market. Now, don't get me wrong, the Arnel is a great, iconic frame and absolutely worth collecting, understanding, and wearing; that said, I think that their market price is certainly influenced and subsequently raised because of this incorrect association. 

The easiest way to spot the difference between the two models is to look at the rivets on the temples and arms of the frames. Note that in all the images in this article, Dean's frames feature the more ornate, bowtie (also called double diamond shield rivets) shaped rivets as opposed to the four-sided, elongated diamond shape rivets of the Arnels. 

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames


Below is an image of three vintage F-770s collected by the founder of Cult Eyewear - a brand out of New Jersey that has diligently recreated the frame utilizing vast amounts of source images and actual examples of vintage F-770s. Allegedly, there are some subtle variations between the frames from the 40s, 50s, and 60s, and Cult Eyewear was able to nail down the exact iteration that Dean wore to make their offering as authentic as possible. 

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

Pictured below are a number of vintage advertisements for the Universal Optical Mansfield Square F-770. 

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames


Shady Character

If you've scoured around the web like I have looking for information on this topic, you have likely come across Shady Character. In the early 80s, NYC based label Shady Character released "The James Dean Eyewear" collection which featured a variety of reproduction/riffs on the reproductions of the Mansfield Square F-770. These frames were handmade in the USA, featured semi-accurate bowtie temple pieces, and some models included tinted clip-ons like those worn by Dean atop his frames. Shady Character shut down its operations in the early 90s due to alleged licensing troubles with the James Dean estate. The operation was based out of New York at 35 West 27th Street. 

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames


Pictured is a catalog from 1989 and cutout for retail merchandising. 

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames


The trademark/manufacturing license to Shady Character was purchased by Native Sons Eyewear - a well-respected maker and portfolio of eyewear brands based out of Sabae, Japan headed by Tommy O'Gara. 

Side note: an interesting project of O'Gara's in which he collaborated with John Mayer that is definitely worth checking out is Max Pittion. Pittion was a historic French brand founded in 1921 Oyonnax, France (a town known for its long withstanding production of acetate/acetate goods such as combs and optical frames) by its namesake Max Pittion. The brand, which was known for frames like the Politician, went out of business in the 70s, but in the 2010s O'Gara and Mayer revived the label by reinterpreting and taking inspiration from their archives. Here is a link to an interview with the pair.


Conclusion

There you have it - I hope this post cleared up some of the ubiquitous confusion and misinformation regarding Dean's frames. Did Jimmy himself ever put this much thought into his glasses? I'm doubtful, but we'll never know for sure. 

If you have any additional information on this topic/discussion that you would like to share, don't hesitate to reach out: pointofreferences@gmail.com

James Dean Mansfield Square F-770 - Tart Arnel - Glasses Frames

Damian M.

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