history of sunglasses

Ancient Origins: Tinted Lenses Used in China and Rome

You've probably taken your shades for granted, slipping them on to battle the sun's glare without much thought. But sunglasses have a long, fascinating history spanning thousands of years! From their beginnings as Inuit snow goggles to Old Hollywood's iconic eyewear, sunglasses have come a long way, baby. This journey through the ages will unveil sunglasses' place in ancient cultures, fashion, pop culture, and beyond - even peeking into the future of shades in the 2020s and onward. You'll discover that sunglasses are more than just eye protection from UV rays. So grab your Ray-Bans and let's explore the ever-evolving world of shades through the sands of time!

1920s-1950s: Sunglasses Become a Fashion Statement

As early as the 12th century, tinted lenses were used in China and Rome. Judges in ancient China would use smoke-tinted lenses made of quartz to hide their expressions in court. In Rome, emperor Nero liked to watch gladiator fights through emerald lenses.

The Inuit People and Snow Blindness

The Inuit people of the Arctic made slitted goggles from walrus ivory to prevent snow blindness. These early sunglasses blocked intense reflected light and UV radiation.

The Advent of Sunglasses for Vision Correction

In the mid-1700s, James Ayscough began experimenting with tinted lenses to correct vision impairments. His “Teaspoone” spectacles with green-tinted lenses were meant to treat certain vision disorders. Ayscough's sunglasses paved the way for sunglasses to be viewed as a tool for eye health.

By the early 1900s, sunglasses were being marketed for their health benefits in blocking “ultra violet rays.” In the 1920s, sunglasses became popular as a fashion accessory, starting in Hollywood. Stars and celebrities began wearing sunglasses to shield their eyes from the flash of photographers' bulbs.

From their ancient origins to modern-day, sunglasses have come a long way. Once used solely for function, sunglasses are now a fashion statement and status symbol in popular culture. Who knew such a small accessory could have such a big history? Next time you slip on your shades, think of all the people through time who have peered through tinted lenses.

Mid-20th Century: Hollywood Influences Styles

The 1920s ushered in an era of glamour and decadence, and sunglasses became a stylish accessory for the flashy lifestyle. Celebrities helped launch sunglasses into the mainstream by wearing them in public and in movies. Trendsetters like Clara Bow, Greta Garbo, and Marlene Dietrich glamorized sunglasses, making them a symbol of mystery and intrigue.

Impact of Hollywood

Hollywood played a huge role in sunglasses mania during this time. Movies featuring stars wearing sunglasses, like Breakfast at Tiffany's, made them irresistibly chic. The glamorous appeal of sunglasses led to increased popularity and affordability. Companies began mass-producing fashionable and affordable sunglasses, allowing ordinary people to feel like movie stars.

Evolution of Styles

Styles evolved rapidly during this period. The classic aviator shape emerged in the 1930s and remained popular for decades. Cat eye sunglasses were all the rage in the 1950s, with their flirty, retro feel. Oversized, bold styles were also in vogue, inspired by the exaggerated fashions of the era. There was a style for every taste, from sporty and fun to sultry and over-the-top.

The 30s through 50s were a pivotal time that shaped how we view sunglasses today. No longer just a practical way to shade your eyes, sunglasses had become a fashion statement and symbol of coolness and allure. This spirit of fun, glamour, and creativity from decades past continues to influence modern sunglasses designs and styles. The next time you slip on a pair of shades, you can thank the fashion icons of yesteryear for starting such an eyewear revolution.

1970s - 1990s: Pop Culture Drives Trends

In the 1950s, sunglasses became a fashion phenomenon and pop culture symbol, thanks largely to Hollywood stars and films. Many of the iconic styles we still recognize today were introduced during this era.

The Aviator Takes Off

The teardrop-shaped aviator style first gained popularity in the 1920s and ‘30s but really took off in the 1950s, epitomized by stars like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe. The classic Ray-Ban Aviator model became a symbol of cool and masculine rebellion. These shades are still fashionable today, proving their timeless style.

The Cat Eye Turns Heads

In the 1950s, the cat eye style sunglasses were all the rage with glamorous Hollywood actresses like Audrey Hepburn. The exaggerated pointed corners and feminine winged shape accentuated the curves and angles of the face. Cat eye sunglasses came in a variety of frames, from dramatic rhinestone-encrusted frames to more minimal tortoiseshell. This playfully retro style has gone through revivals and remains an iconic symbol of ‘50s glamour and chic.

Colorful Plastic Frames Emerge

Vibrantly colored plastic frames also gained widespread popularity in the 1950s. Plastic allowed for bolder colors and bigger, more playful shapes than the metal frames of the past. Celebrities like Sandra Dee and Annette Funicello were often photographed wearing brightly colored oversized frames, influencing millions of teens and popularizing a fun, youthful style. These colorful frames represented the bright, optimistic post-war culture of the era.

With the rise of Hollywood’s Golden Age and popular films featuring sunglasses, the 1950s helped transform sunglasses into a coveted fashion accessory and pop culture icon. The aviator, cat eye, and colorful plastic styles introduced during this time have endured for decades and continue to influence modern eyewear design. Sunglasses took on a glamorous and rebellious symbolism that shaped styles for generations to come.

2000s - Present Day: Technology Advances Design

The Disco Era

The 1970s ushered in an era of flashy disco fashion and culture. Sunglasses became an integral part of the disco look, with popular styles including aviators, teashades, and bug-eye frames. The movie Saturday Night Fever starring John Travolta epitomized the disco era and featured teashades and aviators.

The Rise of Bold Designs

In the 1980s, sunglasses became bolder and more experimental. Wayfarer styles were reinvented with neon colors and mirrored lenses. Designers like Christian Dior created oversized, angular frames that were a statement piece. Pop stars Michael Jackson and Madonna frequently wore these bold styles in their music videos, influencing fans across the globe.

Minimalism and the 1990s

By the 1990s, sunglasses trended toward minimalism and simplistic styles. Aviators and wayfarers were still popular but with a more understated design. Calvin Klein and Ray-Ban introduced lightweight frames and lenses in basic colors like black, silver and tortoiseshell. This decade also saw the rise of sport sunglasses for athletic activities like running, cycling and tennis.

Overall, the 1970s through 1990s saw sunglasses transform from a purely functional item to a fashion statement and pop culture phenomenon. Musicians, actors and other celebrities drove major trends during these decades that spread around the world. While styles changed dramatically, sunglasses remained an important way for people to express their individuality and keep up with the latest fashion trends.

Roger Sarkis