The Origins of Sunglasses: From Ancient Times to the 20th Century

Have you ever wondered where those sleek shades perched on your nose came from? Sunglasses have been around a lot longer than you might think. From Inuit snow goggles made of bone to modern high-tech lenses, we've come a long way, baby. Sunglasses do more than just look cool - they protect our eyes from harmful UV rays. Check out this visual timeline to travel through the fascinating evolution of shades over the centuries. You'll see how different designs rose and fell in popularity. One thing that never changes is that sunglasses let you stare discreetly and avoid squinting on sunny days. Which style is your favorite - classic aviators, sporty wraparounds, retro cat eyes? Read on to explore some seriously cool frames through the ages.

Sunglasses Become a Fashion Statement: Classic Styles Through the Decades

Ancient Egyptians and Romans

The earliest known sunglasses date back to ancient Egypt and Rome. The Egyptians used flat panes of smoky quartz, while the Romans made sunglasses from light green emeralds. These early shades offered some protection from the sun but were mainly worn for cosmetic purposes.

The Invention of Tinted Lenses

Sunglasses as we know them were born in the 12th century when tinted lenses were first used in China and India. These were primitive lenses made of flat panes of smoky quartz used to shield eyes from the bright sun. The first sunglasses with convex lenses, called "burning glasses", appeared in the 15th century.

A New Market in the 1920s

In the early 1920s, sunglasses became popular in the U.S. after being marketed as a tool for eye protection while driving. This led to the introduction of shades like the Ray-Ban Aviator in 1936 and the Ray-Ban Wayfarer in 1952, which were popularized by celebrities and helped establish sunglasses as a fashion accessory.

The Importance of UV Protection

It wasn't until the mid-20th century that sunglasses started offering UV protection. After scientists discovered the link between UV radiation and vision damage, sunglasses manufacturers began using specialized plastics and other materials to block UVA and UVB rays. This made sunglasses not just a fashion statement but an important health aid and safety gear.

Sunglasses for Health and Safety: The Importance of UV Ray Protection

Your eyes are sensitive to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays, even on cloudy or hazy days. Too much UV exposure can cause damage to the cornea, lens, and retina, potentially leading to serious eye conditions like cataracts, macular degeneration, and cancer of the eye. The good news is, wearing sunglasses that block UV radiation can help prevent long-term damage and vision impairment.

Block Harmful UV Rays

The main reason to wear sunglasses is to protect your eyes from the sun’s UV rays. Look for sunglasses that block at least 99% of both UVA and UVB radiation. UVA rays penetrate deep into the eye, while UVB rays primarily affect the surface and exterior of the eye. Both types can cause damage over time. Wrap-around or oversized sunglasses also help block UV rays from entering around the sides of the frames.

Choose the Right Lens Category

The level of UV protection is determined by the lens category, ranging from 0 to 4. For the best protection, choose category 3 or 4 sunglasses, especially if you spend a lot of time outside. These offer high quality UV filtration for normal use in very sunny conditions. Category 2 lenses may be suitable for most casual day-to-day use, but won’t provide maximum protection. Avoid category 0 or 1 lenses which offer little to no UV protection.

Consider Additional Features

For the safest sunglasses, look for impact-resistant polycarbonate lenses, polarized lenses to reduce glare, and frames that provide full coverage around the eyes. Anti-reflective lens coatings can also help reduce glare that reaches your eyes. It’s a good idea to wear sunglasses anytime you’re outside in the daytime, not just at the beach or ski slopes. Protecting your eyes from UV damage is a lifelong habit that will benefit your long-term eye health and vision.

The Future of Sunglasses: Innovations in Lens Technology and Style

Aviator Sunglasses

Aviator sunglasses are one of the most iconic styles. Originally developed in the 1930s for pilots, aviators have been a must-have for decades. Their signature teardrop lens shape and thin metal frames are instantly recognizable. Aviators complement nearly every face shape and come in a variety of lens colors, from classic gold mirrored to gradient gray. No wonder aviators remain a staple in sunglasses collections today.

Wayfarer Sunglasses

Wayfarers first hit the scene in the 1950s and have been a symbol of cool ever since. Their distinctive square frames and slightly rounded edges give wayfarers a retro vibe that never goes out of style. Wayfarers are extremely versatile—the frames come in a variety of colors and materials, from tortoiseshell to neon, and the lenses are available in polarized and non-polarized options. Whether you prefer the classic Ray-Ban wayfarer or a more unique frame, wayfarers are a must-have for any sunglasses wardrobe.

Round Frames

Round framed sunglasses are perfect for making a fashion statement. Their circular shape makes a bold and stylish impression. Round frames work well for highlighting facial features like the eyes or cheekbones. Retro-inspired details like wire or metal rims and colored lenses enhance the vintage appeal of round frames. While not as versatile as aviators or wayfarers, round frames are ideal for showcasing your unique style.

Shield Sunglasses

Shield sunglasses, also known as goggles, are perfect for an edgy and sporty look. Their lens extends across the entire eye area, shielding from the sun and wind. Many shields have a wrap-around shape that provides coverage from all sides. Shields come in a variety of sporty styles, from mirrored visors to rugged goggles. Whether skiing down the slopes or walking city streets, shield sunglasses make a daring fashion statement.

Roger Sarkis